Having forgone lawn treatments this year and needing some major weed control I’d been wanting to get some straw bales. So far this seemed one of the best options. We’ve had a host of issues with other cheap, reuse/recycle strategies:
- Newsprint – trying to lay this down in normal S.D. weather means the neighbors get a free subscription. If you don’t wet it or lay stones on it immediately the wind sweeps it right away.
- Cardboard – have to dissect a cardboard box from tape, labels and then over lap them is difficult. Also difficult is cutting through them when you want to plant and forget trying to do a seed bed and use them for weed barrier. There is one place they work fairly well and that’s on paths. They are usually the right width and heavier than newsprint so they don’t readily blow away.
- Grass clippings – these work pretty well but can mat-down so solidly that water simply runs off them. If you use any time of weed killer or fertilizer these can affect the plants you lay your clippings on. Fresh clippings can suck up the nitrogen from the ground as they break down. Depending on the time of year and how often you mow you might also end up with lots of weed seeds you are now sowing into your veggie or flower bed. Use them in your compost – with turning and proper heat it should kill most weed seeds and break the clippings down so they can release their nutrients.
- Leaves – I do love leaves for amending soil but they aren’t good mulch – they work much better if dug into soil to lighten it up. If left on top they generally blow away. I have taken a bag of leaves (usually decorative pumpkin one) and after the holiday I’ve placed them directly on top of less-hardy plants to over winter them. Works wonders. Come spring just empty the bag into your compost or (for shame) haul away.
- Hay – has a wealth of seeds and you’ll end up introducing very invasive, native pasture weeds. I used one bale and now have a bad problem with the sticky grass tails that embed themselves so badly in certain materials that I’ve had to throw clothes away.
For some reason straw (dried plant stalks) doesn’t have the problem hay does. A bale tends to break easily into 3-4″ layers that mostly stay put with a breeze (do not fluff it, leave it in its self-made layers when you lay it down) the weight and tightness help it stay put. It lets moisture in readily but impedes the evaporation process from heat and wind. It also keeps soil temps more moderate.It doesn’t look bad like newsprint and scruffy cardboard – if you want to get crazy (ha!) throw the straw over the newsprint our cardboard for extra weed protection. Our initial use will be to mulch the garlic The Hub put in, we should have a bumper crop next year.
We picked up 4 bales at the local farm/supply store and they were a mere $3.99 a bale and they were loaded for us.