Sunday, September 21, 2008

Mulching with hay

I managed to get in several hours in the garden today, and got a lot accomplished. I took lots of pictures so will post a couple different items.

This summer we're trying something different: mulching with straw instead of hardwood mulch or the composted leaves we get from the city pickup mulch pile. It's not the best looking when it's just been put down, but after a few rains it'll looks fine.

Why straw? It seems to be more economical than the hardwood mulch we get in bags at the big box store: one bale will cover as much area as probably 4-5 bags of mulch. We pay a bit too much right now because we don't have a pickup truck. That means we only can get 4 bales in the back of Doug's car, and we end up buying it at a feed store for about $5/bale. If you have a truck and can get enough to make the drive worthwhile, you can find farmers selling straw on Craig's List for as little as $2/bale.

It's not quite as economical as the leaf mulch we get in University City in the spring, but I think it's cleaner. The free mulch comes from leaves the city picks up curbside and piles up to compost all winter. However, I've found enough garbage in that mulch -- pull tabs from cans, plastic bags and other assorted plastic items, cigarette package wrappers, etc. -- that it really makes me wonder exactly what all I am adding to my yard. And who really knows what people spray on their trees.

Here's a view of the same garden area from the driveway. You can't really see the mulch until you're right up by the fence so I don't have to worry about what the neighbors think. :)


Anna said...

We do organic gardening on the other side of the fair river. Actually we are doing a organic garden co-op and we used straw and paper as a weed barrier last year. This year we started wondering if we should be using an organic straw. How do you deal with this issue? Do you use organic straw? If so from where around here?

angie said...

Hi Anna. In an ideal world, or if I were using it as part of an organically-certified program, I would use organic straw. However, I haven't heard of any problems with the non-organic straw that's widely available, and I use it because it's what I can get my hands on.

Your question has prompted me to do some Google-ing, and it appears that at least some of the pesticide residue remaining on grains (for those who don't know, straw is the dried stalks of grains like barley, wheat, or oats and is typically used for animal bedding; hay is dried grass or legumes and is typically used for feed) has to do with stuff they spray *after* the harvest while it's in storage. And then they feed it to people (ugh).

Hay is a different story, though. A few years back when I was in Texas, I had heard of problems with Bermuda hay because some of the broadleaf herbicides used on it would persist for so long that it could kill plants that were mulched with it. But alfalfa hay down there seemed to be ok whether organic or not. I just took a quick peek at the Missouri Farm Bureau site's "Hay Hotline" ( and at least one grower advertises their hay is "sprayed for weeds." This is something I'd certainly avoid. If you buy directly from the grower, at least you can ask what is used on the crop and make your decisions accordingly.

Marjorie said...

Hi. I'm looking to buy hay in the St. Louis area and am having a difficult time finding anywhere within an hour from here that sells it. Can you tell me the feed store where you purchased your hay? Thanks so much. -Marjorie

angie said...

Hi Marjorie. I found both hay and straw at the OK Hatchery in Kirkwood (right across from the farmer's market). During the summer when the hardware stores (like Ace) have a lot of outdoor stuff, they'll often stock straw, too.