10 July 2014

One Quick Tip: Straw Mulching Your Garden

Dear Lissy,

Gorgeous summer weather has finally come to stay!  I'm trialing Yukon Gold potatoes for the first time this year, and using the popular raised bed/straw method.  I'm no stranger to straw, though -- I've been heavily mulching all of my crops with it for years.  Strawing is an essential part of gardening for one of my friends born and raised in Bavaria, Germany; and she got me hooked.
  • Straw keeps the soil cool and moist, which plants love.  Even hot weather crops like tomatoes grow best with "cool feet."  Cool weather crops will survive July and August heat waves when well mulched.
  • Straw keeps leaves and veg from touching the soil, cutting down on pests and blights.
  • Straw keeps weeds at bay.
  • Straw protects the tops of root crops from scorching (beets, onions, garlic, shallots, etc.)
  • Straw helps the garden look and smell amazing.
A few pointers...
  • Make sure you buy straw, not hay.   Hay is full of weeds. Straw is gold, hay is usually greenish. Horse and goat farms are usually the least expensive source of a bale or two, but a local hardware store or berry farm has straw as well. 
  • Strawing walkways is beautiful, but expensive.  Resist the urge unless you can get free straw.
  • Straw comes in huge bales, but individual "flakes" are only about 4-6" thick.  Break up the flakes, and tuck in around any plants over 8" high.  
  • Occasionally check under the straw for signs of pests.  Mice can be a nuisance if you don't have snakes, cats, or use a deterrent like garlic, onions, or mint planted around your crops.
  • Refresh the straw as needed. 
  • One bale does most of my garden.  
    • Some crops, like beans don't need straw.  Their leaves shade out the soil completely, and the fruit never touches the soil.
    • I only put a thin layer 2" layer around the Delicata, Zucchini, Summer and other squash vines.  I heavily straw cukes, though.
    • I heavily straw (6" minimum) any cool weather crops like broccoli, lettuce, spinach, onions, potatoes, and chard.  Potatoes will grow directly in the straw, yielding a clean, easy harvest with no mosaic virus.
    • Tomatoes and Peppers love a heavy straw mulch, but weed-free grass clippings are even better (and much cheaper!)
    • Pine straw mulch is best for strawberries, asparagus, and blueberries.


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