The Q&A Archives: straw for soil

Question: Due to a sudden late frost, we spread straw over the flower beds to protect them. The straw was on for about three weeks. Now the weather is warm and the straw was removed. I would like to till it into my vegetable garden but I am concerned about how long it will take to break down. Should the strands be chopped smaller than found in bale size? Also, can use suggest an easy way to do this so that the strands will not clog or wrap around blades? I have three bales to chop and my garden is 10x60. Will this be too much?

Answer: The straw will take a long time to break down, unless you chop it. One way to try is to run the lawn mower over it, a little at a time. (Be careful, though. If the straw is at all wet it might get wound up in the blades.) You might even be able to set itup so the mower "shoots" it right into the garden. If you decide to do this, till it in, then wait a few weeks before planting. Straw contains lots of carbon, and this can induce a temporary nitrogen deficiency in the soil, as soil microbes busily break down the fibers.<br><br>What I would do, however, is use that straw to mulch the garden paths. I do this in my own garden--I lay down several layers of newspapers and cover them with "flakes" or layers of straw. It's great for weed control, and the newspaper and straw slowly decomposes. Then, next spring, you can till it right in.<br><br>One note of caution. Generally, straw contains relatively few seeds. Hay, however, often contains lots of seed heads. And tilling straw or hay with lots of seed heads means you are essentially seeding your lawn to grass!<br><br>One way around this is to compost the hay--the high temperatures of a good compost pile should kill the weed seed.<br><br>

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