Straw can be a very useful material in your garden. There are a number of different ways to use it. In this article, we will explore 7 ways to use straw in your garden.
Straw can be used loose or in baled form. Loose straw can be used in compost heaps or bins, in building new growing areas, as a mulch or for insulation. Straw bales can be used for straw bale gardening, but also for bed edging, or even for more ambitious construction projects in your garden.
Read on to learn more about how exactly you can use straw in your garden:
1. Use Straw in Composting
All composting involves using nitrogen rich (green) materials and carbon rich (brown) materials. Getting the proportions between these two types of material correct goes a long way to making a success of your composting system.
Straw is a great carbon rich (brown) material. When added to a larger scale composting system alongside nitrogen rich materials like fruit and vegetable scraps and grass clippings, or fresh manures, it can help keep things in balance. It will keep the heap or bin aerated, and prevent it from becoming anaerobic. And it will ensure that there is a good texture to the compost you create.
2. Use Straw To Make New Growing Areas
Straw can also be used as a component in the creation of new growing areas. Composting does not necessarily have to take place in a separate heap, bin or composting system. You can also compost in place – allowing materials to break down where your plants are to grow.
You can use straw to create the carbon rich layers in a ‘lasagna bed’. A lasagna bed is one method used to make new growing areas in a ‘no dig’ garden. Rather than removing turf and digging new beds, in no dig gardening, you leave the soil as undisturbed as possible. You create a growing area by covering the turf and adding layers of organic material to compost in place. Straw is one of many materials that can be used to make such a bed.
A variant of this idea is the concept of hugelkultur. In hugelkultur, you also use organic materials to build up new growing areas. But you begin with a core of rotting wood, and shape the materials into a mound shape. Straw can also be usefully used in the creation of hugelkultur mounds.
3. Use Straw as a Mulch in Garden Beds
You can also use straw as a mulch in existing garden beds. Straw can make a fantastic mulch material. It can:
Protect the soil from erosion and nutrient depletion.
Help in retaining soil moisture.
Aid in weed suppression.
Keep fruits up off the soil surface, to stop them from rotting, and reduce incidence of diseases. (It is often used around strawberry plants, squash and pumpkins, for example.)
Stop soil from freezing and keep plants warm in winter.
4. Use Straw as Insulation
As mentioned above, straw can be used as a thick mulch to keep plants warm in winter and help to prevent soil from freezing, and frost from damaging plants.
In addition, straw can also be a useful material for insulation in other applications. Straw is excellent for heat retention, and can be utilised in and around garden beds and planters.
It can also be used to retain the heat in a compost heap. A thick layer of straw over a compost heap or around a compost bin can speed up decomposition and can potentially be used to make a hot composting system. The straw will not only help in retaining heat. It will also produce heat as it begins to break down.
Loose straw could also be stuffed into cavities in a greenhouse or polytunnel, shed, chicken coop or other garden building as insulation, to keep the space cooler in summer, or warmer over the winter months.
5. Use Straw Bales as Garden Beds
So far, we’ve been discussing uses for loose straw. But now, let’s turn our attention to using straw bales. Bales of straw can also be extremely useful in your garden.
One way to use straw bales is to try out straw bale gardening. In straw bale gardening, straw is not used as a component in your growing areas. Rather, the bales themselves double as raised beds.
As the straw decomposes your plants will have plenty of nutrients and it has even been said that plants could be up to 25% more productive when planted in straw bales than they would be if planted in average quality soil. Due to the heat given off by the decomposition below, you can plant earlier in the year than you would be able to in the ground and can extend the growing season.
Condition the bales so they will start to decompose. ( This is achieved simply through ensuring that it stays wet for around a month.)
Add a good amount of nitrogen rich fertiliser to the saturated bale. (A liquid nettle or grass clipping feed will be ideal.)
After a month or so you will be able to detect through the bale temperature and its smell that this is working.
Cover the top of the bale with a good quality compost – just a thin layer of an inch or two will suffice.
You can now plant up your straw bale garden.
6. Make Straw Bale Bed Edging
Rather than using the straw bales as the beds themselves, you can also consider using them for bed edging. You can use straw bales as temporary edging for a range of different growing areas. They will break down over time, but in the meantime, will protect, insulate and contain the materials behind them.
You could also consider rendering the bales. This will enable you to create longer lasting bed edging in your garden. In drier climate zones, a clay render may be suitable for outdoors use. A lime render could be ideal for external use in wetter climates. Top your rendered straw bale edging with wood and they could also double as bench seating around the edges of your beds.
7. Make a Straw Bale Garden Structure
Straw bales can also be used to create a huge range of different garden structures. Straw bale construction is an eco-friendly and sustainable construction method. It can be used to make homes, but could also be used imaginatively to create a huge range of garden structures and buildings. For example, you might use straw bales to make:
A summer house or other recreational garden building.
Storage sheds or utility buildings.
Straw bale chicken coops or housing for other livestock.
The base walls for a greenhouse or polytunnel structure.
The above are just some of the many ways to use straw in your garden. If straw is a material that is readily available in your area, then it is certainly worthwhile thinking about making use of it in your garden.
Do you use straw in your garden? Have you used it in any of the ways described above? Share your experiences, comments and suggestions below.
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.
To get in touch, visit https://ewspconsultancy.com.