Five Reasons Not To Use Straw

Because of our extremes summer temps, proper mulching is a must. (And with our ridiculously low water levels in Lake Mead, I’m shocked the city doesn’t encourage it more.)

We were nervous about introducing more insects into our yard with the free mulch, so we opted for straw instead. I’d heard of the use of straw for soil moisture in many places and rather than doing a bit more research, we jumped the gun. We needed something and we needed it fast, since temps were already reaching 100 degrees by that point.

Talk about buyer’s remorse. If you’re wondering whether or not to try it, let me tell you my four five reasons I’ll never use straw in the garden again.

Reason #1 It’s ugly. Really, this was reason enough. About 30 minutes after we started laying it down, I looked up and visibly grimaced. All that pale yellow constrasting against our soil made things look bleak. And as practical as I am, I want to see some (natural) beauty in my yard.

Reason #2 It’s messy. Somehow it ended up everywhere we didn’t want it and nowhere we did. The wind blows it around. The birds toss it (and likely steal it). The walkways were sprinkled with it but the melon patch was bare. It’s even dragged in on our shoes. Not cool.

May 25th front yard

Pictured above is one “zone” where the straw has been removed and
compost and mulch is being laid down. You can see the straw still in
other areas. And in the paths. Not pictured is the straw in my hair.
Or on my living room rug.

Okay, those two things may not bother most people, but the following two reasons were the clinchers for me:

Reason #3 Straw adds little value to the soil. It’s not “alive”. Adding something like compost or mulch to retain water adds many more nutrients, healthy microbes and bacteria and amends the soil. It feeds the insect life crucial to creating a thriving habitat, helps to create a lighter loam and feeds your plants while preventing evaporation. Even for garden paths I want to be adding to my soil, not taking away from it. Which leads me to my next point:

Reason #4 The carbon to nitrogen ratio of oat straw is 74:1; wheat straw has an 80:1 ratio. As only a mulch this isn’t an issue. But it’s nearly impossible to keep the straw on top of the soil, instead of in it. Once the straw gets into the soil, it begins to break down. Because decomposer organisms need a 20-30:1 balance of carbon and nitrogen, they begin to burning through your nitrogen too quickly to balance their high-carbon diet. Thus, our nitrogen-depleted soil would struggle even more and I only have so many beans (nitrogen fixers) left to plant!

Reason #5 It’s very hard to remove it all. Given Reason #4, we wanted to get as much as possible out of the soil before adding compost and mulch. But it’s nearly impossible to get it all out, leaving me very apprehensive about our already low nitrogen levels.

When to use straw:

Animal bedding! Miranda mentioned this to me and I researched it a bit more. The nitrogen in the animal’s manure is a great balance to the high amounts of carbon. The heat from the breakdown should also help to keep your animals warm in cooler climates (would it be too warm in our summers?).

Compost, but only a little! Again, because of the large amounts of carbon, straw should be used sparingly in your compost or the same depletion could occur.

Which leaves me with one question: Do any locals have a need for a whole lotta free straw? 🙂

(Click here for the what’s, why’s and how’s of mulching.)

7 Replies to “Five Reasons Not To Use Straw”

  1. Eek! All that mess would do my head in. That’s reason enough for me, but a clincher with #3. Thanks so much for sharing with the rest of us. Live and learn. Have you done a mulch post? I’m a mulch virgin.

  2. Mon, here’s my old post about mulch.

    Heather, thanks for the link! We’ve actually been talking about this very thing and I was wondering about dilution. My only concern is water-soluble nitrogen is fast to release and leaches from the soil quickly, needing more applications. So it’s going to be good for short-term help but we’re trying to integrate more nitrogen fixers and accumulators as well so we don’t have to constantly pee outside. 😉

  3. Nah, straw isn’t great. Remember it well from our veg garden when I was a kid and now avoid it like the plague…

  4. I am not a fan of straw because of our winds… But, with the fence it should at least stay in your yard =-)

  5. The Straw Bale Urinal is a common permaculture method for balancing nutrients and making straw a suitable mulch.

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