Straw is a useful and versatile material for any garden. It can be used to line pathways, mulch garden beds and as part of the garden feed for cattle and horses. Some people even use straw to build houses and other structures. In this tip, we go over what straw it, how it is different than hay, and how to use it in your urban garden.
Straw refers to the dry stalks of cereal grains after the grain and chaff has been harvested. As an organic material, it has a low moisture content and low nutrient content. Straw can be made from a wide variety of cereal crops including barley, oat, rice, and wheat. It is usually gathered and stored in a compressed bale.
Hay is similar to straw, however the seed head is still intact. As a result, it has a higher nutrient content and is commonly used as a feed material for animals. Because the seed head is still intact, putting hay in the garden is not a good idea as the seeds can germinate and create weed problems in the future.
Straw has a number of beneficial uses in the garden. As a mulch, it helps to keep moisture in the soil rather than evaporate during a hot summer. If laid in a thick enough layer, it can create a barrier and prevent weed seeds from landing and taking root. Finally, straw decomposes relatively quickly and adds organic matter back into your garden and feeding your soil.
Our favourite use for straw is in the fall to mulch the garlic once it has been planted. It can also be used as a ground cover along the garden path, helping to prevent compaction of the soil and to keep the ground less muddy.
Straw can be purchased from most gardening centres, especially in the fall.
Cover Image by Lars Kasper, used under its Creative Commons license.