Straw mulches can serve many beneficial functions in the home garden. Straw is inexpensive and readily obtainable from garden centers, or even more economically from local farmers. Just be sure to purchase straw rather than hay, since the latter is more likely to contain weed seeds.
Straw is an organic material that breaks down slowly and is easier to work with than leaves or wood chips. It’s the only type of mulch that I use between raised beds to prevent weeds from sprouting up, and to keep the garden paths separating the beds from becoming muddy.
Straw mulches also lend an ornamental appeal to the garden. The blonde color provides a nice contrast to the colors of growing vegetable plants and the rich, dark soil.
For fall gardening, straw can provide your plants with a little protection from cold weather conditions. Mulch root crops with a thick layer of straw and you can continue harvesting carrots, beets, turnips, rutabagas, and parsnips until the frozen ground prevents digging.
A light layer of straw will provide shelter to over wintered leafy greens such as spinach, kale, collards, and winter lettuce.
You can also use straw bales to fashion a simple cold frame. Just arrange the bales in a rectangular shape around your garden bed. Next, locate a few discarded windows to lay across the top of the beds, and you’ll have yourself a makeshift cold frame.
The bales and windows will combine to form an insulated growing area that will provide winter vegetables with more cold protection than if they were growing out in the open garden.
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