Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Wonderful Versatile Straw Bale

I've recently come to appreciate the versatility of the simple straw bale. Straw is incredibly useful, and, as a waste product, is readily available.

Our first experience with using straw bales was a couple of years ago when we needed a way to enclose the front porch, so that Luke, then a puppy, could not fall off. We positioned bales of straw around the perimeter of the porch, which served not only to keep him safe, but also provided a bit of a wind break. Eventually I had to remove a few of them, as he chewed through the strings holding them together. Luckily, however, by this time he was big enough to climb the steps on his own, and was no longer likely to fall off of the porch. Since removing some of the bales left a hole in the wind break, I decided to make him a nice warm place to sleep from the bales. At first I positioned two bales, on their edge, at a angle to one another (something between 45 and 90 degrees). I placed one more bale across the top of these two, effectively giving him a straw bale house. Eventually, as he needed more room, I added another bale and reconfigured them into a rectangle. This served as Luke's house for quite some time, until eventually he started bumping his head when he'd stand up inside.

The bales that had been removed from the porch where stacked outside until we needed them. Whenever we needed mulch we'd collect some of the loose straw and apply a nice thick layer. We mulched the strawberries and garlic a couple of times. We also used some of the loose straw for covering the manure that was applied to the herb garden, since manure needs a carbon source to help it compost. Eventually all that we were left with from those initial bales was a layer of loose, partially decomposed, straw that had been the bottom layer of the pile. I racked this straw and applied it to the compost pile.

Recently we found another use for straw. Since we have been keeping Jack contained during his injury, the area near his house and the front steps has been getting a lot of traffic. The ground was already somewhat muddy, but the increased traffic made it much worse. To help with this we bought a bale of straw and scattered it on the ground all around his house and the steps. I also used it to make a path from the steps to the driveway, since we've been going that way more often lately due to having the back porch blocked off for the stray cat to live on. The straw has been a big help with keeping us, and Jack, from getting muddy feet. Plus Luke and Jack both love playing in straw, so they really enjoyed themselves when I first put it down. I still have a quarter of the bale left that I can use to fill in any spots that begin to wear thin or get muddy again.

My favorite thing about using straw is that the same bale can very often be used multiple times. The bales that we used for enclosing the porch for Luke were eventually used as mulch and composting. The bale that I applied to the muddy yard may very well get raked and applied to the compost in a month or two.

I suspect that we will be using several bales of straw this year as mulch in the garden. I have found that I can save approximately $2 per bale by buying it in London instead of the nearest town. I'll likely start picking up a truck load whenever I am in London with the truck, so we'll have it on hand when we need it. I will also be on the look out for partially decomposed bales or spoiled hay that I might pick up cheaply to use as mulch. Of course I have to figure in the cost of transportation for anything I make a special trip to pick up, which gives buying the bales in London an advantage, since I won't have to make a special trip there to pick it up. Maybe one day we'll try our hand at growing our own wheat and producing our own straw.

In addition to using straw as mulch this year we will be using quite a bit in the chicken coop. We plan to use the deep little method in our coop, which will require a regular supply of clean straw.

I can't talk about straw without mentioning straw bale construction. It is a topic that I'm interested in eventually experimenting with. We are considering building a straw bale structure to house rabbits, when we eventually get them.

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