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What to do with old straw?

 
pollinator
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Please move to more appropriate forum/s I just cannot think of anywhere it fits!

We need to move a huge amount of old straw out of our barn, it consists of old bales some partially rotten, none can be moved as "bales" probably 10-20 years old and old loose straw some of which is probably more like 50-60 years old. we have an area of around 4000 sqr ft covered in 1-2ft of highly compressed old straw. and it has to be moved out of the barn ASAP for insurance reasons.  We only have 40000 sqr feet of annual garden where it could be spread out and covering the entire thing in a foot deep layer of straw (after it's been uncompressed) seems a, stupid and b, a really good way to annoy the neighbours when it blows away. (it's a very high wind area)

I just don't know what to do with the stuff, obviously burning it is not an option there's way too much, we do have areas we could dump it in and wet it and let it compost, but would it? or would that take several years. I live in a cold wet climate so once outside the barn and in a pile it will quickly get waterlogged and stay that way, fire is not a risk unless that amount of straw would possibly self ignite? We do not have any machinery so there's no way to dig a huge hole and bury it (and the soil is only about a foot deep) We do have an old gravel pit (about 20000sqr ft) where we could conceivably spread it a few feet deep, would it then help to regen soil there? it's a shady area and the only thing that seems to grow at the moment is a good crop of nettles and some elder bushes (which have excellent mushrooms on them!)
 
gardener
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Any chance you could get a bunch of nitrogen in it and get it to heat up?  That much old straw can certainly seem like a nuisance, but it must be loaded with microbes and if you could possibly mix in some manure, urine, grass clippings, ANYTHING green I would think that you could have a real treasure.  It looks like a great resource waiting to be tapped.

Granted, you almost have too much of a good thing, but if you could compost that quickly it could be amazing.

Best of luck with whatever you decide,

Eric
 
Eric Hanson
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Sorry,

When I first read this I must not have read clearly.  I did not realize that you do have room to store it outside.

Now that I got that through my thick skull, I see two options, both good ones.

Option #1—basically same as stated above.  Get a whole lot of nitrogen in the old straw, wet it down and let it heat up.  If you can get it to heat up I would think that you could get some magnificent straw compost relatively quickly.  The trick would be getting enough nitrogen.

Option #2—try to decompose via the fungal route.  You might consider wine cap mushrooms.  Once they establish, they will ravenously eat through the straw.  This might take a year, but when they get busy doing their job, they really take it seriously.  The resulting compost will be loaded with micro-organisms and will only add to your soil’s fertility.  I use wine cap mushrooms on woodchips to similar effect.

These are just my thoughts.  Do whatever you think is best.

Eric  
 
gardener
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Eric - do you know of a supplier for the wine cap spores?
 
Eric Hanson
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Yes,  personally I use foodforest.net.  The other provider I have heard from is fungi perfecti.

 
gardener
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for the garden, it sounds like a dream! pile it on high, ruth stout style, wet it down so it doesn't blow away, and let it rot! pee on it! (or whatever other nitrogen route you might prefer)
 
gardener
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I cover my garden in a foot of straw of straw every year. I am somewhat jealous of your problem, I have a lot of trouble sourcing bales some years!

I've not had an issue with it blowing away, though I do tend to place it when it is raining so it wets down quickly. It seems to pack down and start to rot. Midway through the season, I sometimes spread/sprinkle manure on top of the straw before I add a second layer because 1 ft of straw quickly compresses down and becomes almost no straw.  If i was in your situation, i'd cover the garden in a 1 ft of straw in the fall, make a big pile outdoors with the rest so it can begin decomposing, and then put on another layer or two as the year goes on. Straw mulch is particularly good for squash in my experience, but keeps the weeds down and keeps the soil moist for other plants as well.

Do you have any plans to expand your garden?  A "lasagna garden" with lots of straw would be a really easy thing for you to do right now, and fall/late winter is the perfect time to start one to keep things from growing in the early spring.

Other than that... i wonder if you could place an ad for free old straw? In my area, it would be gone in a flash for gardening purposes/composting.
 
Mandy Launchbury-Rainey
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Catie George wrote:I cover my garden in a foot of straw of straw every year. I am somewhat jealous of your problem, I have a lot of trouble sourcing bales some years!



We can't find straw either. We use hay and just put layers everywhere. It has the added advantage of stopping the dogs trekking mud into the house in wet weather.
 
pollinator
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Look up Ruth Stout vegetable gardening. We used some spoilt straw this year for it, and it was wonderful.
 
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I have exactly the same problem! Lotsa ancient hay in an old barn needing disposal. I am planning to spread it out over a 1/2 acre wet spot on my land and hope that it rots quickly.
 
gardener
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If you have the space, it definitely doesn't hurt to pile it up somewhere out of the way. It never hurts to have extra organic material accessible, and it will only get better for permaculture uses once you move it out of the barn into the elements/weather. You could, either, make one big pile of it and take what you need from the top whenever you need it; or spread out smaller piles around your different work areas to have quick/easy access to it when you need it for that area.

Personally, I'd use it for mulch in the gardens, flower beds, and other growing areas, and just add to it as it breaks down.
I'd also use it in my walking paths throughout my property to keep down weeds, add traction to muddy spots, etc.  
Whenever I needed compost, I'd just take a bucket and shovel and dig some out of the bottom of the heap.
Considering the age & current level of breakdown you described, I would think it will start to break down quickly once you get it exposed to the moisture outside. Especially if you get some mushrooms growing in it.
So, ultimately just look at it as an investment you can pull from when needed, and still expect the main pile to continue breaking down to eventually give you a nice batch of compost 🙂
 
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