Home > Uncategorized > Fire, smoke, and rotten straw

Fire, smoke, and rotten straw

Or how we mulched our garden for the winter…..  Yes, those flames are supposed to be there.


You see, we’re working towards a no-till kind of garden.  We did our pig tillers this past spring which worked out great.  They churned things up, and fertilized better than any plow or tiller has ever done.  Of course, once they reached about 100 pounds, they got to be a little too much to manage, so they got moved into gender-segregated pens, except for our future breeding pair.

But, back to the garden…..  We had a pretty good tomato crop this year, thanks to the Chunnel system we didn’t have a single horn-worm on the plants.  We’ve had our plants stripped bare in previous years, but the chickens seem to have solved that dilemma.  Our big problem this year was our root crops.  We’ve grown sweet potatoes in the past, with limited success; but this year they did horrible.  The vines spread out nicely, but the tubers were tiny.  We think the clay soil is just too much for them.  So; our solution this year is to SUPER amend our soil by adding tons of organic matter to loosen it up.  We’ve talked about it in the past, and done bits here and there, but we’ve never been able to get enough organic material to really make a difference.  We compost, and have added manure, woodchips, etc; but never enough to really soften up the clay.

This year we were blessed with the solution to our problem.  A local farmer grew a 40 acre wheat field, just up the road from us.  He baled up all the straw, and had it all nicely stacked up to sell; but we had several days of soaking rain, and THOUSANDS bales of straw were ruined.  It had to have been a huge loss for him.  I figured we might try to help him out by buying a couple truckloads of the straw, but when we tried to offer to pay him a dollar a bale he said, nope.  Just take as much as you want!!!  So we’ve been hauling wet, rotten straw for about 3 weeks now (with a week-long break to the outer banks in the middle).  22116319356_7706d77620

Most of the strings are rotten, so it’s a hay-fork to move the majority, but I’m not going to complain.  We amassed several good sized mountains of the straw at the edges and corners of our garden area.  21529118303_da3146f618

After butchering all the pigs but the 2 for breeding, we were ready  to start our mulching process.  Since the garden was done for the year and we let the weeds get ahead of us (again), we needed a way to get rid of the weeds, and hopefully destroy the weed seeds.  The chickens and our other birds had eaten the large majority, but it would be nice to eradicate even more.  So we turned to FIRE.  A couple years ago I had bought a weed torch from Harbor Freight tools.  It worked really well to get rid of the tall weeds around fences, and areas that the animals couldn’t get to, or didn’t like the taste of.  But I’ve always been a little hesitant to use it around plants that I don’t want to destroy, so it only gets used occasionally.  It seemed like a great way to burn off this year’s crop of bindweed (morning glory) and hopefully destroy the seeds.


As you can see Elijah was very impressed with the blazing patches of weeds; which hopefully is going to eradicate most of their offspring.  Here’s the “after” photo, which shows how well the weed torch does it’s job.


Once things cooled off a bit, and the smoke cleared (burning weeds STINK), the process of spreading out the straw began.  Taya and the older children got about half of the piles spread out before I got home for the evening.  I figured since we had a little daylight left we could go get another pickup load.  We unloaded that in the dark, so this morning – after a night of providentially-timed rain I was able to get a picture of the partially-mulched garden.22821240980_abab4bfe1b

We’ve got about 2/3 of the garden covered nearly 6 inches deep in the nicely rotted straw.  There’s still a large pile left in the back corner that we can use to start covering the remaining parts.  There’s still several thousand bales of straw left in the field, just a half mile up the road.  We’ll most likely continue to haul straw for the next few weeks, up until the ground is too muddy to get in the field, or we get our first snowfall.

If we leave the straw over the winter, it should break down substantially, since it’s no longer in bales.  That should add the needed organic material, nutrients, and moisture-holding capacity that this garden needs so badly.  We probably won’t turn the ground in the spring, but go with the Ruth Stout or Back to Eden method of simply pushing the mulch to the side, planting in the dirt, then covering it back up.  Hopefully we can get a large stock to store for future mulching purposes, but if we don’t; we’re still extremely grateful for this straw.  A rough guestimation – we hauled about 200 bales worth of the straw so far.  At $5 per bale – if you buy from the farmer; $7-8 if you buy from feed store – that’s roughly $1,000 – $1,500 worth of straw.  I’m amazed that the farmer didn’t want any sort of compensation for it.  Hopefully he find a way to spread the bales out on his field, and gain some benefit from the loss.

We’re hopeful that this soil amendment will provide us (Lord willing!) with a bumper crop of produce this year, and solve our root crop dilemma.  We’ll let you know once spring gets here.  We’re already getting seed catalogs to review over the coming winter months.  Have a happy Thanksgiving holiday, and stay safe if you’re traveling!

Until next time…..

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. November 20, 2015 at 1:28 pm

    ha, the carbon footprint nazis will be after you bigtime. good job!

    • November 20, 2015 at 2:12 pm

      LOL – Hi James, thanks for stopping by. Yeah, I guess the carbon credits folks will be knocking on my door soon. Cheers!

  2. Weedhopper
    November 20, 2015 at 1:49 pm

    I would till the first three inches of straw into the soil right now, then add six more inches after you finish tilling. I do the same thing with garden leaves and grass clippings every fall. I drive around my neighborhood collecting bags of leaves and pine needles, dump three or four inches on the garden, run the leaves/pine needles over several times with the lawn mower, and then till the mulch into the garden soil. Then I collect more leaves & pine needles and try to put four to six inches over the garden. This acts as mulch for next year.

    I would offer the farmer some of your produce next season as a thank you.

    • November 20, 2015 at 2:16 pm

      Hi Weedhopper – thanks for stopping by! That’s a good suggestion, and we’ve done that in the past. We’re working towards a totally “no-till” type of garden though, from a lot of the reading I’ve done over the past couple years I’m reading that tilling isn’t necessarily the best solution for our soil type here (red clay). It leads to compaction and nutrient loss. We’re gonna give this a try and hope that it works as well in practice as it sounds in theory. We’ve got several other garden plots that we’re using, so if it doesn’t work it won’t be a huge tragedy.
      That’s a great suggestion about the produce, I think we’ll do that. Thank you!

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