When ranchers, farmers, feed store keepers and those of us in the garden talk about Hay and Straw we are talking about two very different commodities. When I say it is good to mulch with Straw I do mean straw, and not hay.
Hay and Straw come from the same plants. Hay is the top of the grass crop that is used for feeding livestock. It is the part that is most protein rich for livestock, and it is the part that is highest in nitrogen.
In the garden we use Alfalfa Hay (or Lucerne Hay as they say in Great Britain) which is a legume for a nitrogen boost in a new garden bed like in the No Dig Garden Box recipe.
Straw is the bottom lignin rich, woody part of the hay and cereal crop and it is the bi-product of those crops. It is sold as animal bedding, but never feed. Straw should have fewer seeds in it than Hay, although I have found the straw I get has more viable seed in it than the hay I buy, and I often get some sprigs of wheat or oat grass in my Straw mulches which makes great munchies for my bunny rabbits.
Straw is more carbonaceous than hay. It is not nutritious or nitrogen rich. Straw pieces are hollow like a straw, and Straw won’t compress or mat on top of your garden, and it is slow to break down so it won’t tie up nitrogen as a mulch on your beds. Straw makes a great airy mulch, and it is my number one choice for covering over beds that are resting for the summer. At one time people in this country used straw for their wall insulation in their houses. Straw is used for mattress stuffing, and to make biofuels, building materials and rope. It has many more uses than those I have listed.
Perhaps the wonders of straw will be a post on another day!
Get some straw!