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The Resilience Hub & Portland Maine Permaculture Message Board › What did I do wrong, or, -- what do you do if..."

What did I do wrong, or, -- what do you do if..."

user 3022592
Portland, ME
Post #: 20
Dear Friends,

In examining more closely the little holes some creatures are creating in the straw which sits atop the finished stack of sheet mulching I saw to my surprise that shoots (weeds?) were growing! Having noted that the manure contained some sprouts that were oniony which only days later did sprout up which I enjoyed eating, I thought they were more of the same though they looked suspiciously flat, like grass. A taste told me they weren't oniony at all. Then I saw that the wet straw itself (which we bought at Paris Farmers' Union) was sprouting!!

The mulch seems to be creating grass "weeds," or should I look upon these as a blessing?

What do we do when as I expect all the beds of thick straw piled up sprouts grass? Cut it down or pull it up and use it for nitrogen? And then cover it all up with another layer of -- what?

I deliberately used straw to be able to easily (as I hear the Yeltons do) keep sheet mulching over the top layer next early fall, so maybe I shouldn't complain.

But wasn't this "Ultimate Bomb Proof Sheet Mulching" method supposed to stop all weeds?

I my mistake that I put on too much straw?

I know I'll get enlightened from this group!!

Lisa F.
Group Organizer
Portland, ME
Post #: 70
Hi Elaine -

Typically most of your weeds are suppressed by the weed block layer of newspaper or cardboard, etc. However, in this case, it sounds like the top layer of straw is sprouting into weeds itself!

Now this generally only happens when there are seed heads in the straw and *most* straw doesn't have too much in the way of weed seeds. In fact, some of the reason people stay away from hay (as opposed to straw) is that hay has more seed heads, unless you're certain it's "second cutting" or similar...cut after the seed heads have been removed in an earlier cutting.

So in your case, it sounds like you may have more seeds in the straw than normal (i.e. the oats got cut standing into bales rather than harvested for the grain? Or they waited to long to harvest the 2nd cutting and more grains/seeds developed? Who knows....). The good news is that almost all the seeds will probably sprout now and get knocked down by the winter. A few may lie dormant and sprout in the spring but only a few. So this means that once this weedy batch of straw sprouts and the shoots die back, the problem is probably over with. Don't panic!

I did have a few sprouts from the oat straw we used (maybe a dozen blades of "grass" within a 15' by 30' area. As the birds start playing in the straw and the wind and other normal environmental conditions take over we may see a random weed or "volunteer" from time to time, but nothing worth troubling about.

Hope this helps! Any other thoughts on this from sheet mulchers out there?
user 3022592
Portland, ME
Post #: 21
Dear Lisa,

Thanks so much for this reassuring news!

But even if my worry were warranted, I know you and/or the group would have a solution!

It'll be fun to see what develops.

And next time we can probably find a more dependable source for straw which we expected, as you agree, to be weed free.

Thanks once again!
francesco s.
user 3227838
Portland, ME
Post #: 3
Hello, Elaine -
The same thing is happening to us, too. It most definately is the straw and I had assumed, and Lisa confirmed, that it will iron itself out by Spring. We got some of our weedy straw bales from the Paris Farmer's Union and some from Risbara's- and probably won't get straw from them next year? For now, I'm actually enjoying the resultant fresh green!!!
Lisa F.
Group Organizer
Portland, ME
Post #: 71
I've been thinking about this a little more...If your straw is really sprouting ALOT, you certainly wouldn't want to establish a "lawn" in your mulch layer. The most important thing would be to make sure that anything sprouting from your mulch now never makes it through to developing its OWN seed heads:) So if winter doesn't kill the sprouts, you may need to do a little bit of hand picking of those loose shoots.

For what it's worth, we buy our straw from Jordan's Farm on the Wells Road in Cape Elizabeth. It's gorgeous and only a couple of seed heads per bale, at most.
user 3022592
Portland, ME
Post #: 22
Dear Lisa, (Here's a response and a question):

No, I just checked and all but one are gone. The colder weather probably nipped the problem in the bud just as you predicted. But I appreciate hearing your thinking about it.

And, next time we need straw, we'll know where to go.


Here's something else. Carpenters just finished today replacing wood shingles on the east and south side of our 104 year old house.

When I went outside just now I saw 2 barrels of mostly defective and clipped-off bare wood shingles and immediately thought! "Wow! How can we use these?!"

Right away I thought of the OUTSIDE of our fenced in garden where tough insistent witch grass grows! Since in the spring we'll be planting cucumber and other vines all around the INSIDE fence, of course we'll be mulching all around the outside of the fence.

I had thought of using cardboard and newspapers to prevent that witch grass from coming up, but why not these thin wooden shingles in addition to, -- over or under the newspaper and cardboard? (Oh! And maybe sawdust too?) Our plan is to put flagstones as the topmost layer.

Thanks so much for your valuable advice!
A former member
Post #: 1
Dear Lisa and all,

What a straw mess we've got over 90% of the garden! With the warmer weather many more straw sprouts peeked out, so today I went out to turn around the top layer of straw to expose the shoots to upcoming frost.

But, to my dismay I discovered and remembered that we had put straw as layers 7 as well as 11! (following the "Ultimate sheet mulching recipe."
Our SHEET MULCH layers
1. Manure
2. Cardboard
3. Newspaper
4. Green clippings & uncomposted greens.
5. seaweed,
6. leaves,
7. straw
8. manure
9. Compost
10. Soil
11. straw

So the problem is deeper! Layer 7 straw shoots are even longer. I measured one from seed to tip, -- 10 inches long!

I'm guessing it's wiser to dig up those deeper shoots now to expose them to the frost rather than wait til spring, right?

That means exposing the topsoil too which isn't a good idea either is it?

Any better suggestions?

It's a huge job coming at the worse time since I'm tied up planning our peace group's Day of Mourning (wars, environmental degradation etc) on Dec 9 to which all are invited.

Thanks ahead of time,
A former member
Post #: 2
I see that MeetUp thinks I'm Francis. Well that doesn't matter, he's my better half anyway.

Remembering that Julia said at the Permaculture workshop in July -- "Just experiment," I figured on a plan of my own:

Dig down through soil, compost and manure to the original straw level and uproot grass shoots.

By then these 3 will be all mixed up. No problem:
Cover the de-shooted mixture with mature compost we have in our pile and cover that with remaining innocent looking straw.

It's too big a job for us to do at this time so we'll have to hire someone to help us.

Are any of you interested?

If not, we'll ask our new neighbor, a strong young man.

A former member
Post #: 6
Gosh Elaine, I got tired just *thinking* of all that work! Why don't you just wait till next spring and see what the winter freeze gets rid of, and perhaps if some does sprout it will be easy enough to grab by the handful and pull out. I did google it to look for any info and found that sometimes rye is planted in the fall (to sprout in the fall), die back during the winter, and then be used as a cover crop to be dug in the next spring--which suggests that the wheat sprouts may over-winter. In the meantime, I would suggest you just sit back and wait to see what happens.
A former member
Post #: 3
Dear Mary,

Thanks for your note and your comment about the rye too! I hadn't thought of that. But what we have is not rye and not wheat either, but grass.

This earlier comment of Lisa's made sense to me: "...make sure that anything sprouting from your mulch now never makes it through to developing its OWN seed heads."

So yesterday, that's what I ended up doing, -- lifting the top straw up and exposing the sprouts underneath to last night's frost . That way the frost made it easy for our young neighbor to pull out the deeper lower layer of grass sprouts today. Now the straw will get put back over the cleared topsoil tomorrow and that'll be that.

I just didn't want to risk those long sheltered shoots from the underneath layer of straw continuing to grow under the thick top layer of straw whose own shorter seedlings the frost did kill.

But your comment gives me more to think about and learn from so I thank you!

Hope to meet you sometime soon. Tuesday night?

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