for strawberries at morning glory

We farmers here at morning glory received many comments on the straw harvest on the front field (Sherman’s Field) this week.  Lot of people asked if we were making hay.  It seems nearly indistinguishable from hay at distance because all the same motions are made.  However we were making straw, the difference?  Well straw is traditionally the dried stalks of cereal (grain) crops, collected after threshing or combining.  This means that the seed or grain has been removed and the remainder is of low value and can be used for animal bedding, mulching plants, burning for biomass, thatching roofs, insulating homes, and woven into the farmer’s cheap straw hat.  It is generally considered to low in nutrients to feed to animals though many cattlemen use it as roughage in a portion of the diet.  The reason it can be safely used as vegetable mulch is because those viable seeds have been removed and will not start a huge weed crop in the field.  Whereas hay is nutritious grasses and legumes with the nutrient rich seeds still on the stalk, thus making it nutritious animal feed.

We did not harvest the grain off this crop of winter rye, instead we harvested it while the grain was still immature and not viable.  I tested a sample of the grain in the greenhouse as a germination test.  This harvest removes a lot of biomass that would have been plowed down into the soil as an important part of our crop nutrient plan.  By harvesting here on Rocky Top we know we have plowed down many successful rye crops in the past years, and we are able to spread our compost over this field as it is close to the home farm.  Over the years this field has steadily increased its strength and vigor.  Years ago Mom and Dad had little confidence in it and lost more than a few crops.  Huge amounts of organic matter have been added and the result is this tall stand of healthy rye and come August a tall stand of sweet corn.

So what do we do with all that mass?  This harvest was about 6 tons of straw.  We will use the bulk of it mulching StrawBerries in late December early January.  We stacked it under a tarp next to the strawberry field.  We always like to straw our rhubarb, and our perennial flower garden.  We like to mulch our garlic crop because of it’s long season (November to nearly August), its need for steady moisture, and its inability to thrive with weed pressure.  However this winter with the largest garlic crop of our farm’s life we ran short of straw and the market price was $8 bale, simply not feasible.  We would have to sell the whole crop just to pay the cost of the straw, and in spite of not having a mulch the garlic has thrived.

Mo glo'ers stacking straw Cheryl Harary, Daniel Athearn, Graham Glaser, Anna Adamowicz (LtoR)

Straw berries right?  Well many discussions and researchers have worked on where the name came from.   No definitive answer comes but the contenders are… The fruits were packed in straw to prevent bruising,  the plants are covered with straw all winter, the  fruits rest (free of soil/dirt) on the straw in harvest, or the way street vendors used to string the fruits onto a stem of straw to sell at market, or (from the USDA) because of the way the fruit ‘strew’ around the mother plant.  Who knows but I can’t wait till mid june for the strawberries to be ripe!  Come in on Saturday June 20th for our 30th anniversary festival for fun and games, a book signing of our new cookbook!  And fresh strawberry shortcake!!!