When visiting the farm for the first time, we knew in an instant there would be a number of challenges connected with our new home. One of them was to move out the old oak-style furniture. In the end it all added up to some two tonnes of chairs and tables and wardrobes that went. This sounds a lot. But there was a challenge bigger than that waiting for us: old straw.
In fact it is old straw plus old hey. Either partly in the form of bales and partly loose. The straw/hey was packed mainly in two spaces: the attic and the barn. The straw and hey had been in there for at least the past 15 or 20 years. But part of it might have been sitting there for significantly longer – considering the state it is in.
The stuff in the attic was mainly bales. They were tightly and meticulously packed and in places some strength was needed to haul them out from underneath a beam. The bales were easy to handle but it was an awful lot. Even after far more than 20 loads have gone so far, there is still one load of bales waiting to be given a lift. At first the bales got loaded onto a trailer through a hole in the ceiling of what is called the „Deele“, the large farm working-entrance hall.
Later we started throwing the bales through one of the windows in the attic with the trailer parked underneath in the meadow. One advantage was that we could feed more bales onto the trailer as it had not to squeeze through the farm door when leaving. The other advantage was we did not have straw distributing itself in the house all over the place. The straw and hey is being used as bedding for livestock.
The stuff in the barn is a different story alltogether. Much of it is loose with some bales hidden in between. The bottom part of it, sitting directly on the brick floor, shows signs of a slow process of decomposition. Large brown sheets have formed, in a way resembling papyrus. In the far left hand side corner of the barn some kind of white-tailed bumblebees have their nest in the old straw-hey mixture. They are quite not amused about anybody manipulating their home. They’ll let you know instantly with a do-not-mess-with-us buzzing sound. The bumblebees will abandon nest in September and have a new one next spring. Thus we can clear away the nest once the bumblebees have left it.
Even within the straw and hey in the barn unexpected treasures emerge: an egg as light as paper. I know there used to be a henhouse on the premises, but it got pulled down very long ago. How old this egg might be? We’ll never know.
By chance I came across a book outlining a method of decomposing straw and hey. It sounded interesting and like some sort of solution for some of the loose stuff we have. There is no shortage of space to pile up heaps of straw for letting it rot away. We needed to have compost heaps anyway for all the grass we had to cut and for weeds and other stuff that had to go from where it was currently growing. We now have composters of different styles working. One is built from old oak beams we found in one of the stables. Two are simple heaps set up layer by layer.
I spent days putting up compost piles and packing old straw out of the barn wheelbarrow by wheelbarrow. While piling up the old material it had to be mixed with nitrogen fertilizer of some sort. I decided on pellets of manure. It keeps the little helpers going while they eat up all the old straw and turn it into compost for gardening. Apart from nitrogen – and phosphor and potassium – they need moisture. Consequently I kept watering the heaps while it was hot and dry in July. With the beginning of August we got some nice and steady rain that works well with the heaps of straw. They seem to be rotting quite nicely, feeling moderately warm inside.
I stuffed pumpkin seeds into one of them. I do not hope to be harvesting any pumpkins in autumn. I wanted a plant producing great big leaves to cover the surface of the heap and prevent it from loosing its moisture. The heaps of straw are big and it takes a while to water them and there is so much else to do. The first half dozen seedlings are showing and maybe there will be more to come.
With part of the straw having been in a state of decomposition already there are fungi and mushrooms appearing on the straw within days. The tiny grey mushrooms are pretty short lived. They last a day or two and melt away quickly. I am curious how the heaps will develop.
As I write this it is overcast and has cooled down considerably compared to just a week ago, when it was still hot and dry and kind of like an old fashioned summer in the countryside. The steady rain had started early this morning and now everything is thoroughly moistened. The pumpkins are doing their best to grow large leaves.