During the growing season, and then again in the fall, we flail chop wheat straw and apply it to our raised beds. Fall applied finely chopped straw degrades quickly once significant rains begin mid- to late-October. Long straw takes a much longer time to decompose. The chickens are helpful in turning the surface straw and adding nitrogen; this further facilitates straw decomposition and release of nutrients for soil biota and plants. Sometimes we will turn under the straw to get it deeper in the soil profile. Western Oregon's clay soils really need organic matter additions to improve soil quality. The increase in slugs due to the surface straw additions is kept in check by our chickens. They are quite effective in controlling slug populations as well as other pests (e.g., earwigs). The covered beds also help maintain dry surface soil that further controls slugs and other pests. This is critical during late fall to late spring produce production in western Oregon where precipitation can exceed 35 inches. Surface applied chopped straw during the growing season also helps conserve soil water during those dry summer months. Another thing we do to enhance soil heath is fall-sow legumes (e.g., Crimson clover, Birdsfoots Trefoil) by reducing nutrient leaching, adding soil nitrogen, and increase soil organic matter.


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