By Tamara Galbraith
You see them all over the place during autumn: bales of hay used as fall décor. But once all the autumn decorations have been put away, what should you do with your bales of hay?
One option is: compost them. Hay is an excellent additive to the compost pile, and ideally, the heat of the pile will kill any weed seeds that might be languishing in the bales. Straw apparently breaks down even better than hay.
Hay and straw make great mulches and/or path covers too. First, though, break open the bales and let them sit outside for a couple of weeks. This will allow wild birds to come in and munch on any weed seeds that might still be present.
When spreading hay or straw bales on garden beds, be sure they don't stay too clumpy as you break the bales apart.
Last, hay bales left intact make great cold frames--a kind of mini-greenhouse for housing tender plants during the colder seasons. Simply arrange the bales in a tight square and place your plants inside, either right in the soil or in containers. A piece of Plexiglas or an old window serves as the lid.
If you decide to give this easy cold frame a try, be aware that you must monitor the temperature frequently. Too much sun, and the plants inside will fry, so prop the lid open if necessary. If temperatures are going to drop too low for your plants, throw a blanket over the whole contraption and remove it when things stabilize.
No matter what, the hay will eventually break down, though, so keep an eye out for that--as well as the occasional mouse looking for a warm, fluffy place to spend the winter.
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