Monday, April 5, 2010

Barley Straw for Ponds

Article by Nate Herman

Have you ever heard of someone putting barley straw in their pond? Many people have heard of it, most people have no idea why or how though. I have been researching, studying, and experimenting with adding beneficial pond bacteria and barley straw into ponds for years and just now am ready to start reporting some of what I have learned. I guess I will just start with a bit of the history of adding barley straw to ponds; talk a bit about why, when, and how to best apply barley straw, and then finish up with the best place to purchase barley straw online.

Back in the middle ages when people lived in or around castles with moats and draw bridges, a peasant's wagon pulling a load of barley straw for the Duke of Earl's pigs lost its wheel while going over the draw bridge. The entire load of barley tipped over into the algae covered moat and sunk down into the abyss. About 3 weeks later that same peasant noticed how amazing the moat looked and how healthy the fish were. About 3 months later and that same peasant had started his own moat management company and was well on his way to managing all of the moats in the kingdom.

Several years later on his deathbed and in an interview with the Castle Times that same peasant who now owned a majority of the sheep and goats in the world revealed his secret formula for creating such awesome water quality, growing such big fish, and quite simply managing the best moats in the land... Flash forward about 800 years or so and here I am about to reveal the exact same information that peasant refined so many years earlier.

So for those of you still wondering, not about my mental state, but rather about why to add barley straw to your pond here is some information for you to chew on. As barley straw decomposes in water with plenty of oxygen and a bit of circulation, the rotting straw actually does a few things. I still dont know exactly the entire process or complete science behind what is completely going down with this process, but here is what I do know or at least what I think I know.

First, as barley decomposes it gives off a chemical compound that someway, somehow inhibits algae growth. It doesnt kill algae, but rather inhibits growth of new algae cells. I will never be able to figure this one out on my own, but somehow someday millions of dollars will be used by government funded scientists who will devote most of their lives to figuring out exactly what is produced from rotting barley that inhibits pond algae growth.

Second thing that barley does in water is that it helps colonize billions of natural pond bacteria already in your water. A good population of bacteria is essential for a healthy pond ecosystem. Properly placed decomposing barley straw provides the perfect habitat for spawning and feeding beneficial bacteria. Proper habitat is just as important for growing good bacteria as it is for growing everything that lives is in a pond. Fish, weeds, and microorganisms all need perfect habitat to live and reproduce to their fullest potential. Barley for some reason or another provides that great habitat for beneficial bacteria. Not only does it help bacteria, but barley also provides food good habitat for beneficial microorganisms, zooplankton, and other tiny creatures that are great for ponds and fish.

Last reason I have found to put barley straw into ponds we have already touched on briefly. For me, it is all about the fish! In order for a fish to not merely survive, but to thrive to its fullest potential it needs to have perfect water quality 365 days per year, ideal habitat for living in, and an unlimited food supply to gorge on. Barley straw is not a magic potion that instantly creates the perfect pond. It isnt a cure all solution for water quality, controlling algae, or feeding fish. It also is not even at the top of my list of pond management tools, but what it does do is to help improve each of those key factors just a bit.

Zooplankton and invertebrates that thrive off of decomposing barley are very important in ponds for young fish to feed on. In my opinion the first month of a fish's life sets the stage for its trophy potential. When a fish is hatched, it needs to start eating right away and will eat anything it can fit in its tiny mouth. The few fry that start eating microorganisms right away will grow so fast that they will start eating their brothers and sisters immediately. Those first couple days set the stage for who will become king and who will become lunch.

In ponds with plenty of tiny invertebrates, little fish become big fish years faster than in ponds without good populations of invertebrates. Lets take a 3-5 inch bluegill for example. I can grow a bluegill to 3-5 inches in a matter of weeks under ideal conditions. Under not so good conditions, I have seen 3-5 inch bluegill that are 10 years old. What would you rather have in your pond: a population of 3-5 inch bluegill that are weeks old or a population of 3-5 inch bluegill that are years old?

The reduction of new algae, improvement of water quality through beneficial bacteria, and the additional food supplied to small fish from barley straw all are just another step to the perfect pond mystery. There really is not one magic trick to creating that perfect pond. A big misconception is that once you put in your aeration system, or treat with an aquatic algaecide or herbicide, or start feeding your fish, that your pond will all of a sudden be fixed for life or your fish will turn into sumo wrestlers. The key to creating and maintaining your perfect pond and growing your trophy fish is rather a combination of management tools to help address what your pond lacks naturally. Some lakes and ponds need just a little nudge to get the ecosystem flowing, others need to break out the whole gamut of magic tricks.

So now that I have spent half the night writing and rewriting this simple barley straw infomercial I can finally move on towards the when and how portion of barley straw applications. I apply barley in the spring once the ice comes off, but have found that you can simply apply it anytime of year. Just keep in mind that the warmer the water is, the faster the barley will decompose and start "working". Many people in the south keep barley in their ponds year round. Basically though if you ask me for my recommendation I will say to apply it in April, May, June or whatever month you are reading this and still don't have any applied yet.

There are many different ways to apply barley. That kind of depends on what you are exactly wanting to accomplish with it.

Water Garden Applications
If your looking for water quality improvements in a small water garden pond I recommend applying a 1 lb mesh bag of barley straw per 1000 gallons of water. This will help filter your water and give a good boost to your bacteria filters as well. I suggest using a liquid bacteria about 2-3 weeks after the initial barley application to get the most bang for your buck. After a couple weeks, the barley is ready to host and boost the bacteria!

Pond and Lake Applications
Here is where you have a couple different barley applications to consider. For water quality improvements I suggest loosely placing 8-10 lbs of barley in a mesh bag with a gatorade bottle or milk jug also placed in the bag for flotation. Then attach an anchor or concrete block to the mesh bag and place around the shoreline in 4-5 feet of water. You want the top of the barley mesh bag to float about 1-2 feet below the surface of the water. Ponds with good circulation or aeration already have much better bacteria populations and the barley is much more effective in these waters as well. For pond and lake applications I will add one packet of powder bacteria by each mesh bag about 2 weeks after initial installation
Typically I recommend applying 10 of these bags per acre. For a 1/4 acre pond, I recommend 2-3 mesh barley bags. Application rates can vary though depending on your unique situation. You dont want to apply fresh cut barley due to the possibility of an oxygen depletion with decomposing fresh barley. Also you dont want to apply more than 250 lbs per acre because we all know what too much of a good thing can do.

The above mentioned method is a great way to add barley without anyone ever knowing it is in the pond. Now if your looking for a way to feed your fish and you dont really care about visually seeing bales of barley straw around the shoreline, I suggest applying large bales of barley in 2-3 feet of water around the shore. Usually a bale of barley weighs 40 lbs and I will strategically apply 4 of these bales per acre. Just simply put a stake through the bale into the water.

So there you have it, the where, when, why, who, and how to applying barley straw in ponds. I will have complete barley straw kits as well as bulk barley bales for sale online hopefully by Memorial Day. I do have them both currently available, just not on the website yet. Contact me for pricing and more information.


  1. hmmm...i don't know if i should believe your history lesson. besides, it just got too long winded for me and i gave up after the second paragraph. too bad you didn't take some fish engagement pics or something cool like that:)

  2. This is completely true , dont knock until you try it. IDK a bout the story how it happened , but it does work !!

  3. Im now going to try it!!!1 Thank you this is the info I was looking for!!!!

  4. I would like to appreciate you for sharing such an impressive post with us. I can say that this post can be beneficial one for many people all around the world.

  5. Thank you for the information and especially the illustrated how-to.

  6. It does work, I've used it years. Glad to see you mentioning to keep part of the bale floating or above water as on the shore line... this is an important aspect of the technique. I see some sites say to weigh it down and sink to bottom, this will not work as effectively if at all. Good info, I enjoyed your "story" too. Thanks for sharing the info. Barb

  7. I have a 1/2 to 1 acre pond. we moved here 4 years ago. the people before us didnt take care of the pond at all. it is 13 years old. we have cat tails and all kids of plants and moss and seaweed. i put some barley in today. how do i go about getting these plants out of my pond! thanks

    1. Please dont't be too quick to get rid of all your cattails. They serve a pond in many ways: young fish can hide among them, their roots are edible and delicious(at least nutritious; delicious is a bit subjective). Keep them in check, certainly, but know you have a good thing going.

  8. This is very nice information for pond owner. Your blog presentation is very impressive.

  9. Wonderful! This article is a very inspirational one. Thanks for sharing the information.That was really a mind-boggling share.
    Pond Services

  10. would like to try this! where do you buy barley straw in central illinois? near lasalle-peru, princeton area?

  11. will barley get rid of cattails