Barley Straw, Barley Straw Pellets, and Barley Straw Extract: Which is best for my pond?

So much barley, which to use on my pond?

These are three great natural products and each has its place.  All are completely safe to use in ponds populated by fish, frogs, dogs, kids, livestock, aquatic plants, etc.:

o   Pluses: In most of the country, bales need only be replaced once a year; in tropical Florida and the Southwest they may need replacement every 6 to 8 months.

o   Minuses: The down side is they are chunky and hard to hide in the pond and need hard water to work optimally.   It’s not that they don’t sink with time, but that they are going to be visible at the surface for several weeks until they get wetted enough to sink.  And yes, a little straw residue is bound to flow off and clutter up the pond surface, again until they sink.  If your heart is set on natural straw bales but you need them invisible from day one, as the National Park Service does with our bales, you can wrap them in plastic mesh and weigh each one down with a 100 lb. of granite or other weights.  Yes they’re that buoyant at first.  If you can be patient, they will sink on their own in time.  As with all biological (bacteria dependent) treatments, they take several weeks to begin to work and do best when the water has at least 100 mg/l of total alkalinity.

o   Costs: In most areas, you can treat an acre pond for under $300 for the entire year. A six pack of bales, enough to treat an acre pond of any depth, including shipping anywhere in the Eastern and Central Time Zones is $225, or with bags included $260.  Add $10 per bale for shipping to the Mountain and Pacific Time Zone.

  • Barley Straw Pellets are less obtrusive looking but are more expensive, need replacing more often, and are pickier about where they will work.

o   Pluses: Barley Straw Pellets come in 25 lb. buckets and 40 lb. bags.  To apply, just walk around the pond and broadcast them over the shallows, or spread from a small boat.  They do sink immediately.  They are less expensive to use than Barley Straw Extract but more expensive than natural barley straw.

o   Minuses: Barley Straw Pellets, as with all biological (bacteria dependent) treatments, they take several weeks to begin to work and do best when the water has at least 100 mg/l of total alkalinity.  They are also best used in pond with hard bottoms as they tend to sink into the sediments in mucky bottomed ponds.  Once covered by muck, they are no longer functional. They tend to make the water a little more acidic.  This is a plus is you have very alkaline water but a minus if you water is already acidic.  They need to be replaced every 6 weeks.

o   Costs: $1416 per year assuming 6 month warm season. 120 lb./acre/6 weeks = (3)40 lb. per bag/acre/6 weeks @ $118/bag, delivered = $354 x 4 times per year = $1416 per acre per year (assumes 6 month warm season).  If you have a 1/6 pond, an annual cost of $236 may be acceptable, but if you have an acre pond, the cost of $1416 may be too much.  For that price you can install a complete Vertex Air 1 Aeration System (assuming you have electric available to the pond).

  • Barley Straw Extract is the easiest to use and the stealthiest.  The extract is a clear liquid that is simple poured into the pond. It is also the most costly.

o   Pluses: Works Great! So easy.  Just pour it in.  So unobtrusive, as a colorless, odorless liquid, no one will know it’s there.   And, because it is not bacterial, it begins to work immediately.  Barley Straw Extract is not picky about alkalinity levels or bottom sediments, as are the pellets.

o   Minuses: Barley Straw Extract needs to be applied every week for the first three weeks then every 3 weeks thereafter.  So, if you are not good a remembering maintenance chores, this may not be the one for you.  And, it is pricey for big ponds.

o   Costs: $2800 per average acre pond (6 foot deep) per year (assuming 6 warm month warm season).  You could install two complete aeration systems for that price.  But, if you do not have electric at the pond this might work for you.  Most of the barley straw extract I sell is for backyard ponds or earthen ponds less than a quarter acre.  But folks with big ponds do ask about it, so here’s the cost.  Here is an easy to remember rule of thumb: figure about $250 per million gallons per month.  A one acre pond, 6 feet deep is about 2 million gallons.