We needed a lightweight, futon-like mattress for our gypsy wagon, which will have a bed platform that folds into a couch. We saw this need as an opportunity to experiment with a homemade mattress that wouldn't be pumped full of chemicals like conventional mattresses. We had seen a custom-made straw mattress on another blog, and at first I was planning to sew the tick myself. Then I realized that a commercial, 100% cotton futon cover would be just as cheap as the fabric. So a $30 futon cover plus a $5 bale of straw = a cheap, natural mattress.
Straw mattresses have a bad rap of course (bugs! rodents! itchy!) and since we've never used one before, we'll be testing ours out before we hit the road. The basic concept for care of a straw mattress goes like this. The straw needs to be replaced every few months because it compresses down and if left for too long can develop a problem with bugs nesting in it. Rodents and bugs don't get any nutrition from straw (this isn't hay--the nutritional content is pretty much zilch in straw) so they aren't attracted to it. When it's time to switch out the straw, you compost the old, the new costs $5, and you get an opportunity to wash the cover. And really, if you get sick of straw and want to invest in wool fleece or some other filler, you can do so at any time! This seems to us to be an environmentally friendly and flexible "sleep system". We'll let you know how it feels after a couple of nights.