Straw Bale Gardens

| 3/18/2014 11:55:00 AM

Desperate situations call for desperate measures. The year was 2010. We lived on an acreage in the San Joaquin Valley near Tracy, California. If any of you have been out that way you’ll know this is prime hay country. There’s abundant water and the nice level land of the Delta. When we lived on the acreage, we had fields all around us in every direction. In the spring, we were dive-bombed by low flying crop dusters, and when the farmers were ready to plant, they regularly flooded the fields. That’s my theory of how we came to be overrun by gophers. When living conditions were hostile in the fields, the gophers moved over to our little dry “island.” I even saw a rare California long-tailed weasel pop down a hole one morning and promptly come out with his breakfast. Our medium-sized terrier dog always had something to do. I hardly ever saw his face. Just his rear-end pointed sky high, tail a-switching back and forth his nose down the gopher hole.

You can well imagine this is a challenge for the gardener. It’s also a problem for me because I don’t believe in killing gophers. I think it’s barbaric to kill God’s creatures who are put here for a reason and are just trying to make a living same as us. I also think it’s just buying time to kill them and ultimately impractical. Their relatives will eventually move in to take their place and you’ll have to do it all over again.

So … how to grow a garden in gopher territory? I conjured up all sorts of difficult-to-execute and expensive barriers until one day I was surfing the web and I came upon straw bale gardening. This turned out to be the perfect solution on a number of levels. I’m not going to go into a great amount of detail about how to construct one. This can be found on the web. But I can offer some suggestions born of my trial and error. Some of the problems I encountered have not been addressed anywhere I found so I will pass them on to you to help you have a better experience.


The Straw Bale Garden in May

Basically a straw bale garden is a bale of straw that has been seasoned by making it wet and letting it “compost” for a few days. This makes the straw a better environment for the plants. I read that wetting and letting the bale “compost” for a week or more was supposed to make it easier to dig in between the “flakes” to create room for the sets. However, the oat straw I used was still so “tight” even after the composting period that I had to use a serrated knife to dig a hole in the bale for the sets. You can’t really untie the twine or your bale will fall apart. But cutting a hole with a serrated knife worked out pretty good. Then I added a little soil to the hole and was ready to put in my sets.

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