Michael Tortorello (who profiled us when Making It came out) is one of my favorite writers covering the home ec/gardening subjects we discuss on this blog. He had an article last week in the New York Times, “Grasping at Straw” on straw bale gardening. We’ve very tempted to give the practice a try in our backyard. Why?
- We have lead and zinc contaminated soil so growing veggies in the ground is questionable.
- We live on a hill and it’s easier for us to drag a straw bale up the hill rather than bulk or bagged soil.
- Straw bale gardening is an old and tested practice.
- Straw bale gardening comes with the endorsement of horticulture professor and noted garden myth debunker Linda Chalker-Scott.
- The practice has been tested in dry climates like ours.
- After the bale has decomposed you get compost you can use elsewhere in the yard.
- I suspect that skunks will be less interested in digging in a bale (please correct me if I’m wrong here).
Now, if we had good soil I wouldn’t bother with the extra work of buying and prepping a straw bales garden. But, given the idiosyncrasies of our situation, it seems like a good solution. Frankly, I don’t know why we didn’t think of it sooner. Our thanks go out to Michael for reminding us of this possibility with his article.
The biggest possible downside with this method is that the straw may contaminated with a persistent herbicide, like Dow Chemical’s Clopyralid. This is a type of herbicide that is not broken down by composting. It’s not even broken down in an animal’s digestive track. It can linger in organic matter for a year or two, stunting the growth garden plants. (See Killer Compost).
Despite this risk, we’re going to go ahead and grow some food in bales anyway and see what happens. We’ll also be testing our straw.
So, off we go into another gardening adventure/research pit!
So have any of you tried, or are considering trying, straw bale gardening? How did it work?
Some resources on the topic:
strawbalegardens.com–the website of Joel Karsten, profiled in Tortorello’s article and the author of a book and a downloadable pamphlet on straw bale gardening.
Some tips from an experienced straw bale gardener at The Gardener’s Pantry
We’re going to bioassay (that is, test ) the straw from our local feed store. The Compost Gardener has good instructions for this. In our case, we’re doing the method where you plant beans in soil, and water them with tea made from the straw.
Washington State University–instructions for how to start a Straw Bale garden.