“Apocalypse.” Sorry. That’s too strong a word.
Oh, wait. Murder wasps.
So, yeah, that’s definitely the right word.
Have you watched that video of a murder wasp full-on murdering a mouse? Don’t. Because I did. And now I’m seeking a good trauma therapist.
Helping me remain positive in the meanwhile is the straw bale gardening my wife Cat and I have recently undertaken. Garrulous and gifted gardening guru Joe (“Joe Gardener”) Lamp’l says straw bale gardening will work. So we’re giving it a go. Because we know Joe knows grow. (We’ve also read the main book by the guy who invented straw bale gardening: Straw Bale Gardening, by Joel Karsten.)
We’ve started off with ten bales.
I won’t bore you with how to actually go about straw bale gardening, because there are so many great online sources for that. (The Joe Lamp’l link above is a terrific place to start.) But it’s really simple.
In a nutshell: You buy straw bales (from your local hardware store, feed store, farm supply place, farm, etc.), and put them virtually anywhere (porch, driveway, in the middle of the street: it doesn’t matter what’s beneath them). Then, over the course of two weeks, you sprinkle nitrogen on the top of each bale, and water that nitrogen in.
By “nitrogen,” I just mean any fertilizer that’s high in nitrogen. We’re using this pretty inexpensive stuff, from Home Depot:
(See that “29-0-4” on the bottom right of the bag? The 29 is the nitrogen number. The first of those three numbers, which you’ll find on every bag of fertilizer, is always nitrogen. So, you can see that this product is heavy on the nitrogen. That’s what you want.)
You soak your bales every day, and every other day (before applying the water) you sprinkle half a cup of high-nitrogen fertilizer on the top of them. You do that for two weeks. That’s called “conditioning” your bales. Once that’s done, the bales are ready to host anything you’d plant anywhere else in your garden. Seeds or starters. They’ll all take right off.
The combination of nitrogen, carbon (being the bales themselves), water and sunlight makes the straw inside the bails compost into what amounts to young soil. It gets real hot in there; composting occurs; the soil gets created; you let that soil cool down; you plant. That all takes a mere two weeks.
A conditioned bale is two things at once: the soil (which your conditioning has created inside the bale) and the container of that soil—being the straw surrounding the soil. It’s like . . . chocolate ice cream served in a chocolate cup!
We are ten days into conditioning our bales. Right now the outside temperature is 55 degrees; inside each of our bales it’s about 90 degrees. So we know our conditioning is working. (To get that temperature reading, I stuck a long-stemmed compost thermometer into our bales. But a meat thermometer does just as well.)
Some of the advantages of straw bale gardening are:
- No weeds. (No weeds! What else do you need to know?) Also no soil-borne diseases.
- It’s a lot less money and work than is building and filling raised garden boxes.
- The bales are pretty tall, so don’t take much bending to work on. Great for old folks, people with bag backs, wheelchair folk, etc.
- After a couple of seasons, your straw bales are superb compost. Zero waste!
- You can put your straw bales anywhere. All around the world, people who are living where they either have no room to garden, or where the land is too toxic to garden, are gardening in straw bales.
The SBG movement is pretty substantially changing the world. It’s allowing people who can garden no other way to become super gardeners. How awesome is that? (Straw is just a by-product of such cereal crops such as barley, oats, rice, rye and wheat. So, for a lot of people, it’s free to get. And you know how you can get all the free, high-quality nitrogen your bales can take? By peeing. So . . . you know. You can have no money at all, and still straw bale garden like you’re the Jolly Green Giant.)
Plus, I mean, let’s face it: this isn’t the worst time in the world to be growing your own food.
You gotta have something to give the Murder Wasps when they come knocking on your door. (For some reason I’m guessing they like beets. But who knows?)
In a couple of weeks I’ll let you know how our bales are doing. If you’d be good enough to add to my cursory treatment anything about straw bale gardening that you happen to know, please do, in the comment section below. Thank you!
I hope this finds you and yours feeling well and staying healthy.