Grit Blogs > A Long Time Coming

Suburban Straw Stories

A photo of Shannon SaiaUp until about this time last year I had never given a moment’s consideration to straw. It wasn’t until I received some gardening advice about mulching my tomato plants that I began to consider it, and even then I procrastinated for weeks. My reasons for procrastinating were various: the place where I knew I could get it (which wasn’t, in the end, where I got it) is not on any of my usual routes; I drive a small compact car; and perhaps most of all there was the sense of unease at doing something unfamiliar. But one day I said, enough of all that. I finally bucked up and got serious, and went in search of straw.

I drove out to the out-of-the-way place where I’d seen bales of it for sale, and no one was there. It was about 9:15 on a Saturday morning – too early, apparently. So I made a huge loop back towards the house, with the idea of stopping at the couple of country road nurseries not too far from my house to see if they sold straw. I’d been to the first nursery a number of times and never seen any, but on that day as I pulled into the lot, lo and behold a guy was walking out towards the parking lot carrying a big bale of it!

I asked him if he could get me some straw, and he looked at my car, and then back at me, doubtfully.

“You’re going to put it in that?”

“I can put some in the trunk,” I told him. I opened the trunk and he peered inside. “Could I get two bales in there?” I asked him.

“You might be able to get one in there.”

“I can put some in the front seat too,” I said. “And some in the back.”

“With a child in there?”

“Well just in the front seat then. One in the front and one in the trunk.”

“In your car?”

“Yes.”

“Sure, if you want to,” he said. “If you want to get mites in your car, I’ll put it in there for you. You know straw has mites it in it. You’ll get mites all over your car.”

Hmmmn. Mites???

“Well, just give me one then. Put it in the trunk.”

So he went and got the bale of straw for the dumb blond, and I picked up some slow release organic tomato food (something else I’d been avoiding doing) and a few yellow crookneck squash plants and headed home, thinking all the time about mites.

I appreciated the information, but gosh, he could told me all of that in a way that didn’t make me feel so ... um ... stupid.

Well, let me tell you something – when I got home that day with my first bale of straw and pulled that thing out of my trunk, I was astonished at the mess. Boy am I glad I didn’t fill my car up with it. I didn’t think that I would ever get all that straw out of the trunk of my car. And it didn’t do much for my sinuses either ... or maybe I just had mites up my nose.

But I did end up going back for more straw, because one bale was not enough to mulch the garden, and once that first bale was down, and temporarily covering up all of my unsightly weeds, I couldn’t wait to get another and to finish the job. Over the course of that summer and that fall I went back again and again. This spring by my third trip, the same guy who had cautioned me about mites was automatically bringing up a bale of straw when he saw me. We’ve been talking flagstone. I asked his advice about planting my tomatoes. It’s not just straw that I’m more comfortable with this year. I’m more comfortable with gardening and I’m more comfortable with myself.

This morning as I was out in the garden checking on the state of things, I crouched down to get closer to a tomato plant and I heard the straw talking to me. It was a rustling whisper; it spoke of burgeoning activity going on there invisible to the naked eye; the ongoing work of the soil, the scurry of insects, the pushing of plants past their boundaries to grow ever onwards, up and out.

All of that – or else it was dry straw being rubbed against the dry newspaper underneath of it, which had been put down (and originally wet down) to try to help cut down on the weeds. Sure enough, when the wind died for a moment, the murmur of the garden died too. And the not-quite-so-dumb-as-last-year blond had her answer.

s.m.r. saia
6/2/2010 5:16:54 AM

Hi Pam! I really don't know what kind of straw it is...I've never asked. It takes a while to break down though. I did wet the newspaper when I put it down, but it dried right back out again in some of our hot hot days we've already had. We've already hit 100 half a dozen times if not more since the beginning of April. Thanks for reading!


pam_6
6/1/2010 2:17:54 PM

Hi Shannon, What kind of straw are you using? Down here we use needles from the pine trees or pinestraw for mulch. And lots of it! I have seen spiders, bugs, ants and snakes in the pinestraw but I haven't seen mites. I guess all those other varmits ate the mites, maybe. LOL. I have also used layers of newspapers. I would have a big bucket of water and put the layer of newspaper in the water to wet it good and put it down. Then put a layer of pinestraw over the newspaper. That way the paper is already wet and laid flat. We have a long growing season which means the weeds also have a long growing season. The newspaper and the pinestraw breaks down well after each growing season. Good luck with your garden. It sounds like it is talking your language this year. Have a great day. Pam Life on a Southern Farm


s.m.r. saia
6/1/2010 5:19:46 AM

Cindy, thanks for the advice about the straw! I need to pick up some more, I'll try laying it down in those tightly packed sheets and see how it works. My garden is pretty much a weed nightmare it seems, no matter what I do. I guess that's what you get when your 'lawn' isn't grass at all anyway, but clover and weeds. They insist on colonizing everything!


cindy murphy
5/29/2010 7:15:23 AM

Too funny, Shannon. Your conversation with the nursery guy reminds me of all the times I've helped nursery customers load bales of straw in their vehicles - yes, many of them INSIDE the car. You can always tell a gardener's car from from a non-gardener's by amount of spillage in it - dirt, straw, leaves, etc - and their willingness to pack it to the brim with whatever they need to get their gardening fix. One spring, I had hundreds of albino-from-lack-of-sun seedlings sprouting in my less-than-watertight trunk - leftovers from some plant I'd brought home from work the previous year. I've used straw in the veggie garden in years prior, and had success with it. There's a trick to laying it. Bales are packed in layers. Instead of grabbing handfuls or pitchforkfuls from the bale so it's fluffy, start at one end of the bale, carefully separating a generous, heaping armful of the layers and lay it on that way. Weeds are less liking to make it through the already packed-together layers. This year I'm trying something different - I'm using the paper that's been run through the shredders at Hubs office, and from the nursery. I know it'll break down quicker, but there's a never-ending supply, and it's free. I'll let you know how...or if, it works. Have a great weekend.


s.m.r. saia
5/29/2010 5:37:01 AM

Nebraska Dave and Mountain Woman, thanks for reading! So far the straw isn't setting any world records for keeping the weeds out, but I guess it helps. And so far I haven't seen any mites - or seed heads - in the straw. N. Dave, I have already figured out how much animals like to nest in the straw; I have a post coming up soon about that very subject!


nebraska dave
5/28/2010 10:46:37 PM

Shannon, I’m glad to see that you have discovered mulch. I too headed on down to the local feed store this year to get a bale of straw. I’m not so sure it will be a good investment. Oh, it will mulch and keep the ground weed free and conserve the moisture but I noticed that the straw had a lot of seed heads still on the stalks. That means that I could be dealing with some kind of small grain hostile take over before the year’s end. I’ve already discovered that some varmint like to snuggle into the straw over night. It hasn’t munched on anything just yet, but I cover the spot back up hoping it will discourage whatever it is from coming back. Gardening is all about trying new things. Every year is a clean slate. Remembering the last year helps with the planning of the next. Last year for me was a learning year as well. I had acquired much knowledge 20 years ago about gardening but didn’t have time to put it in practice. Reading the Grit blogs sparked that interest again. I had a very successful year thanks to Grit’s advice from the bloggers. This year I’m being much more bold and experimental which has entertained the neighbors immensely. I hope your gardening experiences this year are a great encouragement to keep gardening.


mountain woman
5/28/2010 3:23:21 PM

What a great post. I so relate to what you said about being more comfortable with gardening as I was a total novice last year. I read with interest your use of straw for your tomatoes. I'm currently using a homemade brew of horse manure and then wood ash as well. I'll be interested to hear more about how the straw works for you. I can't say the horse poop has spoken to me. I'd much rather hear straw whispering ever so gently about all the activity brewing. How beautifully said. As to mites, I got them this year when we fed Missouri hay. Never heard of them before, never had them and don't have them in Vermont but oh, boy, they got me and I can tell you that you don't want them. Itch, itch, itch. I think you are a fabulous storyteller and I look forward to many, many more of your adventures. And hope to hear more about your daughter's adventures in her garden as well.