Suburban Straw Stories

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Up 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?”


“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.