“Our vegetable garden is doing well, with radishes and beans, and we’re less worried about the revolution than we used to be.” — EB White, author of “Charlotte’s Net”
Every spring, The Hubster and I plant a straw bale garden. For the uninitiated, a straw bale garden (SBG) is a garden that uses composted straw as the planting medium.
A SBG is drought tolerant, relatively weed free, requires little stooping once established, and can provide a bountiful crop of vegetables. Plus many happy hours telling your friends about your crazy gardening adventure. (See my previous column at tinyurl.com/LairdSBG19 for a “how to” article on SBGs.)
This year’s artful gardening adventure had a few issues. I want to share these because any gardener can be affected.
water is important
I love my SBG because it saves water. My first challenge this year wasn’t the water usage issues I expected. Let me explain…
Last month I made my annual call to our local feed store to order new pads for this year’s vegetable garden.
Sounds easy right?
In 2022… not so much.
It turns out that California’s water regulators turned off water for about 4,500 farmers last fall, according to The San Francisco Chronicle.
As a result, many winter wheat farmers did not plant crops. As a result, my neighborhood feed store can’t get wheat straw until “maybe June.”
Undaunted, I picked up the phone to call local feed stores. Rice straw is available (and will work) but I wanted wheat straw for my setup.
After several calls I finally got what I wanted. But the delivery was almost a hundred dollars. I placed my order for a dozen straw bales ($12 each) but decided against delivery. I rented a pickup truck from a local hardware store for 90 minutes instead ($20).
We brought the straw bales home and set them up on our SBG farm.
Then we moved on to the next step: conditioning the bales. The straw is composted with nitrogen fertilizer. This is important because raw straw strips nutrients from young plants and seedlings. However, processed straw provides your plants with nutrients. (For a SBG, avoid pre-emergent fertilizers if you want to grow from seed).
Then came the next revelation: There is a nationwide fertilizer shortage. To be honest, I found out about it from ranchers while waiting in line at the feed store.
I learned that the nitrogen fertilizers that American farmers use to grow most crops per acre are made from natural gas. A German chemist received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1918 for developing this process. The method revolutionized agriculture and saved generations of people from starvation. who knew
Fertilizer prices began to rise once American fracking was phased out. When Green New Deal advocates shut down natural gas production here, little did they know it would impact the actual cultivation of green new things.
For the time being, nitrogen-rich lawn fertilizer for the home garden is available at the local hardware store, but at a higher price. We stocked up on several bags and a few bags of well-rounded fertilizer with added potassium and phosphorus to complete the conditioning process.
Is there a food shortage?
Last month, President Joe Biden warned of “food shortages hitting our country sometime in 2022.” Whether or not this is due to Presidential malpractice, fuel and water shortages, product outsourcing across the Pacific, wars overseas or not… we all look to the rise in food prices in the near future.
Previous generations faced similar challenges. We can too.
Good soil – even potting soil in flower pots – can produce nutritious products. Do you have bad soil? I have an SBG because I have rocky, polluted ground from mine tailings. We all have options.
Plant items that you will actually eat. I plan to grow basil, mint, chard, beets, fresh peas, cucumber, tomatoes, zucchini, yellow squash, and spaghetti squash. Strawberries are an easy fruit to grow. melons too. Heirloom crops will continue to produce seed for the next year.
“The art of living lies in constant adaptation to our environment,” wrote Okakura Kakuzo, a 19th-century Japanese scholar and author of The Book of Tea. As a keen gardener himself, he also said: “A garden is a friend that you can visit at any time.”
A vegetable garden is good for the soul. worries shrink. hope grows.
So let’s resolve to make the best of what we have, where we are, with what we have.
We will get through these strange times.
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