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Straw Bale Gardening
Apr 3rd, 2013 by alexfaye

First Draft, Day One

So, I just went out to Bellflower Feed — very close to my school! — and purchased four bales of hay for $7 each.  Carlos helped me by throwing them into the bed of his pick up truck, just like a real cowboy.  My fancy Rossmoor neighbors with pools and landscaping and fake plastic front lawns might not like the look of this operation since there was loose hay blowing around on my driveway, and I just swept it into the street.  But I hustled the bales into the backyard, and now only I can see them.  And you, of course.  You can see them too.

Wenzel — my green thumb friend who always has a little something growing in the backyard — tried to warn me off of this course yesterday.  He and Bob saw a thing on Paula Dean a few years ago, and Wenzel reported struggling with the bales and getting very meager results.   Bob ran into Paula Dean later and asked, and she replied with that signature little accent, “Oh Honey, I just go do what they tell me to.  I don’t know anything about that stuff.”  But it doesn’t sound like they did any of the watering and feeding of the bale, so that’s what is going to happen first:  soaker hose on top for three straight days.  I have to make sure this is the configuration I want, because once those bales are wet, I will not be moving them.  They’re pretty heavy when dry.  Once they’re wet…forget it.

I plan to plant pumpkin, butternut squash, zucchini, cucumbers, and a bunch of herbs and flowers sticking out of the sides.  There will be room for inspiration to strike me.  Maybe one more tomato plant, maybe some more peppers.  I’ve already put three pepper varieties (Big Bomb, Hybrid Hottie, and AgCo Fire Green) into a big pot, and three tomato plants (Yellow Brandywine, Big Beef, and Sugar Lump) directly into the earth.

I’m going to consult with Smart Daughter Maddy about the layout.  I am thinking maybe I just want one long line, so that one side of the yard can be worked on, building new raised beds.  Once this garden project is over next winter, all of that straw will be good compost, so I want to put them down on the most awful part of the back…and I have; the bales on the left are covering a really icky part of the yard that mostly grows those swirly stickers.  In the summer, it hurts to walk barefoot over there.  I tried to kill the grass last summer, but it just came roaring back this past spring after the rains.   Eventually, I want several raised beds back there, with small pebbley walking paths between the beds, and a windmill, and a fountain, and a garden bench, and you know…a place to putter around growing stuff.  Bee and butterflies and fragrant things and edible things with little tinkling chimes and the sound of running water.  And a dog or two, scampering about, being scampish.

This whole straw bale gardening thing came to my attention on the airplane between Sacramento and Orange County.  Hallie Yopp of CSUF, a writer working on the framework, is trying this out, and when I got home, I looked it up.

Here’s the article in the New York Times.  Here’s the Facebook page with 23,708 “Likes”.  Here’s another source, and another one.  So if Paula Dean’s people would have just offered a little more background information, I feel like Wenzel would be with me, and not waving me off.  We’ll see.

NEW THOUGHT about the layout:  Whatever.  Function first, then aesthetics.  I lugged them into a perfect little four square configuration, much nicer than what’s pictured here.  There seems to be no consensus about “string up” or “string to the side.”  The bale is wider and more stable “string up,” but the string will get in the way of the growing plants.  I love spring break when this is the kind of thing I think about.

Big Project #1
Jul 4th, 2009 by alexfaye

Here is what I am doing, and it seems like the right way to go about it, but who knows? I have little experience in these matters.

  1. Use high pressure setting on hose to wash down wooden patio furniture.  Use brush to get cobwebs, smog, and other smud off.  Let it dry.
  2. The pieces we are talking about are:  round table, four benches, adriondack chair and ottoman, chair, side table.  9 pieces.  Good grief!
  3. Snap “before” photo.
  4. Use the sander to smooth out rough spots.  I don’t think I want to try to go down to the bare wood!  But maybe I will have to.  Gosh, I hope not.
  5. Lay down a tarp to protect the bricks, and brush on the new Olympic redwood semi-transparent stain and wood sealer.  Let it dry.
  6. Evaluate.  Discuss.
  7. Snap “after” photo.

If this works, you know what’s going to be Big Project #2?  THE REDWOOD GARAGE DOOR.  It’s a mess, but it could, maybe, be beautiful again with a little work.  Then, after that? My kitchen hutch.  I’d like to sand the sealer off, get to the bare wood, and stain it green (I’d like the wood grain to show, and I saw both a green and a yellow stain that was attractive, that would work) and replace the white ceramic knobs with faceted glass knobs.  I’m sure I’ll be writing about this as I go along.  I’ve never been very handy, but I want to learn.

I’ll never forget when Carlos and I got that hutch at the unfinished furniture store when we were first married.  It seemed like such an adult purchase, and I do believe it was the first piece of new furniture I ever picked out and purchased — everything else had been inherited or scavanged.  We were living in that little one bedroom apartment on Ocean Blvd, and expecting Maddy.  I was enormous — feeling very unattractive and having a hard time getting around.  Carlos had agreed to brush a coat of sealant on the wood, although he confessed that he didn’t see the point, and was just doing it to humor me.  In Southern California, we often will have a bright, sunny day in the middle of January or February, so he hauled the thing out onto the patio, took his shirt off, and got to work.  About an hour later, he came in, all happy and sunny and brown and said to me, his big pregnant wife, “Boy! If I would have known that working on furniture would attract so many women, I would have been doing stuff like this all along! Man! I must have talked to a dozen different women in the last hour!”  Oh, Carlos.  Sweet, helpful, and sort of dumb about what his very pregnant wife would want to hear.  More than twenty years later, I look at that hutch and remember that afternoon.  Yep.  Time to refinish it.

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