Straw Bale Gardens: Am I Trading One Pest for Another?


Our wonderful lab, Luna, is four years old now, and I need to resign that she is not going to stop using my garden as a potty.

No matter how many times I run her out of the area, or have put up an electric fence, she migrates back to the space as soon as the coast is clear. When I cleaned up the gardens this winter, I was horrified to find the piles on my horseradish. Ugh! That was the last straw.

Creating a Straw Bale Garden

To remedy the situation in her favorite space, I’m setting up the straw bale garden design. My husband brought home lumber wrap from the local lumber store that I placed over the entire area to keep down the weeds. Covering the soil with anything except mulch is counter to my goal of a permaculture type garden that I’ve been striving towards over the past few years, but I’m hitting a level of desperation because I can’t figure out how to use dog waste as a benefit in the garden. (In permaculture a problem can be a solution.) Composting is not an issue. I’ve seen too many episodes of “Monsters Inside Me” to even chance it so the situation calls for radical measures.

Now that the wrap is down, I’m setting out the straw bales to create a knee-high growing area to stop the Luna poo problem. I’ll condition the bales according to the directions in Joel Karsten’s book, Straw Bale Gardens, to kick start the decomposition process allowing me to plant directly into the bales themselves.

Straw Bale Gardens and Rodents

While I believe this will completely resolve the current issue, I am a little concerned that I might be invited a second one. A friend of mine set up a straw bale garden last year, and he said they were practically overrun with mice. I’m not sure if it was because of his location, which is definitely more rural than we are, or because it was a bad year for them last year.

I know we had issues in the house, and a couple of years ago they were so prevalent that I watched one crawl up a sunflower stalk. While a scene like that looks adorable on a greeting card, it’s a little unnerving having them frolic among our food. Having mice invade the straw bales is something I want to avoid.

Not only do I not want to share the garden with mice, I’m not a fan of Hantavirus. (Thank Monsters Inside Me, once again.) I am hoping the high population of cats in our neighborhood will keep them in check, but if not I might have to bring out some traps.

I’m hoping I’m not trading one pest for another, but I willing to gamble that we won’t have a problem with the rodent situation since we haven’t had an issue with them practically at all this winter. Truly, the only furry critter with teeth that really concerns me are the bold rabbits increasing within the neighborhood. Maybe elevating the gardens a little will discourage them from sticking around.

If I can avoid the mice, encourage the rabbits to go elsewhere, and prevent Luna from using this space, I’ll consider it a grand success.

Meet Amy Grisak

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