Eek! Mice in the Straw-Bale Garden

bale harvest

The bales produced great potatoes and flowers.

With fall coming on so quickly, I’ve finished with the straw-bale gardens for the year. I had good tomato harvests from the bales, and I can see where in certain circumstances bales would be the way to go with vegetables.

The vegetables grew well, were disease-free (one of the biggest benefits of the bales, in my opinion) and had good harvests.

I did have one of the typical problems with my bales, however — mice!

I had one bale in my main vegetable area that I used to grow potatoes. I harvested the spuds early, broke the bale up and used large chunks of the straw to mulch around some of my tomato plants that were sprawling a bit. A part of the bale (not more than 9-by-9-by-6 inches) was left where it had been. A few weeks later, while working in the garden, I saw three mice emerge from the bale. Eeek!!! I dispatched (what a nice, clinical description) two of the mice with a garden fork I happen to be holding and the third scampered off.

bales decompose

The bales insides turn into compost after several months.

That event prompted some aggressive watering of the remaining bales. If you do straw-bale gardening, you must water the bales regularly to keep them growing and to avoid infestations by mice. I watered my bales every day or every other day, depending on rainfall and how hot it was.

With some trepidation, I approached the remaining four bales this weekend to dismantle them and spread the straw around other parts of my garden. Happily, the watering worked, and there were no signs of mice in the four bales that had grown tomatoes and zinnias.

Will I do straw bales next year? Maybe. They work, especially if you want to give your soil a break. I like the idea of using stock tanks, which we described in the July/August issue of Northern Gardener, as a container for the bales. I think the tanks are not only more attractive, but could be used from year to year as the bales slowly decompose.

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5 Responses to Eek! Mice in the Straw-Bale Garden

  1. Jennifer says:

    I had not heard about this particular method for straw bale gardening. It’s a fantastic idea! Did your bales heat up a lot when they started decomposing? I can see where that would be a great way to start tomatoes, for a normal Minnesota spring anyway. Part of my garden is in stock tanks, and I love how they look and function—no rabbit worries there! Anyway, thanks for the info.

  2. Mary Schier says:

    Jennifer — The bales did heat up, though not as fast or as high as I expected. It was pretty cold during the time when I was conditioning the bales, so I put a plastic sheet over them, which helped a lot to get them going. I’m looking for a good deal on stock tanks because I have lots of rabbits and I think they would look better than the bales alone. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Jennifer says:

    I got really good deals on all 3 of my stock tanks, but it’s mostly due to my newly-retired Dad, who took it on as a project. One came from my Grandpa’s now-non-functional dairy farm, one came from a scrap metal place, and one from Craigslist. All three were located in the Milaca area. The Twin Cities-area Craigslist options were double or triple the price that I paid up there. Happy stock tank hunting!

  4. Connie Schifer says:

    I got my bails all ready last year and had watered and watered and before I went to plant was gonna have hubby move them just a couple of feet over….MICE!!! was an apartment building…then old mom nature says hey lets not rain for almost 3 months so well was getting low….unless you got tons of water I would not do this

  5. Mary Schier says:

    Connie — It depends a bit on where you live and where the bales are located, but you are right — it requires lots of water. If you aren’t able to water them for awhile, you will get mice.

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