Water Holding Capacity, Soil vs. Straw Bale Garden

Straw Bale Garden, August 2022

Three inches of rain from midnight until 6 am, with most of it coming hard between midnight and 2 am, and I’m happy to report most of it soaked in!  2022 is the year I truly learned to appreciate the water holding capacity of soil.

Clearly my straw bale garden was going to be superior to my wife Isabel’s garden.  How could it not be?  I read the book.  I looked at the beautiful photos.

Weeds are an ongoing struggle in Isabel’s garden.  If the book is correct, I should have nary a weed in my straw bales.  The only thing that concerned me was how much the Joel Karsten, the author, talked about a watering system for the straw bale garden.  

Mr. Karsten recommended a soaker hose running the entire length of the straw bale garden and run daily on a timer, so as to never forget watering.  I figured I could turn the water on and off myself, but I did install a soaker hose when I made my straw bale garden.

And boy am I glad I did, as you can probably predict, straw bales don’t hold on to water very well, and the garden needed daily watering.

Isabel’s garden on the other hand thrived without daily watering.  Its good soil, and the previous fall I covered with a thick layer of homemade compost.  

I come away from the experience with a greater respect for the water holding capacity of soil.  And I know whatever I can do to improve my soil’s capacity, the better I’ll be able to grow things, because I never forget the saying, ‘Water is the best fertilizer.’

We farmers spend a lot of our energy thinking about the minor details, probably because we’re bombarded by advertisers trying to sell us on the minor details.  But its important to remember that no product we can purchase is as valuable as an inch of rain at the right time.

If I can improve my soils to hold more water, essentially I’ll be getting water at the right time, when its dry and the plants need it.

So I’m super happy to see very little runoff this morning, creeks aren’t up, the water is soaking in.  With these 3 inches of rain we probably have enough water for the rest of the growing season.

I probably won’t do a straw bale garden next year.  It doesn’t make much sense when you’re blessed with as good of soil as we are.

Isabel’s Garden, 2022
Straw Bale Garden, 2022

Here is another photo of the straw bale garden. You can see I’ve given enough water as the bales are breaking down. The only thing that did really well for me is a couple of the tomato plants.

I traded meat for plants with my DCFM neighbor Mark this spring. He’s got some good stuff and I’m really starting to enjoy some black cherry tomatoes. But as usual, the best thing from this whole experience is what I’ve learned.

Revelations aren’t free.

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