In 2009, David grew a crop of barley in the paddock directly adjacent to the house site. This crop was part of the usual cropping operations of the farm (wheat, barley and oats are the major crops, with canola being added recently).
Barley was chosen as the straw of choice because of the higher level of pliability, being less brittle than wheat straw.
At harvest time (November / December), the barley was harvested and sold as per the usual farming practice. Harvest only removes the heads of the plant, which contains the marketable grain. The remaining stalks, or straw, are usually left standing in the paddock to be grazed by livestock over the summer. Any remains by the onset of the next years seeding season (April – May) are typically turned into the soil or burnt.
In this case, David and his Uncle Jim harvested the straw and baled it, for our house in . They used a small squares baler set to maximum tension and produced over 900 bales from the paddock. Each bale measured approximately 1100mm x 400mm x 280mm and weighed between 2 5 and 40 kg.
Strawbales are not hay bales – hay contains the grain head and the majority of the nutritional value of the plant and is cut before the plant has senesced (is still slightly green). Straw is only the stalks of the plant, has significantly lower nutritional value and is made after the plant has died. Straw is dry, so doesn’t rot when used in building, and as has little nutritional value, is unattractive to rodents or other pests.
The bales were collected from the paddock and stockpiled into a giant pyramid. The base layer of strawbales were placed with the ends of the stalks facing the ground, to reduce damp. The pyramid was covered in heavy tarps, and guarded by a large carpet python who moved into the stack!
When the pyramid was uncovered for use in November 2011, the vast majority of the bales were as fresh as the day we stacked them! Some had been lost where water had got in, but as we needed just over 600 for the actual build, we had plenty of spares.
Leftovers were sold to locals for garden mulch and animal bedding.