I had planned on trying my hand at straw bale gardening this Spring and happened to tune into a podcast about it. I have put a link to the podcast at the end of the article for those of you who want to hear about it. From the sounds of it, Joel Karsten threw a few seeds in a straw bale, tweaked it a little, wrote a book and became famous. He now is invited to talk all over the U.S. , Africa and France, just to name a few fabulous locations. Why couldn’t that be me? Maybe if I keep experimenting I will come up with something fun like that. I know we shouldn’t covet another’s success. I suppose I have 5 beautiful successes of my own that provide me with lots of excitement.
Why plant in a straw bale? Well, raised beds are expensive to start. Straw bales are not. Also for you northerners, the warmth that a straw bale generates can allow you to get a serious head start on Spring planting. If you build a plastic tent over your bale you can use the radiant heat to plant, hence harvest before all your friends! I know, it’s not a competition. It’s not a competition. I have to keep repeating that to myself sometimes.
There are some places around the edges of my garden, that I could tuck a straw bale, where I don’t want a permanent garden bed yet. Maybe you can’t do a permanent garden at all if you are renting but you would still like to try your hand at growing veggies. You can even do it on a cement patio. Or you might be like my friend Jeff, who has an aversion to digging, well ,pretty much hard physical labor of any kind. So he spaced his bales in rows with just enough room to run his lawn mower in between them. Now that is pretty much an instant garden with no digging involved. He might be on to something. Who knows how fate will turn? Someday Jeff may be touring the country talking about permaculture(basically how to work with nature not fighting against it) principles while I am at home breaking my back double digging. Speaking of back breaking work; if your back is not quiet what it used to be, it would be easy to get someone to set this up for you to plant in. Another reason to start a straw bale garden is if Spring got a jump on you. You could easily set this up to grow veggies this Spring in bales, while you take your time making a more permanent raised bed garden for the Fall. I myself, am doing a straw bale garden this Spring because I am curious how it will work in my Southern locale. Frankly I am dubious, because down South we have to factor in the drying power of the sun. I think these bales are going to need to be watered A LOT, but I am open to being pleasantly surprised.
You can get your straw bales at your local feed store for about$5.00- $10.00 each or you can do like I did and beg them off a Fall display complete with pumpkins and Chrysanthemums. Look around town in Fall for those fabulous displays at retirement communities, churches or stores just to name a few, approach the business and ask politely. You might just find yourself owner of a new straw bale garden for free! In addition you might also have enough ingredients for a few pumpkin pies!
Once you have got your bales, position them where you want them. Place them with the wires facing out on the sides to keep the bale together as you use the top to plant on.
My friend Jeff put 3 bales in a row, end to end, with medium strength green metal stakes at the end of each row. This enabled him to run wire around the stakes and over the bales to support his veggies. He also ran a soaker hose along the top of his bales so watering was as easy as the turn of a knob. When you have your bales all set up you will need to condition them for planting. You want to start this conditioning about 10-20 days before you want to plant.This conditioning process takes nitrogen in the form of fertilizer. Give your bale a jump start of 3 cups fertilizer per bale on the first day. I got some organic fertilizer from my feed store. Total price for 2 bales was $10.00 of fertilizer. Just pour it on top of your bale and water it in. For the next 10 days you will water your straw bale everyday. Water in 1 1/2 cups fertilizer per bale every other day. On the tenth day you need to add 3 cups of phosphorous and potassium to your bale. A good way to do this is to add bone or fish meal and wood ash. I am watering meal worm frass(poop) into my bale since I raise meal worms for my chickens. It is full of just the nutrients I need to add.
Now you are ready to plant. One question I had was; Do I need to hollow out a planting area in the bale and fill with soil? The answer is no. Just put those little plants right in the bale. I am putting yellow squash in one bale and zucchini in the other. One plant per bale is the general rule depending, of course, on the size of what your planting. I started my squash plants in little pots ,but you can start seeds right in the bale if you include a little sterile soil potting mix. Make a little hole for your plant and water well. I plan to stick some marigolds into the sides of the bale to make it pretty and to deter my nemesis; the squash/stink bug. If you have gardened in straw bales, please scroll down and leave a comment telling us how it worked out. Also if you are just starting one and you have questions, ask them in the comments so we can all see. Here is the link to the podcast about straw bale gardening from the man who invented it. He sounds like a great guy who is very enthusiastic about gardening. It is well worth a listen. http://www.urbanfarm.org/joel-karsten/
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