Sunday, September 11, 2011

Straw Bale Gardening.......More Planning!

As much as I love gardening I was really disappointed that I wasn't able to do as much as I wanted this year, especially now that I have a back yard and plenty of room. Although I was able to plant a few rose bushes, basil and tomatoes, my knee was bothering me a lot so getting down on the ground and back up again was a little painful and I worried about injuring my knee even more so I didn't press my luck.
I happened to come across an article about using straw bales as a type of raised garden and I was intrigued. This isn't anything new and while I never gave it much thought, this is the perfect solution for a gal with a bum knee!
Anyhow, I continued reading through a few different articles gathering information so I'd be ready next spring. If you haven't ever grown anything like this before there is a bit of preparation with the bales before you can actually start planting, so here's what I've learned so far.......

  • Use tightly strung straw or rice bales, not hay, as they contain seeds you don't want growing in your garden. Know where you want to put the bales because you won't be moving them.
  • A good suggestion if you have moles or other such critters, is to put some hardware cloth or chicken wire down on the ground under the bales to keep them from digging underneath.
  • Wet the bales for the first three days---it was suggested once in the morning and in the evening.
  • On the fourth through seventh days, do nothing. The bales will begin to heat up as they decompose.
  • After the seventh day and the bales have cooled off, add a good inch or inch and a half of a good weed-free compost/potting soil mix on top of the bales.
  • Push aside enough of the soil to set your plants; or plants seeds as usual and mist in gently.
  • Since straw doesn't hold water as well as if you planted in the ground, you need to water your garden at least once a day during the heat of summer.
  • Use a good organic fertilizer to supplement your soil at first, then maybe once a month or so after the first couple weeks of growth.
Another great thing about using bales to grow in, is that in autumn after your last harvest you can add them to your compost pile and start out with new bales in the spring.
As far as how much you can plant in each bale, I read that four tomato plants or four pepper plants will grow nicely in one bale. Maybe with something like squash, I'm guessing one plant since they do spread out and can get rather large. If you're using the bales in a square, you could grow carrots, parsnips, or other root vegetables in the center, truly maximizing the growing space available.
I really wished I read about this earlier this spring, but this will give me time to find out where I can buy the bales locally, plan where I want to put them, and what I want to grow, so there's plenty to look forward to until next spring rolls around.
My goal with my garden is to grow more and buy less, maybe even having enough to put in the freezer to have throughout the winter. It's just one more little step towards becoming more self-sufficient and putting healthy, homegrown food on our table.
I'm really excited about this and please, if you have any tips or hints to share about straw bale gardening, I'd love to hear from you!

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