Friday, July 31, 2009

Straw Bale Gardening

Limited space? No soil? Toxic or rocky ground? Spare corner? Edge of drive or yard? Here's bales of advice for you on the straw bale gardening way.

Especially good for those with dickey backs, straw bale gardening needs only someone to lug the jolly bales into place and with a minimum of effort you'll have a marvel of bounty and beauty indeed.

We can learn from others here. There are timely tips on straw bale gardening that will save you angst.
Here's the hoedown:

The bale is the garden. Put it on your balcony or path if you want to.

Use one or umpteen bales as you need and in any pattern. Because straw bale gardening is raised, it's easy to work with, so make sure you allow for handy access.

Wheat or oat straw is best as it's the stalks left from harvesting grain with very few seed left. Hay bales are less popular as they are made of whole plants with mucho seeds and often other weeds in. Use what you can get locally - it may even be lucerne or pea straw bales.

Put the bales in the exact place, because it's too hard to even nudge these monsters once you've got your little straw bale garden factory in full swing.

You'll get one good season out of a bale and usually two, albeit with a bit of sag. It makes for great compost or mulch when finished with. Straw bale for garden

Lay them lengthwise to make planting easy by just parting the straw. Make sure the string is running around each bale and not on the side touching the ground in case it's degradable twine.

Keep the twine there to hold it all in place and if it does rot, bang some stakes in at both ends, or chock up the ends with something heavyish, like rocks, bricks, boxes or plant containers.

Starting off with slightly aged bales of about 6 months is best, but if they're new, thoroughly soak with water and leave for 5 or so days whilst the temperature rises and cooks the inside, then they will cool and be ready for planting. They won't be composting much inside yet, that takes months, but you don't want that initial hot cooking of your plants.

Some sneaky people speed up the process of producing microbes and rot by following a 10-day pre-treatment regime of water and ammonium nitrate on the top of each bale. But, hey, organic gardeners are a patient lot aren't we, so let's follow nature?

Keep watered. That's going to be your biggest task. Straw bale gardening uses more water than a normal garden, so set up a system now. It may be that swilling out the teapot on it each day is enough in your area, or you may need to keep the hose handy.

Straw bale gardening - plants to plant

Annuals of vegetables, herbs or flowers will love it. Remember your bales will be history in 1-2 years. Young plants can go straight in. Pull apart or use a trowel and depending on the state of the straw, put a handful of compost soil in too, then let the straw go back into place.

Seeds can be planted on top if you put a layer of compost soil there first.

Top heavies like corn and okra, are not so good, unless you grow dwarf varieties. With straw bale gardening it's hard to put solid stakes in so big tomato plants are out, although they will happily dangle over the edge.

Each bale should take up to half a dozen cucumbers, trailing down. Squash, zucchini, melons - maybe 3 plants, or a couple of tomato plants per bale with one or two herbs and leafy veggies in between. Four pepper plants will fit or 12-15 bean or pea plants.

There's no limit and why not poke in around the side a plant or two of some flowering annual for colour and companion if you like.

Once every 1-2 weeks water in a liquid organic feed, such as compost tea or fish emulsion. Tip some worms on top if you want to use your bales only one season.

It's simple to pull out any wayward grain seeds with straw bale gardening, but with hay bales you may need to occasionally give them a haircut rather than try and pull the tenacious new sprouts out.

Article & Picture © no-dig-vegetablegarden.com

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1 comment:

catherine todd said...

What a great idea! Hope you are able to post some photos of a "planted" bale. Can't wait to try this out!