My first year of straw bale gardening was such a success I didn’t hesitate to embark on another year of straw bale gardening. My handy husband built me a lovely compost bin which was a perfect for all of last years bales. (I am looking forward to having fertile soil to fill pots with.) He used some 2×4’s we already had in the garage and some chicken wire leftover from last summer.
Set up this year was far less work that last year. We bought some new straw bales ($5 per bale) and lined them up where the old bales were. I actually added a few more bales but was still able to use the same area which was great. We added some new mulch between the bales to freshen it up a bit and then put the soaker hose back on and got the timer all ready.
Oh, and my amazing hubby put the supports on which can be seen in the photo below. (It is something he built last summer to help stabilize the bales because as they decompose they fall apart.)
I have already started the conditioning process for my 2016 garden. Tip: Be sure your bales are right side up. You should see the ends of the straw rather than the folded pieces. Once you have them all upright you can begin the process which involves sprinkling fertilizer on each bale followed by a good water. This is all explained in great detail in the book, Straw Bale Gardens by Joel Karsten. (He also has the book Straw Bale Gardens Complete available on his website.)
After applying the fertilizer the bales need a good watering. This also helps to push the fertilizer down into the bales and before you know it they’ll be cookin’. The kids are great helpers and love to lend a hand. The older kids each wear a digital watch which makes it easy for them to keep track of how many minutes they are watering each bale. (You can see my strawberries pushing through the mulch already)
I am pretty excited to branch out and try some new veggies this time around. My plan is plant more of the items I need for canning in the fall to prevent buying from the store. I am also excited for the kids to learn more about growing onions, garlic, & potatoes. Most of the plants we will be growing can start from seeds planting right away on day 12; however, there are a few that must be started indoors first. I used this as an opportunity to teach my preschooler and toddler about gardening from seeds. My 2 and 4 year olds were great helpers and really enjoyed getting to play in the dirt, (and with the popsicles sticks of course).
I’m looking forward to planting May 1st and (impatiently) watching for our first plants to sprout up. I’ll keep you posted on progress.
With a big family like ours it’s great to find ways to save money and as an educator I also like things that help teach our children valuable life lessons so when our local librarian showed me a book on straw bale gardening I was all-in! She knew our house was built on very rocky land and therefore the soil is difficult for growing anything, including grass! She and I agreed this method would mitigate that problem so I checked out both of the books our library had on the subject, Straw Bale Gardens and Straw Bale Gardens Complete both by Joel Karsten. I read the books and was so glad I did because as with most instructions, you must read the WHOLE THING before starting or you’ll miss steps. It was also helpful to be able to ask questions when I attended a seminar by Joel Karsten at our local library. (I bought my own copy of Straw Bale Gardens too). Living in a rural area it wasn’t too difficult to find someone selling straw bales for a decent price. I think I paid $5 per bale from a farmer who also insisted we take some farm fresh eggs . (Be sure you get STRAW bales NOT hay bales. There is a big difference!!) Then I had to decide where to put the garden. The book explains ideal locations and with that information I decided to use the area by our garage to get the most sunlight. It is slightly sloped so I had to make sure to put the line of bales the correct direction to avoid the bales tipping over. I also had to get underground lines marked so when we begin digging we don’t accidentally hit anything. I measured and marked off the area placing some rocks around the entire area. Then I laid down chicken wire, covered that with a layer of landscape fabric, and placed the bales in a line. Finally in between the rows of bales I put down a layer of mulch. This required a great deal of mulch. I ended up using a full load from the back of a pick-up truck rather than bags of mulch. It was far more cost effective (and a great workout to shovel out). My husband placed the poles at each end of the bales and then I put up the wires for the plastic to hang on to create the greenhouse. The wires are also great for the vines to climb up. It was a bit of work to get the garden set up but wasn’t too cumbersome. I was still pretty excited to start the conditioning process. I followed the instructions found in the book sprinkling fertilizer on each bale and watering them. My husband and I placed a soaker hose across the tops of the bales and got it hooked up with a timer so the watering the garden would be a snap. By day 12 I was ready for planting and was sure of this because when I stuck a thermometer into the bales they were hot!! I had already planned out the garden so I had the seeds, plants and map of what was going to be planted in each bale.
I had lots of little helpers for the planting. They helped plant the strawberry plants and tomato plants which go directly into the bales-no dirt! I put a layer of dirt on the tops of the bales that would be seeded. Then the bigger kids helped plant the seeds on those bales. Finally we placed clear plastic over the rows of bales which created a green house of sorts. We used rope and bungie cords to help keep the plastic from blowing away. As the plants grew we moved the plastic up. The kids loved watching the seeds sprout and the plants grow.
I planted May 1st and the garden was still producing tomatoes through the month of October! I had more than enough tomatoes and cucumbers. It was more than I knew what to do with so I decided to give canning a try.
I made spaghetti sauce, pizza sauce, salsa and pickles. It was enough to last the entire winter so it was definitely worth with the work. The kids were excited that we had our own pumpkins too! Since embarking on straw bale gardening I have had many people stop by and ask about it. I suppose it looks odd to see such a garden. I have also had many people call, text or contact me via social media to ask questions. I am NOT a green thumb and often struggle to keep house plants so a successful garden was a surprise for me. If you think you want to do this you should. It’s a great way to get fresh produce regardless of the soil conditions you may have AND there is NO WEEDING!! Happy gardening!!