Straw bale start-up
I'm experimenting with a straw bale garden this season at home and at a community garden at Northeast Christian Church on Patterson Road. We hauled straw bales over the weekend, and I decided to set three of them up at home.
I have the perfect spot in my yard to try growing a small straw bale plot. Technically, it's not my yard - it's in front of my fence and I think it's part of the street easement, but my irrigation cistern and my mailbox both sit out there. For the past 12 years, I have been trying to make something out of that patch of ground. It's full of weeds, and because I once scattered a wildflower mix out there, it's also full of sunflowers and cosmos. I planted iris bulbs last spring, so this year, it has iris, too. The soil is not amended and I want to quit spending money or effort on the area because it's not technically my yard.
It does, however, get fabulous afternoon and early evening sunshine. When we installed our hoses for drip irrigation, I ran a hose out over the entire area. So the area has water and sunshine, making it perfect for a straw bale experiment.
From talking to Theresa Mizushima, who planted a straw bale flower bed in the demonstration garden at Bookcliff Gardens a couple of years ago, I think the biggest challenge will be keeping the bales moist enough in July.
I had a pile of silty clay that I shoveled out of my irrigation cistern this spring and didn't know how to dispose of it. The clay is really good for retaining moisture. A light went on!
Proponents of straw bale gardening say the bales must be conditioned before you can plant anything. Conditioning involves giving them a quickstart to the decomposition process. You want them to decompose over the course of the growing season, which will provide a nice, warm comfy home for your garden plant's roots.
You can find steps for conditioning a straw bale online. I ordered a booklet from a guy in Minnesota who teaches straw bale techniques and am following his steps. It takes 10 - 12 days to condition the bales, which involves soaking the bales with water every day, and adding a small amount of nitrogen fertilizer with the water on other days. The nitrogen merely helps to speed up the decomposition. Today is day four for me, which is a water only day, according to his recommended steps.
Part of the appeal of straw bale gardening is supposed to be the lack of heavy labor - like rototilling, digging, hauling loads of compost or shoveling a mound of clay. Given that I had that mound of clay and I thought it would help me to have a successful straw bale garden, I decided to shovel. I'm pleased with how it looks, and think it will look even better with something growing on the top of the bale. When I stuck my hand in the bale last night before watering, it was still moist. Yay!
I'm thinking sweet potatoes, potatoes, melons, squash and a maybe some okra in the bales.