Our Straw Bale Garden Journey

 

 

Laying the groundwork  

Laying the groundwork  

Fresh food inspires my cooking creativity.  Better ingredients creates a better results. I am however not the most consistent gardener, which leads to a garden over run with weeds.  I start with the best intentions, but become overwhelmed & discouraged. 

 

When my Dad sent me a link to Joel Karsten's straw bale garden website, I quickly realized this way of gardening may be a good fit for me.  I bought his book from his website & started planning.

http://strawbalegardens.com/

 

Think of it as a composting container garden. 

Think of it as a composting container garden. 

I will admit there is a fair amount of ground work before planting, but a lot less weeding .  There is a 12 to 17 day conditioning process.  This process starts the bales composting providing a nutritious, warm place for your vegetables to grow.  As there is a book & several websites dedicated to this I won't bore you with too many details.  I'll describe my experiences & share plenty of pics.

i enjoyed the conditioning process I found it to be relaxing & enjoyable. I also stood through the process which kept me off my knees.  So often times you could drive by to see me dancing to my music while watering my bales.  I got a kick out of some of the looks from passers trying to figure out why the crazy lady was watering bales.  One vehicle almost landed themselves in a ditch in his effort to figure out, what the hell?

I went organic this first time out, using Milorganite fertilizer.  Next year I will try a cheaper lawn fertilizer without weed killer.  Using organic fertilizers is a bit more expensive & takes longer to dissolve, making the conditioning process go from 12 days to 17.  It also meant a lot more water to dissolve the organic fertilizer & get it to soak into the bales.  Mr. Karsten's book says cheaper lawn fertilizer dissolves much more quickly.

 

The gardener ensures proper nutrients from step one & by using sterilized potting soil stops soil disease.

The gardener ensures proper nutrients from step one & by using sterilized potting soil stops soil disease.

This is fish emulsion messy & smelly.  The smell will lure wildlife, however having 3 dogs on the property has made that a non-issue.

This is fish emulsion messy & smelly.  The smell will lure wildlife, however having 3 dogs on the property has made that a non-issue.

Calamity Jane, one of my guards on garden duty. 

Calamity Jane, one of my guards on garden duty. 

A couple of other things to note about the above photo, the landscaping cloth & soaker hose.   Next year I will lay the cloth under and between bales, not just between.  This will keep grass & weeds from growing up along side the bales as seen below.

 

You can see grass & weeds creeping up along side the bale.  I regularly pull those weeds to keep the weed jungle at bay.  Truth is those weeds will not compete for nutrients of the items growing in the bales.  Things like crook neck squash grow over the side of the bale so keeping the plants & weeds from becoming one plant is important.

You can see grass & weeds creeping up along side the bale.  I regularly pull those weeds to keep the weed jungle at bay.  Truth is those weeds will not compete for nutrients of the items growing in the bales.  Things like crook neck squash grow over the side of the bale so keeping the plants & weeds from becoming one plant is important.

Yellow squash growing over the side of the bale.  A little hard to see the bale. 

Yellow squash growing over the side of the bale.  A little hard to see the bale. 

My first set soaker hoses provided a constant challenge forcing me to replace them.  I bought a big box hardware store brand.  I found myself regularly having to fix geysers. I invested in a small fortune of hose menders. I had more hose menders than hose.

 

Here a forceful leak took out part of my carrots. 

Here a forceful leak took out part of my carrots. 

I went into research mode trying to figure out how to solve this problem.  Apparently the water pressure can be too high causing soaker hoses to rupture.

 

A brass pressure regulator was where I started, which made the leaks less frequent. 

A brass pressure regulator was where I started, which made the leaks less frequent. 

Hose menders still had to be kept on hand . 

Hose menders still had to be kept on hand . 

I had hoped to make it through the summer, but my soaker hose was becoming more menders than hose.  So I found a replacement through Gardener's Supply Company.

 

The idea is place the soaker hose before planting.  So we had to be careful replacing the hose.  The butter crunch lettuce was well on it's way, but we managed. 

The idea is place the soaker hose before planting.  So we had to be careful replacing the hose.  The butter crunch lettuce was well on it's way, but we managed. 

The new set up was very easy to get into place.  My 13 year old had the y connectors hooked up in no time.  My husband cut all the hose with a pair scissors.

The new set up was very easy to get into place.  My 13 year old had the y connectors hooked up in no time.  My husband cut all the hose with a pair scissors.

Soaker hose lay on the bales, but regular hose between rows.  This puts the water where it is needed. 

Soaker hose lay on the bales, but regular hose between rows.  This puts the water where it is needed. 

This has cut down on puddles between rows. 

This has cut down on puddles between rows. 

This new system has been in place for a month & so far I haven't had to make use of any hose menders.  The new system also seems better at distributing water evenly.  Spend the extra money on a quality watering system. 

 

We have made several large salads from our Butter Crunch lettuce.  When harvested properly leaf lettuce grows back. 

We have made several large salads from our Butter Crunch lettuce.  When harvested properly leaf lettuce grows back. 

Sugar Snap peas & Pole beans. 

Sugar Snap peas & Pole beans. 

Putting in the t-posts & 14 gauge wire creates a strong trellis ready for your climbers. 

 

 

Just this week the first sugar snap peas greeted us.  Love eating them fresh from the vine as does the rest of the family.  Not sure how many lovelies will make it to the dinner table. 

Just this week the first sugar snap peas greeted us.  Love eating them fresh from the vine as does the rest of the family.  Not sure how many lovelies will make it to the dinner table. 

My tomatoes have to play catch up due to some weird cold snaps.  That is basil growing from the side of the bales. 

My tomatoes have to play catch up due to some weird cold snaps.  That is basil growing from the side of the bales. 

You can put herbs in the side the bale, but it was tricky cutting into the sides & not all of my herbs transplanted well. 

 

I had to plant more herbs, for water, cocktails, bread, pesto, caprese salad & on & on. 

I had to plant more herbs, for water, cocktails, bread, pesto, caprese salad & on & on. 

Beautiful yellow squash. 

Beautiful yellow squash. 

Turnips to be used with the cabbage & beets for beet soup

Turnips to be used with the cabbage & beets for beet soup

Very excited to be growing onions for the first time. 

Very excited to be growing onions for the first time. 

I love to visit my garden & pull out only a few weeds by just bending over & plucking .  I have a garden stool that made planting on the bales easier & put less stress on my knees.  It is suggested  to place the rows 4 feet apart.  This makes it easy to move between rows for planting, maintenance & harvesting.

I started with 20 bales & am already planning next year's straw bale garden.  I recently watched Netflix's Chef's Table with Dan Barber.  Chef Barber is working with vegetable breeders to breed for flavor not necessarily for size.  So my winter will be spent looking for heirloom varieties with flavor to plant in my 2017 straw bale garden.