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Straw Bale Gardening

We “inherited” several straw bales when my mom moved this past winter.  There were more bales than we could use reasonably.  I did break one up for my herb garden that you can see in the back but that still left me with over nine bales to do something with (two broke so I’m not 100% sure how much straw we used on the herb garden and how much is still in bits).

I had seen pictures on facebook about straw bale gardening and it seemed to me to be a perfect solution to our situation.  There was a short video on youtube that we watched but in the end, the concept is not all that difficult.  I’m not sure our approach is the best but it worked for what we had and knew.  We just planted this weekend but the plants seem to be happy – except I think I need to purchase some tomato cages to support the tomatoes.

We purchased eight plants at our Farmer’s Market – 3 squash and 5 tomatoes.  I opted to get 5 different varieties of tomatoes and 2 types of summer squash.  We may plant cucumbers and other plants in the remaining bales but that will come with our next update.

A few things to point out – our straw bales have been outside for well over a year.  There are some who caution against purchasing brand new bales because of decomposition.  In fact, the video we watched they had prepped their bales the fall before planting.  We didn’t know any of this but felt that they had been outside long enough so we don’t have to worry about decomp heat (which is what is the big problem from what I understand).

We turned the bales on their sides so the strings faced out instead of up.  We attempted to make holes in the top with little success so it is easier to attach from the side but that will depend on the bales you get.

We used compost not garden soil.  I just didn’t see any point in buying soil when I had a large container of homemade compost.

Because our soil is so hard, we have a garden weasel to break it up each year.  We used the garden weasel on the straw bales with a little success.  Not enough for me to say one should go out and buy one to prep their straw bales.  More it helped us define the “circles” for our plants.  Digging a hole into the straw bales was not as easy as we thought it would be.  Our straw bales might be packed tighter than others but I wouldn’t count on it.  It took a combination of garden weasel, hand spade and the heel of our shoes to pack down the straw enough to make a hole that fit compost and the plant.  We made sure our holes were at least twice the size of our plants.

Straw Bale Gardening

They are not the prettiest gardens but the plants look happy.

straw bale gardening

They had looked a little droopy when we put them in and they seem to have sprung back.  I think the compost was a great choice because they will get lots of nutrients and we don’t have to worry about fertilizing.  We did separate the bales enough to walk through the rows and then laid down straw to keep down weeds.  I don’t know how many plants per bales but I stuck with two so they aren’t over crowded and because I’m just not sure how many plants I want.  We love tomatoes and since I can them, I want a good selection so I may get more tomato plants.  They are in early this year because of the strange heat wave we are getting.  I still have a month before it’s the normal time to plant tomatoes so I can add more as I desire.

We do have our bales in our garden plot but I hear you can set the bales anywhere, including concrete, to use for planting.  The interiors hold moisture but allow the excess to drain.  I’m hoping this helps us when the summer grows very dry.

Right now we’re watching the weather closely because we are still in that period before the last frost.  So far, so good but I don’t want to get too confident.  A late frost can kill off my plants.  I’ve only planted 4 bales and still have several left I can plant.  Looking at the pictures I wonder if I miscounted and we have more bales than just the nine.  We won’t officially know until we move them all.

I’m very excited to garden this year and I know my limitations so we may have nothing but tomatoes and squash.  I don’t mind.  I know my son thinks squash is evil but I can never get enough.