Earlier today a friend asked me if I wanted straw bales. She thought I would want them for mulch. I would use them for mulch, but had also came across straw bale gardening awhile ago.
I would not bother to buy them, but since she offered I said yes. They were delivered put right where I wanted them.
I generally save posts for finished projects, but I have too many half-done projects. I am just going to post now and come back with more information as I find it.
The timing of this is great. My son would love to do this project and we are nearly done with our traditional school year work. I school year round, but school differently in the summertime. I was just offered seeds from another homeschooling mom and was given chicken manure so I am without excuse for this project.
So what is straw bale gardening? Here is a description of straw bale gardening from Straw Bale Gardens:
“Straw Bale Gardening is simply a different type of container gardening. The main difference is that the container is the straw bale itself and is held together with two or three strings. Once the straw inside the bale begins to decay the straw becomes “conditioned” compost that creates an extraordinary plant rooting environment. Getting the straw bales conditioned is an essential part of the process, and should be started by the first week in May for most parts of the country. This gardening technique works anywhere in the country or the world for that matter.”
I like the how-to directions I found here No Dig Vegetable Gardening and at Straw Bale Gardening from West Virginia University. Please visit these sites. I only grabbed what I needed to get started.
From what I read this may be more water hungry than I want to commit to, but then I also found tips on how to make it more water conservative. Since I bought neither seeds, straw bales, chicken manure, nor used coffee grounds, I guest I could be a little less water stingy! So here is my straw bale gardening plan per the web sites I have credited:
Step 1: Read the links I gave for the details you need to consider. The first big decision is to decide where to put them before doing step two. I do not want to move them after step two.
I am going to place them near the water spigot for convenience. It is recommended to place them on edge so that the cords that hold them together don’t rot and break as quickly. I am thinking of enclosing them with old fence wood I just got for free. If I enclose them this will hold them together without the cord and it will trap moisture so I can reduce evaporation. I can chose to place them on the broad side where I will have more growing area if I enclose them.
Step 2: Cover the top with a couple inches of chicken manure and used coffee grounds for nutrition and a place to plant seeds.
Step 3: Thoroughly drench the bales with water. Keep them moist for 5 days. It would be good to add urine at this stage but the bales are in public location. I am not allowing that kind of “stuff” to be carried out for fear of spilling. The temperature will rise as micro organisms consume the straw. It will cool down as the microbes run out of food. The result is a nutrient-rich base where plants can thrive.
Step 4: After two weeks, I can start planting even if it is still warm. Warmth promotes growth. They could not be planted prior because the bales were too hot. Since I am planting seeds not plants, I will need a planting medium to tuck the seeds into. I decided to go with the chicken manure and used coffee grounds because I have a free source. (A friend had just brought me a gift bag of chicken manure. How cool is that? I have really good friends. A little weird though.) The planting medium was applied on day one. Plant the seeds on top and cover with a thick layer of more used coffee grounds or mulch.
Step 5: Keep bales moist. The bales are said to use more water than a normal garden. Eeek! Maybe I will also be wrapping them up in cardboard to hold in moisture. Fortunately, my neighbors will laugh at my odd garden instead of calling code enforcement.
Here is another type of straw bale gardening at Lens Garden. In this type, the straw bales are the walls to the garden. It is an interesting site and has lots of photos.