I promised an explanation of our straw bale gardening experiment, and here it is!
Sometime in 2013, our local newspaper ran an AP article about a man who, like us, had moved to a residential property and quickly learned that it had been stripped of its topsoil, leaving behind a soil that was nearly pure clay that didn’t drain well and lacked a good store of nutrients for the garden he hoped to plant. He tried to think of quick ways to create a fertile plot. He recalled time spent playing on the farm as a kid and noticing that when straw bales got damp, they soon started sending out sprouts. As a man, he realized that the bales could retain heat and moisture extremely well. Not only that, but straw bales are rich in nitrogen which, as the bales break down over time, would only enrich the soil underneath.
Shane embraced the idea! We found a local farmer from whom to buy 20 straw bales. He delivered them last month, and Shane and Finn quickly went to work arranging them on our side of the ditch that divides our property from our neighbors’ (who have their own garden plot running alongside).
The next step was to begin a daily regimen of watering the bales. Arranging a soaker hose on top made this much easier. Shane also gave the bales a sprinkling of bone meal a few times in this preparation phase. In the couple of weeks it took for sprouts to begin to appear (the sign that planting in them can begin), Shane and Finn set up some poles for tomatoes and beans to climb as they grow.
I should note that we laid down landscaping fabric underneath the bales, as well as some newspaper, to help keep weeds at bay. When the time comes to let our bales become compost, we can leave the newspaper remains, but we’ll remove the fabric. The bricks are just there to prevent strong gusts of wind (ever-present here, it seems) from rearranging everything.
Yesterday I trimmed the “hair” from the tops of all the bales down to just an inch or so high (gaining a nice red blister from the metal scissor handle), and then we were ready to plant. Shane used a trowel to winnow a pocket for each young plant, and we sprinkled each with Miracle-Gro potting soil. According to our role model for this project, it is okay to place plants more closely together in the bales than they would be in the earth.While a little more than half of our garden plants are taking root here as young plants purchased from a gardening center, the rest will grow from seeds I planted in soil distributed in about a 2-inch layer atop those bales.
I’ve taped an accounting of our planting inside our laundry/mudroom door to remind us what to expect to see growing, along with maturity dates for the seeds just planted. Later in the summer, I hope we have successes to share here… Wish us luck!