Have you heard about straw bale gardening? It seems to be making the rounds lately and since we gave it a shot last year I thought maybe I'd share my gleanings from the experience.
First, a little overview for those that aren't quite certain just what we mean by straw bale gardening. Basically, you round up some straw bales and then "condition" them or prepare them for growing. And it's really important that you use straw bales and NOT hay bales, because hay bales will have seeds in them and, trust us, you really, really don't want those seeds to germinate. Voice of experience talking here.
So the big question is WHY? Why even bother trying to grow something in a straw bale in the first place? Well, for all of the full details and to get an in-depth look you can always buy the best selling book about it: Straw Bale Gardens Complete. But, the short answer is soil. Or growing medium.
These bales are wonderful for folks that have just terrible soil or no soil at all, like on a balcony. Perhaps you look at your land and you know it would take a long time to re-condition it into something that would be friendly to vegetables or flowers. Or maybe you're just curious to see if it would really work. Whatever the reason you have a case can be made for using bales.
The basic premise is that the bale serves as 1) the container (like a pot or raised bed) and 2) the soil itself. In order for the bale to become the "soil" or a good growing medium it has to decompose and for that to happen the bale must first be soaked for a few days and then nitrogen is added and then more water is applied and after a few weeks, if you've done your job, the bale has decomposed internally and the inside temperature has leveled off with the outside temperature you can begin to plant. It's a little more involved then this simplistic description, but, you get the idea. And the book mentioned above will walk you through it, step by step.
My take on it is that, for us, it's "alright". It wasn't great, but, it wasn't something we'd do every year. We were able to grow veggies in them and after they broke down completely we had a nice source of compost to use elsewhere. And, like our raised beds it was pretty weed free and was at a nice height for harvesting veggies. But, we tried it because we wanted to experiment with the process and we were intrigued by whether or not we could make it work. And we did make it work, but, it was considerably more labor and water intensive than we had imagined and seemed to use up a lot of fertilizer/nitrogen. AND, we had to remember to soak the bale twice a day in order the keep the decomposing chugging along. AND, you still have to periodically add more fertilizer during the growing season. Sooooo…we're kinda lazy gardeners, to be truthful, and we just didn't want to have to keep paying attention to the whole rig-a-marole and in the end we just didn't need to do it. Plus, once they decompose you have to start all over again. Ugh.
Now, having said that, there are times and places and reasons for choosing bales as a growing medium. Such as the fact that maybe you only have a driveway and don't want to build raised beds. Or maybe, like us, you just want to try it.
What do you think? Have you tried them? Are you leaning toward trying? Leave us comment and share your insight.
Ray is part of the Ray and Randi duo, who actually don't live on the farm. They have a micro-homestead in Gilmanton, but are VERY active over at IFP and are guest bloggers for them.
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