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Garden Gleanings - Growing in bales

Posted Thursday, May 7, 2009, at 11:55 AM

(Photo)
cherokee2's straw bale beds with frames
Hey, I saw some big light in the sky for a little while today. Had to run outside and check it out. Nice!

cherokee2 responded to a different blog about the wet weather and mentioned growing in bales. It thought it would be a good blog of its' own so I will open it up with a few questions.

Does it matter if it is hay or straw?

Do you cut out a section to put some potting soil in?

Do you prep the bales in any way? How do you maintain the bales during the growing season?

I can guess what you do with it after the season, but how long can you keep a bale going?

Could you explain it in more depth? Why you like it, etc?

Of course, anyone can jump in and ask questions or share their experience growing in bales. For those with challenged soil, it could be a real blessing. It also provides great organic matter for next growing season.


Comments
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Steve, you must use wheat straw and it has to be fertilized and watered for about 2 weeks prior to planting. I put 2 bales together and nail a 2X4 frame around it to brace it. Dirt on top is not necessary, but I usually put about 4 inches of soil on it. No weeding to do and the frame gives you something to mount poles on as these suckers get tall. I will post again with the exact procedure to get it ready, and its good for about 2 seasons. After that you have a nice pile of good rich dirt to use again. I started out with one bed. Now I have 5. I guess I am an enthusiastic convert to vertical gardening.

-- Posted by cherokee2 on Thu, May 7, 2009, at 12:40 PM

Follow up to preceding post.

Procedure for hay bales gardening.

This is my 3rd year as a vertical gardener.

You get good crops using nothing but wheat straw, potting soil, a little fertilizer and some tomato plants.

I started out and did 2 bales with two plants each. My 3rd year and i have 5 beds of tomatoes of various varieties.

It's easy because you don't have to have a tiller and tear the yard up. There's no back-breaking row-hoeing or weed-pulling.

Some people don't have real good soil for planting crops. Not a problem with this type of gardening.

All kinds of crops can be planted with corn being the exception. Crops including tomatoes, cucumber, squash and green beans work well.

There is one thing that must be done when using wheat straw gardening: the bales must be kept wet.

If the bales aren't kept a little soggy, the crops don't do so well. I also use a little fertilizer about once a week.

I haven't really gone through a summer drought that would effect the bales badly, but it is better to water them regularly. Straw wheat bales are available from Farmers Co-op.

Planting the crops is really no trouble.I go down about six-and-a-half inches from the top of the bale to make a hole in it. Then, I add potting soil and my tomato plant.

To plant your own wheat straw garden follow these simple directions. Purchase the wheat straws bales and leave the twine or wire on them. (Wheat straw will be less likely to contain weeds than hay.)

If you haven't had the chance to let your bales sit out through winter, give your bale or bales a thorough soaking, and let them begin to rot before your plant your vegetables. If the weather is warm, soak them more than once a day for three days. Make sure they are placed where they will be in the sun all summer. They shouldn't be moved once you've started treating them.

On the fourth day, apply your choice of fertilizer to the top of each bale. Repeat this for three or four more days. Allow one day for the bales to cool off. Then you are ready to plant your crop. Put commercial potting soil or a 50-50 mix of topsoil and manure on the top of each bail and moisten with a fine water spray. Pull apart the bale by hand to make a hole to put your plant. Each bale should hold two tomato plants or four pepper plants.

When using seeds, mix seeds into the soil mixture on top of the bale. Six to eight cucumbers, three yellow squash or 12-15 bean seeds per bale is the recommended limit.

Root crops such as carrots, parsnips and onions aren't good for bale gardening because the roots would be too crowded. Annual herbs like basil, cilantro and parsley will thrive. Even watermelon and cantaloupe can be planted in wheat straw.

The wheat straws bales may require more fertilizer applied weekly or monthly, depending on the crop. If you are worried about the appearance of the bales, you can grow annual and perennial flowers, too. Bales may be used again one or two seasons.

This is truly a lazy mans garden. I'm living proof.

-- Posted by cherokee2 on Thu, May 7, 2009, at 1:11 PM

Fantastic! I have a half bale left over from some mulching that has been out there for about 6 weeks. It is growing some wheat but that should not be a problem to control, might help.

I want to try it with eggplant since mine always get eaten big time by flea beetles. I never had the problem in pots but the plants never grew all that well either. Flea beetles supposedly come up from the ground, so maybe they will not climb the bale.

You mentioned the bale cooling and I presume that is because the bale is heating up like a compost pile. That could get hot enough to kill the plant so people who try this should not skip this step.

A couple more questions. Does the frame need to be taller than the bale so you can put the topsoil, or just let it sift into the bale from rain?

Would plastic over the top create too much heat. Just thinking that might keep them from drying too fast, but it may not be necessary.

Do you have any issues with Vine Borer in your squash? Even though they arrive by air, the moth may not lay eggs in the bale. Could be another side benefit.

I like the idea that they would start out off the ground and drape over.

You mentioned it is great for control weeds. It is probably good for those who can not bend over as much as gardening in the soil.

I like the idea of enabling our folks who are physically challenged or becoming more senior in wisdom. I will need it too someday but not from wisdom.

-- Posted by stevemills on Thu, May 7, 2009, at 2:14 PM

I really like this idea!! Thanks for sharing!

-- Posted by Jacks4me on Thu, May 7, 2009, at 4:16 PM

I like this idea,too.

I'd think it might also protect the growing sector a little more from kids,pets and other critters who might accidentally mistake the garden for part of the playing area.

-- Posted by quantumcat on Thu, May 7, 2009, at 5:21 PM

The 2X4 frames start out level with top of bales but as bale ages it shrinks so you have room to put dirt on top by the time you plant. Also, I do use plastic but I put it under the bales. It keeps little critters from coming up from underneath. garbage bags opened on one side works well. I have only tried squash one time but it turned out well. Zuchinni does real well also. Can photos be posted on here? If so, I'll put one on of my newest frame. I think I will try watermelon in it.

-- Posted by cherokee2 on Thu, May 7, 2009, at 6:04 PM

I don't think there is a way to post it as a responder, but if you send it to me, I will put it on this blog. I would love to see it. Steve@mybedfordcounty.com

QC, I believe your pets have a different approach to play areas. Concrete might deter them but a hay bale? They probably will burrow into the side and come out the top. My bet is on them.

-- Posted by stevemills on Thu, May 7, 2009, at 8:55 PM

Steve, you are correct on the bale heating up. Use at least 2 days of cool down and just water before planting. The rest of the season is mostly watching it grow and harvesting. Trying onions this year also. I lined up 3 bales sideways and framed them. Put about 6 inches of dirt on top for these. Doing extremely well.

-- Posted by cherokee2 on Fri, May 8, 2009, at 6:08 AM

I guess I was being overly optimistic.

Knowing my animals,they'd come up through concrete.

Bringing the bales indoors wouldn't work,either.

Drat.

Maybe,I could try a rooftop garden if I could get the straw hauled up there-sort of a sod roof effect.

I know I saw some tomato plants growing upside down in some catalog.

If Babylon could have hanging gardens,I guess Shelbyville could pull it off.

-- Posted by quantumcat on Fri, May 8, 2009, at 7:30 AM

I wonder if this would be a good way to grow strawberries.

-- Posted by bellbuckletn on Fri, May 8, 2009, at 8:48 AM

I would think strawberries would do fine it it.

QC - cherokee2 sent me some pictures and it includes some hanging tomatoes. With your pets you might need to put them on the tall poles used for Purple Martins, but....

I will get these pictures along with updates from Richard's garden on TONIGHT. I emphasize it so I motivate myself to get it done.

It may not be pretty, but I will get them up!!

-- Posted by stevemills on Fri, May 8, 2009, at 9:53 AM

Well, I have failed. It is just about 10 PM and we just got back from Mother's Day dinner, movie and of course some shopping. I won't last long enough to post Richard's & cherokee2's pictures, so we are all going to have to wait again.

Wish me luck on tomorrow.

-- Posted by stevemills on Sun, May 10, 2009, at 9:54 PM

Steve, I know you are not supposed to be able to grow onions in haybales, but those I had for lunch were sure good.

-- Posted by cherokee2 on Mon, May 11, 2009, at 4:26 PM


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Steve Mills and his wife have one daughter and live on a farm outside of Bell Buckle. They previously owned two coffee/ice cream shops, currently operate an internet sales company and teach classes, but his primary job involves the paper industry worldwide. Hobbies and interests lie in gardening, photography, recorded music and of course, their pets.