Fresh vegetables are great. They are even better when they grow in your back yard. There is something to be said for watching life (and food) develop from a tiny, dried-up seed.Is there anything better than walking outside in your bare feet and picking the tomatoes, oregano, basil, and jalapenos you will use for that evenings pasta sauce?
Unfortunately, I live in the woods on the side of a mountain/hill and my topsoil is non-existent. When I attempted to plant several hundred dill plants we stumbled across on craigslist, I encountered rock, clay, and more rock. The land is untenable. Even more unfortunate is that I am kind of lazy and mechanically deficient. Soooooo, raised beds are out. This conundrum came up in a conversation with a friend in NC who has been involved in community garden development on the coast. After the convo, the instructions for straw bale gardening were in my inbox.
Straw bale gardening is inexpensive, lazy laborer friendly, and most importantly, simple. I purchased 20 bales of straw for $5 each and had them delivered with this year's mulch. The flat roof of our garage gets the most sun, so I tossed the bales up there (minus 3, one each for the neighbor kids), and arranged them in rows. For three days, I only had to water them. Thankfully, Mother Nature reallllllly helped out there with the continual rain.
The watering of the bales begins the "seasoning," which is necessary to break down the straw and provide a medium suitable for growing. Next is the introduction of nitrogen, to really get things cooking. I chose to use urea (45-0-0) for this step. At $12.99 for a fifty pound back, it is the most cost effective option. Also, the left overs can be used to melt the ice off of our slope-of-death driveway in the winter. Organic alternatives can be used, such as blood meal or even the introduction of compost and worms. It may take longer with the organic option. In addition, bales can be directly seeded. Basically, pretend the bale is your garden, spread the seeds, and cover them with a thin layer of compost or soil.
The seasoning takes seven days. For three days, 1/2 cup of urea must be sprinkled on each bale and watered in while being sure not to over water, as the urea can be flushed out. For three more days, 1/4 cup of urea is added and watered. The final additive is one cup of 10-10-10 fertilizer on day 10. Again, it is sprinkled on and watered in.
Did I mention simple? With this process, the bales are ready to be planted. On day eleven (and I am not on day 11 yet), a spatula is used to crack the bale. Seedlings are then put in up to their first leaves, the the crack is smooshed closed. Plants can be planted in the top, in the sides, and in the ends. I intend to put rooty vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, and cauliflower in the top of the bales. In the ends, I will put the viney things like squash, cucumber, and watermelons. In the sides, leafy things will work best, I think. My plan is a combination of herbs, like basil and chives, as well as lettuce, spinach, and a mescalin mix.
The beauty of straw bale garden is a combination of its simplicity, low cost, and the fact that anyone can do it anywhere. Do you have a patio? Straw bale. Do you have bad soil? Straw bale. Do you have a parking space you don't use? Straw bale. I will add pictures shortly and photo journal the progression of the garden.
Will you consider straw bale gardening when you are thinking of your next planting?