Special Edition: Learning A New Way To Garden – Step One

spring seriesSome people are amazing gardeners.  I’m related to some of them!  For some reason the gardening gene didn’t pass down to me.  I have tried diligently for nearly 10 years to have a decent garden, and oddly enough the most successful one has been in the house where we used to live, where the soil was rocky, weedy, uneven and really difficult to work with.  Everything wasn’t a success, but I was able to grow a few things quite well!  I at least got a bunch of delicious zucchini, some lettuce, beans, peas, garlic, etc.  When we bought this house R made me a raised garden bed, we put emu fertilized soil into it . . . and I killed pretty much everything that first year.  We thought perhaps the soil was too hot.  Every year since then there have been a variety of issues that seemed to get into the way of the garden I’ve always wanted to have – one that provides delicious food and is beautiful to stand and gaze upon.  When I was growing up my Grandpa K had a magnificent garden, magical even.  Many a warm summer evening found me sitting on the swing with Grandpa “watching the garden grow”.  It is one of my best memories of my time with Grandpa because it was a consistent one that we repeated often as I grew up.  There is comfort in things that don’t change.  I’d like to have that garden to sit and look at with my Grandbabies, and be able to take them out to harvest tomatoes, beans or a head of lettuce for dinner so that someday they can tell their children about their time in the garden with Grandma and Grandpa.


So what obstacles do I need to overcome to achieve my goal of a garden?  First and foremost there is my hatred of anything remotely connected with pulling weeds.  I hate it with a passion.  Seems that the two go hand in hand right?  I don’t want to use chemicals on my garden, so it stands to reason that weeds are a part of the process.  True.  Second is the proliferation of slugs that slime their way across our landscape each spring and summer.  My garden has always seemed to be a call for a buffet meal for all slugs and their friends.   I have tried non-toxic slug killers (don’t want to hurt the dogs of course), but they haven’t worked.  I’ve put out bowls of beer, since I’ve heard that they will crawl in to drink and drown.  The tiny ones do, but for the bigger ones it was just a party to go along with the buffet!  I have tried collecting the slugs in cans and putting poison in there, but it’s disgusting and though I hate slugs, seems a little cruel.  At least death by beer is a happy death, right?  I’ve tried crushed egg shells, and it was ok, but we don’t go through THAT many eggs!  There are a few things I have not tried due to expense, so what was I to do?


Recently I heard about a new gardening technique that is gaining popularity very quickly.  It is called Straw Bale Gardening and the article I saw about it looked intriguing!  I downloaded “Straw Bale Gardens” by Joel Karsten from Amazon – the man who researched and created this method and not only does it look like this method will save my back a lot of pain, he says that weeds won’t grow in this garden and that slugs won’t climb the straw!  WIN WIN!  If you haven’t yet started your garden, this may be an option for you!  The idea is that when the bales are treated for about 12 days with fertilizer and water, the straw begins to break down to compost in the middle.  They get all hot and cozy inside, the perfect place for happy plants.  Once the bales are prepared, starts are planted directly into the bales – no soil necessary! – and they grow happily to be big, strong, healthy vegetables!  I can’t wait!


Last week I made some calls to find a place in our area selling straw and went to pick up 8 bales.  I figured this is what fit in the truck, so this is where I’d start.  After seeing how many weeds were in my garden area even though I raked through the space and got quite a few out, but the roots were still there, and I didn’t want to take a chance on anything growing up through the bottom of the bales.  Problem solved with some of that landscape fabric that the water can soak through, but the weeds can’t do the same.  Great! I picked up one roll and some of those little stakes that hold it down.  Ok, ready for Step One!


I hurried home a little early from work today, since I knew rain was on the way, and got things started.  With a little side-line encouragement from Moose, I layered the landscape fabric over the garden space and secured it.  Then, one bale at a time, I moved them into place.  Individually they aren’t that heavy, but by the time I was done I was hot, itchy and tired.  The book said that it’s important to lay them out with the bindings around the sides to keep the bales in one piece as they begin to compost down from the inside. OK, got it.  One side of the bale has the cut side of the straw, the other is more folded over.  Either side will work as the top side, but the book says that the cut side works better.  OK, got that too!  The garden space wouldn’t hold all 8 bales, so I put two off to one side, in an area that has ample space for zucchini and pumpkin vines to branch out.  I layered some landscape fabric beyond the bales to give room for the vines without grass and weeds taking over.





straw 1


straw 2


Straw 3

About that time the wind and the rain were moving in, so I’ll go on to Step Two – Prepping the Bales with Fertilizer tomorrow.



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