Straw Bale Gardening – Steps Two and Three
A few weeks ago I told you about this newer method of gardening I’d read about, that I was going to try. I shared with you the process of setting up the bales but never got back to you with the preparation of the bales. I’m sorry! It’s not too late though, so you still have time to get started.
After you put your bales in place, it is time to get them ready. Basically, what you are doing is helping to get the composting process in the middle of the bales going faster than it would do naturally, getting them all warm inside and ready for the roots of your plants to happily begin to spread out and grow.
First you have to decide what kind of fertilizer you are going to use. I went with organic bone meal, but if organic doesn’t matter to you, you could get away with regular lawn fertilizer. It takes a lot more of the fertilizer to go organic, but that was ok with me. So first I sprinkled 3 cups of the bone meal onto each bale, spreading it out. Then I soaked it with water until it was pushing down into the bale. The instructions recommended filling buckets with water and letting them warm up throughout the day, and pouring those over the bales, but honestly, who has that many buckets? I know I don’t. The weather warmed up early here, so I just went with the hose and it worked fine. One way you can tell it is working within a day or so, is that you can start to smell the sour smell of composting straw. It may not smell pleasant, but it will pass. You will also see a lot of bugs flying around, also a good sign, and mushrooms will sprout. They won’t hurt anything – just pull them out if you wish. Fertilize every other day for 12 days, watering every single day long enough for the bales to get soaked and push the fertilizer into their centers.
One thing I did notice though, that in spite of the assurances to the contrary, slugs will climb up the bales. Not many, but enough to cause me some mental consternation. I sprinkled slug poison around the base of the bales to discourage the little stinkers from climbing up and make sure the dogs don’t go back there. I’ve also had to be extra careful to check daily for tent caterpillars. They have been trying to eat my blueberry bush that I have in a pot on my deck, and have pretty much destroyed my strawberries.
Once you get all of the fertilizing done, you are ready to plant. I got some plants that were already started, and I have some seeds. The seeds were leftover from last year, so I don’t know if they’ll actually sprout or not. For the plants, you just plant them directly into the bale. Take them out of their little pot they came in, loosen up the roots, and stick them into the bale. They’ll take to their new home quite nicely. For the seeds, you’ll need to spread a little soil out on top of the bale to prevent the seeds from falling into the bale. I’m sure they’d grow eventually, but it would take them awhile to get to where you can see the growth.
After planting the plants and seeds, I set up soaker hoses so I am not watering everything around the bales and focusing on just watering the garden. They get a good soak every other day, unless it’s hot out, then they get it every day. I already need to take new pictures – it’s only been a little over a week and my starts have already doubled in size from what you see here! I just went out to check for caterpillars, and do find that something was setting up house in a cocoon in one of my zucchini plants – it’s gone now! – that I have some of my seeds beginning to sprout. I didn’t mark them so I’m not sure if it is green onions or radishes that are starting to come out, but I’ll take whatever wants to grow!
This year’s straw bale garden is merely a trial, so I can get all of my mistakes out of the way and know which direction I want to take it next year, but so far, so good!