Friday, April 25, 2008

Straw Bale Gardening

Last winter Teresa asked me if I had ever heard of growing vegetables in straw bales.

"In what?"

"Straw bales. You know, wheat straw. The stuff people put over their lawns after they plant grass seed. You buy it out the back of a big truck..."

"I know what wheat straw is. But how are you going to grow vegetables in it? Last time I checked, plants needed dirt to grow. They've got these things called roots, and they're sort of important."

"Here, read this." She handed me a sheaf of printouts from various websites.

"Well. I stand corrected. If it's on the Internet, it must be true."

"Look. You buy the bales in winter and let them sit out for several months. They start to break down and get all soft, then you make a hole in the bale, put in some dirt, and plant your vegetables."

"I don't know, Teresa. It sounds sorta gimmicky to me."

"It might work. It's sort of like planting stuff in your compost pile. Remember that pumpkin that came up last year?"

"I remember the pumpkin."

"I want to try it."

I was gratified that for once, Teresa wanted to begin a project that did not require any tool more complicated than a trowel, so I was more than happy to get the straw bales. They sat behind the butterfly garden all spring, soaking up rain (yes, it's actually rained!) and getting nice and soft. The other day I plunged my hand into the center of a bale and found that the consistency was similar to that of rich compost. I could maybe envision a plant growing here.

We went to the farmer's market last week and came home with squash, zucchini, beans, peas, and asparagus. (The asparagus went in the ground, since it's a perennial.) Yesterday, Teresa spaded some dirt into the bales and planted her crops. She said they would need to be watered more frequently than a regular vegetable garden--I volunteered to water in the mornings if that meant I didn't have to make up the bed. (The latter seems such a waste of time--I'm going to get right back in it at night...)

So we'll see what happens. Stay tuned...


Gina said...

david - i love this idea! just one thing, why didnt you tell us about this a long time ago so we could have our straw bales out composting??

Anonymous said...

In the variant that I read, you soak the bales in a solution of fertilizer to provide additional nutrients. Also, as the straw decomposes, the heat generated helps the plants grow better.

David in Greensboro, NC said...

You ever think about doing something stupid and you decide not to tell anybody about it unless it works...well, that's why. Notice I took great pains to point out that this was Teresa's idea. I wanted to build raised beds like yours, Gina, but that involved tools that are not trowels!

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This straw bale idea might be a good beginning to a raised bed. You could set your bales where you want your raised bed and after you have several break down you would have nice composted soil for the raised bed already in place. Then get those peculiar tools, those which aren't trowels, and put boards around the lovely new soil. Voila a raised bed.

Tina said...

If you wrap the bales with plastic wrap or garbage bags the moisture and nutrients stay in much, much longer. Ask me how I know this...

Pat Leuchtman said...

I love the way one idea leads to more information and refinements and more inspiration for all of us, those who use trowels - and even other tools. However, straw farms must have heard about this and seen the advantage because the cost of straw, around here in Western Mass anyway, is soaring. Thanks for the posting.

Carla said...

I have heard of this method but worried that it might require an inordinate amt. of water to keep the bales from drying out. I'm glad someone I know is trying this. Can't wait to hear about the results!

Iris said...

David says: "You ever think about doing something stupid and you decide not to tell anybody about it unless it works"

Totally. I almost didn't blog about the clover lawn until I knew if it would work. Thank the gods it's working or I'd have pie in my eye! I'll be watching this straw bale experiment in hopes of copying you next season.

David in Greensboro, NC said...

Good idea, Lisa. I'll see if I can get Gina over here and she and Teresa can build the bed thingys.

And how DO you know this, Tina? I hadn't thought of that, but it sounds reasonable.

Wonder if that's the cause of the price increase. Did y'all have a bad drought last year like we did, Pat?

I'll keep you updated, Carla.

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