I have been a gardener since the age of twelve. When I was a photographer and moved from city to city as fast as I could pack a suitcase I had to give it up.
After I returned to my hometown I started to play in the dirt again and experiment. To me gardening is an experiment and fun. The day it stops being fun is the day I sell my hoe and spade.
One year about six years ago I injured my back and could hardly walk. Actually my sheep pulled my back out. It’s a long story and to this day, I don’t like sheep. At least not in my yard!
Injuring my back led me to re-think gardening and to try and make it less work and easier on the back. I use containers a lot and raised beds are a must. Besides being easier on the back they help keep pests out of the garden. I have also set up most raised beds to be instant hoop greenhouses.
When my back was the worst I started doing hillside gardens and I even planted some of my crops in straw bales. Straw bale gardens are actually fun and have a unique look. The only thing with a straw bale garden is that it is best to use transplants. I have started the plants from seeds but my normal success rate is off so I cheat and go for the transplants!
Straw Bale Garden
To make a straw bale garden buy a few straw bales. How many you pick up will depend on how big you want your garden to be. A bale is usually about 2 foot by 3 or 4 foot in size.
Straw bales are better than hay bales, Hay has more weed seeds and why bring weeds into your yard?
Straw Bale Garden Design
Lay your straw bales out where you want your garden flat side down. You can lay them out in a line or get creative and make a design. I laid my garden out in a mini maze with enough room to get the mower between the bales. I also had a bench in the center so I had a fun place to sit.
The next step takes a few days. During this time you can be hardening off your transplants.
What you need to do is wet the straw bales down thoroughly several times a day for a couple of days. I also make a compost tea mix and let that soak in the top of the bales. This gives the bales a good deep soaking of water, which it will hold for a long time and the fertilizer soaks in and add nutrients to the bale that the plants will get.
Planting your Straw Bale Garden
Decide what plants you are going to plant so that you know how much space you want between plants. Next remove some of the straw where you want the plants. I usually take out 6 inches across and 8 inches deep. Fill the hole with good composting soil or a mix or garden soil and potting soil Water well and let sit for a few hours. Put more soil in if the soil level goes down.
I wait till its cloudy or close to 5 or 6p.m. in the afternoon when the sun isn’t so hot. Your transplants will appreciate being transplanted when the sun isn’t beating down on them.
Plant your transplants and water. After this garden is planted treat it like a normal garden. Water the plants when they need it and if it’s a very dry summer water the bales for a deep watering.
I have planted tomatoes, potatoes, squash, greens, peppers, gourds and flowers in the bales. I didn’t try tall plants like sunflowers. I also staked tomatoes and peppers just like I do in a regular garden.
When the season is over, harvest your crops. One thing I did do later in the fall was cover the sides of the bales with black plastic. This kept the bales warmer and my crops going a little longer.
After the season is done take the bales and add them to you compost pile. If you don’t have one this is the perfect time to start! You have great semi composted material to start one with.