Anyone with experience in Straw Bale gardening?

Discussion in 'Planting, growing, nurturing Plants' started by Pakanohida, Mar 28, 2012.

  1. Pakanohida

    Pakanohida Junior Member

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    Here is how the system is normally done:

    Days 1-3: Water the bales thoroughly and keep them damp.

    Days 4-6: Sprinkle each bale with a 1/2 cup of a high nitrogen fertilizer like ammonium nitrate (34-0-0) or ammonium sulfate per day, and water it well into the bales. If you’d like you can substitute blood meal for the nitrate.

    Days 7-9: Cut back to 1/4 cup of fertilizer per bale per day, and continue to water it in well.

    Day 10: No more fertilizer, but continue to keep the bales damp.

    Day 11: Stick your hand into the bale. If it has cooled down to less than your body heat, you may safely begin planting as soon as all danger of frost has passed.



    I am in a cool wet climate, in fact it is raining right now,

    Problem is, like you, I am organic. So, instead of the chemicals, I used urine, compost & worm farm teas and then rubbed in some commercial top soil that has a guaranteed beneficial fungal content. I do not believe good fungal rich soil would of been needed if that had been a sheet mulching adventure using straw bales as one would normally be the boards. It simply is not that.

    Hay is not used because it sprouts too much grass, and thus more weeding is needed. I figured the strings around the bales should be on the sides to help maintain shape is it biodegrades.

    This is being created on my property over reclaimed land (a former dirt and rock road made by a timber company).

    I now have 1 bed that is 1 week old, and it already has broken down enough for planting. 3 other beds are breaking down, 1 more bed in this area will be established this month.

    The major benefit at the end of this is I can just spread this as compost at the end of the growing season around the area and build up the soil slowly, gently, and in a healthy manner.
     
  2. gardenlen

    gardenlen Group for banned users

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    g'day pebble,

    anything can be used straw i think generally gets noted because in some areas it is more readily available and affordable, we have bought straw at times but mostly use spoilt lucerne hay and sugar cane mulch (rough bales) as they are more affordable and available, also used bales of fodder grass ie.,. rhodes grass.

    len
     
  3. pebble

    pebble Junior Member

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    Inland maritime/hot/dry/frosty
    Thanks Len.

    Pak that is awesome. My mind is jumping all over the place thinking of ways to use that. When you say 'breaks down' are you referring solely to the content of the bale (thus it is releasing nutrients for plants), or do you also mean that the bale starts to lose structure and shape?

    Do you think any soil with obvious mycelium in it would work, or is there something special about commercial fungal soils?
     
  4. S.O.P

    S.O.P Moderator

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    Let's say I take one anecdotal story as evidence.

    Planting Alpine Strawberries into straight, finished 18-day compost yielded more berries earlier than control strawberries.

    So, based on that crappy observation, one could hollow out an area into the bale, fill with a finished compost and mulch with the straw that was removed. Then break apart the bale at end of season, like Pak explains.
     
  5. Pakanohida

    Pakanohida Junior Member

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    I was referring to the content of the bale, and how over time, say 1 season, it will start to lose form at which point (the end of the growing season) one spreads it like compost.

    I went with a commercial soil with is alive with beneficial microbes and fungi that help break down organic matter and feed the plant roots. Between the earthworm castings, the bat guano, and the composted forest humus in this commercially prepared soil, I believe it is enough to kick start proper soil inhabitant growth which can only have positive effects over the long term.

    I would much rather work with my own soil, but this area has no top soil, & I am reclaiming land while trying to start & maintain a kitchen garden.


    S.O.P. - Why hollow out the bale at all? Why lose nutrients?
     
  6. S.O.P

    S.O.P Moderator

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    Hollowing it out to insulate a few litres of compost and then placing the straw on top as mulch, so no - no loss of nutrients.
     
  7. Pakanohida

    Pakanohida Junior Member

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    Interesting, I am just going to use as is, no emptying out the middle because then IMO it's just like a raised bed or sheet mulching, or container gardening. ;)

    I will admit this utterly sucks atm for transplants, & a lot easier for seeds.
     
  8. S.O.P

    S.O.P Moderator

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    Totally. I was just thinking out loud.

    That said, as throwaway container garden with added benefits, it's probably not too bad. Nice and insulatory from drying out, strawberries might work on top (and sides) as they wouldn't touch the soil then you just pull them apart when you are finished.

    I like the whole inoculating that you posted eariler though.
     
  9. NJNative

    NJNative Junior Member

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    Here's my take on it. A similar approach to others, but about 6-8 inches of manure and compost, after an organic fertilizer was left to leach into the bales for a week.

    The front bale, to be planted with pole and bush beans, lettuce, and potatoes. Back bales not quite done yet:

    [​IMG]

    2nd bale finished and planted with cherry and determinate tomatoes; basil in center for insectary; row of swiss chard just out of frame below:

    [​IMG]

    3rd bale finished and planted with indeterminate tomatoes, two kinds of eggplant, and three kinds of pepper; again, basil in center of bed:

    [​IMG]

    I plan on mulching with partially decayed leaves. I can give updates as the season progresses if people are interested.:y:
     
  10. pebble

    pebble Junior Member

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    Location:
    inland Otago, NZ
    Climate:
    Inland maritime/hot/dry/frosty
    Cool. What kind of climate are you in? What happens in a heavy rain? Wind? Does it dry out?
     
  11. eco4560

    eco4560 New Member

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    Put us all in your diary for an update in about 6 weeks! This could be a great system to start a garden for a challenged suburban backyard grower.
     
  12. gardenlen

    gardenlen Group for banned users

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  13. NJNative

    NJNative Junior Member

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    I'm in cool-warm temperate, zone 7. The soil is 99% sand, thus why we're giving this method a shot. Double digging produced alright results, but nothing to write home about. We also have several hugelkultur beds that we're experimenting with, hoping to store water in a new soil above the old sandy one. Hopefully the humates will leach into it, and start to help build up a decent soil profile.

    For the most part, the beds have been consistently moist. We've been pretty fortunate for the past month in terms of rain, and so have yet to need to water any of the beds, except when planting to reduce shock and help expand seeds. Also, we've had several heavy rains, and it seems to be holding up just fine. Like I said, I will be mulching with leaves, so we'll see how things are once that's on, but I'm expecting the roots of the plants to hold things together pretty tightly. These things are planted pretty densely.
     
  14. NJNative

    NJNative Junior Member

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    Great idea len, I will most certainly be trying that way out as well in the future!!
     
  15. wmthake

    wmthake Junior Member

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    NJNative,
    Nice.
    Those bales look new. How is the rain situation? You might need to water them more than usual and/or add more soil on top if the soil you have washes down into the bales. I'd check the humidity of the bales every couple days or put some sort of in drip irrigation (even better if covered with the leaves).

    Irrigation=Tubing+Raised bucket with spout. An afternoon project.

    Old bales conserve water better (more fungi), but new bales retain their shape better.

    Also, you might want to make sure those stakes go down into the ground. If they are just in the straw they will bend over as the holes get bigger and the beans start climbing.

    best of luck,
    William
     
  16. NJNative

    NJNative Junior Member

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    Those bales are about a month old. Some of them were still slightly green when we got 'em though. They seem to be holding water fairly well in the top few inches. There's definitely fungus popping up as well, so I think their decomposition process is well under way.

    Just in case though, we do have a 330 gallon rain barrel system, ready and waiting to be put to use. It was about 3/4 of the way full when I was there on sunday, and it's rained more since then. We'll see how it goes. I need to figure out a way to increase the pressure though, they're only about 1/2 foot higher than the bales, so they barely trickle onto them. I'm wondering if a rain barrel soaker hose would work. Something like this:

    https://store.rainbrothers.com/prod...t-%2d-Designed-for-Gravity%2dFed-Systems.html

    The other option is a solar pump, but that's an expensive solution I've been trying to avoid:

    https://store.rainbrothers.com/products/RainPerfect-Solar%2dPowered-Rain-Barrel-Pump.html

    It has gone down $6 though, so that's a plus I guess.

    In any case, when the season ends, I'm building a platform for them 3-4' off the ground.
     
  17. Raymondo

    Raymondo Junior Member

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    Did it once just to see how it would go. I had two bales which I stood so that the straw ends faced up. I watered them well with some fish emulsion then parted the straw (a bit of effort there) and planted lettuce and chilli seedlings. Worked just fine but they needed a bit of extra water till they got establshed. We had a warm (for here) wet summer so the bales broke down quite quickly. By autumn they were beginning to collapse and were full of worms. It's probably a great way to start a garden. I wouldn't put them directly on bermuda grass (aka couch) though. It will just just grow up through them.
    Would I do it again? No. My income is very limited and straw bales are too expensive compared to the local council crushed wood mulch.
     
  18. Pakanohida

    Pakanohida Junior Member

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    I'll take photos tomorrow of how it looks, the sun is setting at the moment and there isn't enough sunlight for good photos. I broadcasted seeds via Emelia Hazelip's synergistic system in order to grow soil.
     
  19. NJNative

    NJNative Junior Member

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    Just an update. Looks like they're working pretty well. Check it out:

    [​IMG]
    Definitely some initial leaf-burn from transplanting, but they're looking healthy now, and even fruiting:
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    Rosa Bianca's taking her time, but looking pretty good:
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    Just thinned out the lettuce:
    [​IMG]
    And potatoes are coming up very densely, didn't know you were supposed to cut them up into pieces before planting, hah:
    [​IMG]

    Finally, there's been TONS of mushrooms popping up, mostly inky caps. Good sign for the decomposition process:
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
     
  20. S.O.P

    S.O.P Moderator

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    Are you going to mulch the tops, or is that it?
     

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