We have a group of bales curing in the Odell House west yard, about to become a vegetable plot. And a stash of extra straw bales have arrived At Blue Moon Garden and Nursery center.
Blue Moon Garden & Nursery
1732 S. Inland Empire Way
Spokane, WA 99224
If you want to learn how to make this honestly easy vegetable garden for yourself, Terese and I are teaching a little straw bale intro class–two Saturdays a month apart down the hill at Blue Moon.
May 3, and May 24, 11 AM “Be there and get square!”
$10 buys you a spot and a straw bale–good while supplies last. (That’s the truth–they are limited.)
Blue Moon is just past the creek on Inland Empire Way–about three minutes from Browne’s Addition.
Straw bales can be a little hard to find at this time of year, and Blue Moon has about forty for sale–stacked on pallets to the back of the nursery–you’ll have to ask if you want some.
A straw bale garden is defined as “a different kind of container garden.” Essentially you are using the water holding capacity of the straw–its hollow tubes make straw an expert in capillary action–and its rich source of carbon/soil bacteria. You add nitrogen (pick your favorite)
Cheap, non-timed release lawn fertilizer, organic liquid fish emulsion, organic fish meal and blood meal, blood meal combined with ashes all work.
(And, if you feeling safe from arrest–as would certainly NOT be the case here in Browne’s,–you can solicit “bale donations” by hosting a kegger in your soon-to-be garden. . .)
Add nitrogen in generous quantities to jump-start decomposition in a VERY WET BALE. And this can be a trick in a typically dry (as it should be) bale of straw with excellent drainage. A sprinkler system at this time or regular dousing before addition of nitrogen really helps. (You wash much of the nitrogen away if you try to do both things simultaneously).
Anyway, a few weeks before planting add nitrogen–the organics in our experience in this dry climate work better as they tend to stay in place.
Start vigorous decomposition, and then take advantage of the heat that comes with it.
That is about as complicated as it is–a real fast start to your vegetable garden. A logically easy way to take advantage of winter months would be to set out the bales to become soaked over winter and then start with the fertilizer. A lot depends on your climate. The bales at Blue Moon that are in the full sun that one would think to be ideal for a vegetable plot, tend to drain faster than my somewhat (half day) shaded group. As with all things looking at your circumstances and learning from trial to trial is essential
Straw bales are ideal if:
*You are temporary.
*You don’t have good soil.
*You don’t have any soil–yes, pavement can be the base.
*Your soil is contaminated (lead paint, oil, pollution etc.).
*You don’t want to damage tree roots by tilling.
*You are late and think a vegetable garden would be nice, but really a lot of commitment.
A straw bale garden is NOT a lot of commitment because at the end of the season you can stuff it in either your compost pile, or in your Clean Green barrel for city collection. A straw bale garden is also really easy if you are replacing an area of your yard already served by a sprinkler system.
A straw bale garden is relatively inexpensive.
My raised bed containers cost aver $300–more like $450 with the tops. Ouch!
April 1, 2014 June 21, 2014
The straw bales in the front (one of which has a trellis and row cover just like the box behind it) provide an equal amount of growing space and can be had from a a set of conditioned straw bales for under $30.
Row cover can add weeks to your planting horizon by making a micro climate for your seedlings.
And the straw bales themselves will hover at around 80 degrees after the first spike–creating a pleasant environment for your plants.
April 3, the start of curing three bales–which I enclosed in row cover to speed the process–it’s early and still cold here.
April 16, temperatures close to freezing last night and the new berry plants transplanted to the bales yesterday afternoon are happy as can be. Below is a photo of one of the warmer ones luxuriating in the Blue Moon hoop house.
Mushrooms are a natural part of the decomposition process that is happening–as are the occasional oat sprout in this case form the oat straw bale. (If it was a hay bale it would look like a Chia Pet in massive square form.
(Don’t do this–use straw where the seeds have been harvested, not hay where they are left to nourish the creature consuming them.)
(You’d have to be into horses to get this joke. . . )
Animal manure can be a problem both for the weed seeds it contains and other issues described below.
A NOTE ABOUT PERSISTENT HERBICIDE.
This is a potential problem that can occur with both compost–commercial and your own–and straw bale gardening.
In the last several years there has been a lot of worry about a relatively new class of herbicides that are known for taking an unusually long time to deteriorate, some staying active for several years, and which are highly toxic to certain commonly grown garden plants. (Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, tomatillo, peas and beans are a few).
- Picloram – sold as Tordon, Access, Surmount, Grazon, and Pathway.
- Clopyralid – sold as Curtail, Confront, Clopyr AG, Lontrel, Stinger, Millennium Ultra, Millenium Ultra Plus, Reclaim, Redeem, Transline.
- Aminopyralid – sold as Milestone, Forefront, Pharaoh, Banish.
This is a very good article about the issue,having to do with composting:
As is this:
The short version is that this class of broad leaf weed killers are commonly used on cereal crop lands, roadsides, power lines and in commercial uses. (They have been banned from residential use because of the problem with grass clippings getting into the commercial composting process–happened right here in Spokane.)
BUT, manures can be a problem too. The product is reportedly not harmful to the animal when ingested, but neither is it broken down by the digestive process–nor by typical composting. Which means that farm manures could be toxic to your garden. And you can’t just ask the horse owner or straw grower. These contaminants have been found in bagged grain products. Purina is a name that has been implicated, but I am sure they are not the only ones. And that means that virtually any organic source may no longer be safe.
What is the answer?
Locate your source for manure or straw in the fall and ask permission to perform a bioassay, which is growing a group of sensitive plants (peas for instance) in a control known not to be contaminated, and comparing their development with plants grown in your hopeful organic source. (With dry straw it is possible to soak the straw in water and then use that water on sensitive plants for your test.)
Obviously this is not practical with the bale from your local feed store whose stock rotates very quickly–nor do you want to purchase twenty bales without knowing if they are safe, because if your test fails then what do you do with them?
And that is where places like your local greenhouse can be a great boon–if they are willing to test. (Which Blue Moon Nursery has done for their source, planting peas in various comparative bales and substrates–all clear.) Purchasing a bale from stock that has been tested is undoubtedly worth the extra you will pay for it. Your first year straw garden will most likely flourish and then the resulting material can be composted safely in your home garden.
My general impression is we should be thinking pretty hard about those weed killers.
And I’m feeling more than a little proud of one of my guest’s compliments this last weekend. It wasn’t about the straw bale garden. She said she admired the “biodiversity” of our yard. I find it notable that we are the only ones on the block with such, and will provide pictures presently. Here they are, and just look at all those nasty broad leafed “weeds”–violets in the first one.
The last photo with the pot needs a bit of explanation. The middle photo shows white clover in the yard. The last photo is white clover planted as a cover crop in a chipped out stump hole. (Left from one of the large trees we lost last year.) The theory here is that regular grass would not grow well. The wood chip basin is going to suck up a lot of nitrogen as it decomposes. Clover is a nitrogen fixer and will be able to grow where we would battle with grass. Seems to be working. . .
The photo above is to point out that without the use of any herbicides, just organic lawn fertilizer (we use Ringer which is a blood meal base), our yard is if anything one of the better in the neighborhood–most of which is sprayed and treated to an alarming degree.
We have been influenced by the writing of Masanobu Fukuoka who believed strongly in cover crops and the addition of no chemical elements in his garden.