Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Straw Bale Gardening

This year I am so excited to work on our place.  We bought a few acres in a beautiful part of the world called Chester, Idaho.  I love the Tetons and have to be able to see them everyday.  They ground me and remind me that I can reach my potentional and I live right by the river which reminds me to let things go.  Take what you need, let it change what needs changing and wash off what has served you.  Since I was tiny, I have always wanted a root to the center of the earth, to know I'm connected, deep rooted and have a place to be.  This little bit of earth is part of the lava flows.  At least half of it is planted in alfalfa hay which we feed, horses, cows, sheep and even the chickens love it.  Alfalfa is also great in smoothies:). A lot of our land has large rocks on it so I thought I'd garden on top of it.

This book became my textbook.  I read what I could online and got started but then realized that i hang completely understood and had to redo some things.  Joel explains the difference between hay and straw, important to know, but he also explains why you need to run your bales north and south instead of east west and that the strings on the bales must not be on top but run around the sides of the bales.  As they absorb water they expand and the strings are kept in place to keep your bales compact.

Pieces of straw are gathered into a bale and compressed with the flat sides of the straw showing on the surface and also the cut ends of the straw on the surface.  Turn the bales and examine them.

These are the cut ends.

On this bale you can see the cut ends on the top and the strings running across the side, around the bale, where the straw is flat.   This is the best was to have bales.  Cut ends on top, strings on the sides.

In some situations, it doesn't work out that way.  The strings have to run around the bale and so the flat straws end are on top.  Don't worry, use the bales this way.  It is more important that the strings be on the sides.  Please do not use hay, only straw bales.  This is non negotiable.  Hay will not work.

It is easier to use a sprayer to water your bales, the pressure of the spray dissolves the nitrogen and forces in down into the bales.

The reason I am SBG this year is because it is neat, raised beds, smart application of water, densely nutritious, extends the growing season because as the bales decompose, they emit heat, lots of new compost for the rest of the gardens when these bales are done, keeps roots warm and I could go on and on.

So how do we get started you can place your bales anywhere, even on your balcony, adapt it to square foot gardening, if you do that.  I decided on rows.  I haven't staked my bales yet but on the either end of our bale rows, you will want a vertical support, I'm using tposts.  Then a horizontal support that keeps the posts from bending inwards when you wire them.  I will explain this better in another post but you could probably find plenty of photos at that show you what I mean.

It's important to place your bales where you want them before you water them, because they get heavy once you saturated them.  You can install drip hoses with a timer or hand soak like I do, although I will be installing a drip hose system soon.

Then start your conditioning process.  I buy nitrogen from the fertilizer plant.

Bales in place?
Treat your bales with high-nitrogen fertilizer to accelerate the decomposition that is happening deep inside.
Watering for 12 to 18 days.
Cover the top of your bales with potting soil and plant your seeds.  The heat generated by your decomposing bales allow you to plant 2 to 4 weeks ahead of schedule.

You will need about a pound of fertilizer per bale.  It must not be slow release fertilizer and at least 20% nitrogen.  Fertilizer has three numbers on the bag and the first one tells us the percentage of nitrogen in the mix.  Do not use anything with a herbicide, weed killer or crabgrass preventer.  Use will use this on days 1 through 9 of prepping your bales.  On day 10 you will need a small bag of garden fertilizer 10-10-10.

Don't expect to see a pile of compost in 10 days.  The magic is happening deep inside.
DAY 1:  1/2  cup, 4 ounces, of fertilizer should be spread evenly over each bale and water it in.
DAY 2:   Water
DAY 3:   1/2 cup feltilizer watered in.
DAY4:     Water
DAY5:    1/2 cup fertilizer watered in.
DAY 6:    Water
DAY 7, 8 and 9: 1/4 cup fertilizer, evenly distributed and watered in.
DAY 10:  apply 1 cup per bale of the 10-10-10 and water in.

Buy your plants and seeds and plant on day 12:)

Soon we will have lots of veges and flowers and remember to plant in the sides of your bales too.