Our first task is to accquire or purchase some small straw bales for this gardning exercise. I say accquire because some farmers in our community will be giving away these for free, especially if they have been left ouside in the elements and are somewhat damaged and therefore no longer deemed to be of any use to them. The beauty about this issue is, if we could source bales in this condition, these would be ideal for our straw bale garden exercise, due to their partly rotted and decomposed nature, more about this later. If we cannot manage to get these from our farming neighbours, the next port of call would be our local hardware stockist or perhaps our local garden centre or nursery. These centres are now stocking these bales as they have recently seen a big demand for these, primarily for the purpose of straw bale gardening.
Some other straw bale garden instructions that we will look at is the actual size and make of this gardening accessory bale. The bale is a straw bale as we have mentioned above and not a hay bale, just to distinguish betweeen the two types. Hay bales come in exactly the same size as their straw counterparts, but the hay material is not as beneficial or as suitable for this purpose, as that of the straw. The other key detail is the size of this straw bale, we are not talking about big round or large square bales, which are also made by agricultural contractors and farmers. This straw bale is approx 3-4 ft in length, about 2ft in width and approx 18″ in height.
Straw bale garden instructions;
As we will read further on about straw bale gardening, we can see how easy and simple this exercise really is. A list of our main requirements are as follows:
- Straw bales ( 2-4 approx ),
- Water source,
- Newspaper, cardboard or weedblock membrane,
- Small garden trowel,
- Organic fertiliser,
- Topsoil ( approx wheelbarrow ),
- Garden compost ( 50kg bag ),
- Plants, seeds or seedlings,
- Trellis frame ( for later ).
In our checklist above, we can see that our requirements are pretty much standard fare, apart from the fertilizer, which needs to be a good organic grade. The fertilizer can be sourced from our garden or hardware centre and a lot of gardeners use bonemeal, fishmeal or blood meal for this purpose. These types of fertilizer are relatively inexpensive and all of them carry the trace elements and nutrients that are important to a successful growing season and harvest.
Organising our straw bale garden;
Once we have all of the above in place, our next step is to go ahead and create our straw bale garden. This task is really simple as all we need do is to place or locate the bales in an area that is convenient, sunny and also as near to our dwelling house as possible, for sourcing our veggies when they have grown. In essence we would treat our straw bale garden the same as we would our open ground or raised bed garden. If we locate our bales in an open windy site, the chances of a successful garden are considerably reduced. If we have a boundary wall or fence outback, this area would be ideal, for a number of reasons. We could place the bales parallel to the wall, which would act as a shelter factor and if we decide to grow some of the tall climbing plants like peas, tomatoes or cucmbers etc, the wall or fence would be ideal to attach a trellis or frame to support these later on. It’s also important to have our straw bed facing south if possible, in order to get the benefits of the sun.
Layout and design of the bales.
There is no organised or determined plan for the layout of a straw bale garden, it’s basically whatever takes our fancy. For this exercise, we can be as creative or uncreative as we wish. We could place them side by side, have them individually as one item or perhaps make a row of 2-3 in a line. The only issue here is that we will be able to access all sides of these later for watering or maintenance tasks. Some gardeners would place them in fours, just for aesthetics and functionality, ie, the square or rectangle shape would help to support all of the bales as one unit, during the growing season.
If we are locating or placing these in a grass or garden surface, we may or may not use some newspapers underneath the bales. The same would apply if we decide to make our straw bale garden on a concrete or yard type surface, we would also lay down some newspaper, cardboard or plastic sheeting, so that the bale garden would not stain or mark our concrete surface and also to prevent weeds and other unwanted plants from infiltrating through to our straw bale garden. For this exercise it’s important to note that the bales are placed on edge and not flat. The reason for this determination is that we have a large depth area downwards for the roots of our vegetables to take hold and grow.
Other factors to note;
As soon as we have designed and constructed our straw bale garden, the next important step is to water the bales generously. If we are thinking of doing this method of gardening for the first time, it would be a good idea to just place the bales outside in our backgarden or backyards, say a month or two in advance. The reason is, Mother Nature would take care of the watering and soaking job for us, as this step is critical to a good successful straw bale garden unit. As soon as the bales are heavily watered, inside the decomposting process begins and renders the straw into ideal gardening compost material. We will see that the outside layer ( 1-2″) of the bale keeps its integrity or shape. This is due to the drying elements of our weather and climate. The outside will dry off to a degree, due to wind or sunshine warmth, while the inside of the bale is like a planting or a growing container.
As soon as all of the above straw bale garden instructions are complete, we are ready now for the planting and sowing steps. One final task to confirm this detail woud be to dip our hand into the bale itself, if the inside feels all wet, cold and mushy, that is a sign that the bale is composting and ready to accept our seedlings and plants.
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