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Old 07-07-2013, 08:48 AM
 
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You don't need to do anything to decomposed straw. You can layer grass clippings on it, and kitchen scraps. And manure.

Oops -- I just described a compost pile!
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Old 07-10-2013, 02:27 PM
 
Location: SE Michigan
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I am absolutely LOADED with tomatoes and blossoms but nothing ripe yet. I think another week or two ought to do it.
In addition to almost-daily harvest of basil and cilantro, I've got a bunch of green beans and "miniature" eggplants.
And red bell peppers and Serranos just about ready to pop.
Not bad for my straw bale experiment, about six weeks after planting!

Growing A Straw Bale Garden
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Old 07-10-2013, 02:48 PM
 
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OMG, this is so exciting!!! Those eggplant will be delicious! Little ones are the best, and those beans are just gorgeous.
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Old 07-11-2013, 01:13 PM
 
Location: SE Michigan
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It was good!
I stir-fried a little salt pork, then cooked the beans and eggplants along with a store-bought tomato for about two hours.
Totally tasty.
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Old 08-14-2013, 05:44 AM
 
Location: SE Michigan
6,191 posts, read 14,165,230 times
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It's been a while but here's an update and I will post photos later!

What I planted in six bales:
Two bush bean plants.
Two okra.
Five (various heirloom type) tomatoes.
Two basil.
One cilantro,
One eggplant.

First: TinaMcG warned me that heirloom tomatoes were messy and took up more space than other types. And, she was right! Really, one 'mater plant per bale would have been just about right. They're overtaking the other, smaller plants.
The tomatoes are an unqualified success, compared to the ones in the ground and two in containers. I'm getting tons per day. I'm either eating them fresh off the vine or giving them away.
The only tomato plant to get blight, interestingly enough, was a yellow cherry tomato in a 15 gallon container. It's still poroducing lots of little tomatoes but the leaves are all yellowing and falling off. I wasn't quick enough in treating it or the soil.
We've had an uncommonly wet summer, interspersed with some wickedly HOT days. So many of the tomatoes are splitting a little bit when ripe, which as I understand is from inconsistent watering. It doesn't affect taste, though.

Okra: Two in containers, two in bales. Okra doesn't do well in bales, those have struggled from the start. In fact the first generation of okra died; I replaced them with more vigorous ones later but they're still not doing well. The container ones are producing a lot.

Eggplant: My lone mini-eggplant in the bale has so far given me three meals. I have nothing to compare it to but it sure seems to be putting out a lot of little eggplants for an 18-inch tall plant.

Bush beans: Doing great but getting overshadowed by the stupid mutant tomato plants LOL. I've still picked several bowls of beans and am about to get another big bowl.

Cilantro: Bolted quickly. I should have been better about snipping it.

Basil: Going gangbusters, good thing I like basil with tomatoes! Again, one of the two is overshadowed by the tomato plant it's sharing a bale with so it got a bit leggy and small. Still tastes good though.

What I've learned so far:
Tomato plants LOVE straw bales. (And okra does not.)
Don't overplant!
They are messy-looking by midsummer. Mine are along a front portion of my fence. They'd have looked neater if boxed in or somehow contained because they tend to slump.
Weeds and grass grow up between them, which makes them look even messier.
The only pests I had were slugs, which seem to thrive on straw bales. Lots of dark, damp crevices I suppose.

Next year I'm going to put the bales in a sunny part of the yard, fenced to keep the dogs out. I'll also put a tarp or some sort of barrier under the area for weed control.
Where the current bales are, at the end of the season I am going to make raised beds. The decomposed bales and some compost and soil ought to make for excellent medium for more veggies. Or perhaps a perennial bed along the front of the fence. I haven't decided yet.

All in all, I'd say this was a success. And just a breeze to set up - no digging or rototilling or preparing soil! Could not have been easier.
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Old 08-14-2013, 06:21 AM
Status: "sumer is icumin in" (set 18 days ago)
 
Location: The New England part of Ohio
16,858 posts, read 20,625,155 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by chiroptera View Post
It's been a while but here's an update and I will post photos later!

What I planted in six bales:
Two bush bean plants.
Two okra.
Five (various heirloom type) tomatoes.
Two basil.
One cilantro,
One eggplant.

First: TinaMcG warned me that heirloom tomatoes were messy and took up more space than other types. And, she was right! Really, one 'mater plant per bale would have been just about right. They're overtaking the other, smaller plants.
The tomatoes are an unqualified success, compared to the ones in the ground and two in containers. I'm getting tons per day. I'm either eating them fresh off the vine or giving them away.
The only tomato plant to get blight, interestingly enough, was a yellow cherry tomato in a 15 gallon container. It's still poroducing lots of little tomatoes but the leaves are all yellowing and falling off. I wasn't quick enough in treating it or the soil.
We've had an uncommonly wet summer, interspersed with some wickedly HOT days. So many of the tomatoes are splitting a little bit when ripe, which as I understand is from inconsistent watering. It doesn't affect taste, though.

Okra: Two in containers, two in bales. Okra doesn't do well in bales, those have struggled from the start. In fact the first generation of okra died; I replaced them with more vigorous ones later but they're still not doing well. The container ones are producing a lot.

Eggplant: My lone mini-eggplant in the bale has so far given me three meals. I have nothing to compare it to but it sure seems to be putting out a lot of little eggplants for an 18-inch tall plant.

Bush beans: Doing great but getting overshadowed by the stupid mutant tomato plants LOL. I've still picked several bowls of beans and am about to get another big bowl.

Cilantro: Bolted quickly. I should have been better about snipping it.

Basil: Going gangbusters, good thing I like basil with tomatoes! Again, one of the two is overshadowed by the tomato plant it's sharing a bale with so it got a bit leggy and small. Still tastes good though.

What I've learned so far:
Tomato plants LOVE straw bales. (And okra does not.)
Don't overplant!
They are messy-looking by midsummer. Mine are along a front portion of my fence. They'd have looked neater if boxed in or somehow contained because they tend to slump.
Weeds and grass grow up between them, which makes them look even messier.
The only pests I had were slugs, which seem to thrive on straw bales. Lots of dark, damp crevices I suppose.

Next year I'm going to put the bales in a sunny part of the yard, fenced to keep the dogs out. I'll also put a tarp or some sort of barrier under the area for weed control.
Where the current bales are, at the end of the season I am going to make raised beds. The decomposed bales and some compost and soil ought to make for excellent medium for more veggies. Or perhaps a perennial bed along the front of the fence. I haven't decided yet.

All in all, I'd say this was a success. And just a breeze to set up - no digging or rototilling or preparing soil! Could not have been easier.

When is the best time to begin this endeavor? I have the room for a bale garden.

I've been so excited about canning this year - but the bountiful harvest has not been mine - save a few tomato plants and some kitchen herbs. This first year in my "new" home, I focused more on ornamentation than I did on vegetables.

Honestly, I have never heard of this practice. I just came upon this thread this morning. The only thing that I worry about is mold. I'm a bit mold phobic.

Your outcomes speak for them selves! I'm encouraged by what you have accomplished!
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Old 08-14-2013, 06:40 AM
 
Location: SE Michigan
6,191 posts, read 14,165,230 times
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I'm about to head off to work so quick response, but they take about two weeks to prepare so at least two weeks before the first planting date where you live?

They have to be prepared by adding nitrogen-rich fertilizer (blood/bone meal, urine ) every couple of days for 10-14, this gets them composting quickly. No mold at all that I can see. But little mushrooms are common early on, this is a sign they are composting nicely. Then fish emulsion fertilizer every week or two during the growing season. That, and making sure they are watered regularly, is really the only work involved.
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Old 08-14-2013, 07:10 AM
 
Location: In the realm of possiblities
2,700 posts, read 2,066,956 times
Reputation: 3227
chiroptera that is a very impressive garden. Hats off to you! You're right about the heirloom tomatoes. I had some that got 6' tall, and were really something to look at. Then, a storm came one night, and now I have plants folded in half. Nasty looking. You will definitely have some good mulch with your rotted bales next year. Post pictures if you decide to plant a fall garden, too.
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Old 08-14-2013, 02:57 PM
 
Location: SE Michigan
6,191 posts, read 14,165,230 times
Reputation: 10210


I just picked a bunch of tomatoes yesterday so there's only a few ripe on the bale vines right now.

124, as you can see from this photo, some of mine are approaching six feet tall as well! I'm finding that at least some heirloom types tend to spread and flop and I have lost a couple of stems too.
Excuse my messy lawn! It's getting mowed tomorrow.

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Old 10-30-2013, 04:52 PM
 
Location: SE Michigan
6,191 posts, read 14,165,230 times
Reputation: 10210
I had an extremely busy summer with work and other stuff and never got back to post again.

Since this thread keeps popping up on google searches I figured I should post an end-of-season recap! Frost has finally done in the last of my garden.

Overall, despite some natural setbacks (extremely wet, rainy spring and early summer), poor planning on my part (didn't realise how much nearby trees would leaf out and shade the garden area) and neglect (I kept forgetting to fertilize frequently, as everything I read indicated one should do), the straw bale experiment was largely a success.

I had "controls" - some veggies also planted in the ground or in suitably large containers. So I could compare.

CONS:
By mid-summer, it was quite messy. The bales were slumped, shapeless and turning gray.
Slugs, apparently love straw bales. Nice moist environment with hidey-holes galore. I was inundated with slugs and they got many tomatoes, beans and the herbs.
Weeds! Pernicious weeds! Weeds of all sorts grew vigorously.
And, because much of what I planted were heirloom tomatoes and staking isn't simple in straw bales, it was hard to control weeds. They grew with gleeful abandon, adding to the messy aspect.
Okra didn't do well at all, although it did fine in containers.

All of the above could easily have been controlled by containing/fencing the bales, being more vigilant about weed and slug control and generally being more attentive. But I wasn't as good about all that as I could have been..

PROS:
Yield, yield and yield. Despite the lack of care on my part, every single straw bale tomato plant out-produced the in-ground or container tomatoes four to one. Tomatoes up the ying-yang. I couldn't eat, freeze, or give them away fast enough.
The lone eggplant also went utterly nuts, as did the cilantro (until it bolted), sweet basil and Thai basil - until the slugs mowed them down.
No digging, preparing of soil, building beds, retaining, none of that. The prep could not have been easier.
No cats used the straw bales as toilets.
Zero mold. Zero (mammalian) critters. Some mushrooms but as I understand that's the sign of really good, rich growing medium...and by August they were pretty much gone so no biggie.

I'm definitely doing this again next year, just not along my front fence because as you can see it just looks sloppy by mid-August. The decomposing bales will be a wonderful start to a perennial raised bed - I'm putting bales in a sunnier spot next year, and not right in front of my house.
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