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straw bale gardening question

Post  Patty from Yorktown on 1/17/2014, 9:32 am

Hello,
I have a straw bale gardening question about number of plants per bale. Can anybody see a reason why I cannot use squarefoot gardening numbers of plants per square on a straw bale? For example straw bale gardens recommend 2 tomato plants per bale. That sounds reasonable. However pole beans are listed at 16 plants per bale or 6-12 inches apart.
I am interested in the straw bale gardening as an experiment on the quest for summer squash, as I am the only person in the South that cannot grow zucchini. I thought it might help with Tomato disease as well. I will report back in the Fall, if all goes well.

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Re: straw bale gardening question

Post  Marc Iverson on 1/17/2014, 6:43 pm

Don't they tend to collapse toward the end of the season? If so, I could see stuff planted closer to the edges having traumatized roots or even falling out/over, while stuff planted more toward the middle was still okay.

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Re: straw bale gardening question

Post  deriter on 1/17/2014, 6:53 pm

I was thinking of planting two per bale down the center.  The two bales I had last year shank to about 1/4 the original height by end of year.  The tomatoes I had in them seemed to do ok.  Not fantastic, but neither did the ones in the sfg.  Heat and lack of rain probably part of the problem.  I also had a rabbit situation and also had some disease early on also.  Then the heat.

I thought I would put more bales on top of the old ones and just keep on that way.  I don't know if that would be considered rotating if you use new bales or not.  The old ones would be underneath.

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Re: straw bale gardening question

Post  walshevak on 1/17/2014, 7:50 pm

I am the only person in the South that cannot grow zucchini.

Count me in on that list. I got 2 squash out of 4 plants last year. Did better with yellow squash, but only for a two week harvest period..

Kay


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Re: straw bale gardening question

Post  malefacter on 1/17/2014, 9:06 pm

never herd of this do you have a link with info? as far as spacing goes i dont see why not.

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Re: straw bale gardening question

Post  Patty from Yorktown on 1/17/2014, 9:25 pm

I do not have a link to straw bale gardens, I read a book. I am sure there is a web site somewhere. The system is a straw bale sitting on the ground which has been soaked with water and fertilizer (there is a formula), decomposition will be begin and the plants or seeds are started. The bale acts as a container and a heat source. Plus it should provide an even water source. I want to try a few crops as a test. I still really like my squarefoot garden and do not want to replace it.

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Re: straw bale gardening question

Post  walshevak on 1/18/2014, 1:08 am

http://containergardening.about.com/od/vegetablesandherbs/ss/Straw_Bale_Gardening_3.htm

Instructions above.  I suggest using MM instead of potting soil or plain compost,.

Kay

When the straw gets too rotted, scoop out as much MM as you can and add the straw and remaining MM to your compost pile.

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Re: straw bale gardening question

Post  audrey.jeanne.roberts on 1/18/2014, 3:12 pm

I have gardened a full year now with the straw bale system.  Here's what I have discovered for what it's worth:

SUPER IMPORTANT:  Your bales will heat up quite hot (some of them) and not so hot on others - I cooked my roma tomatoe seedlings last year.  Watch the temps closely and don't plant seedlings if the if the soil is too warm.  Your seeds may not sprout if the soil is too hot also.  

1.  Square foot garden spacing doesn't always work, but it's a pretty good guide.  I especially loved it for growing potatoes in, with cover crops on top spaced around them.  Harvest was super easy.  On bales I didn't want to destroy, I just reached in and pulled out the day's potatoes then filled in the hole with MM and planted something else.

2.  I bought the book, you can find it at: https://www.facebook.com/learntogrowastrawbalegarden/app_251458316228 and it's well worth the cost.  Here's the author's facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/learntogrowastrawbalegarden  If you can't afford to purchase the book, try reading through the comments on the FB page you can learn a lot as he answers almost any question you can think of there.

3.  1 tomato per bale works best because they are heavy water consumers.  I think I remember you can do 2 per except on heritage tomatoes for some reason they use more water.  I did one per and used the other side for lower, temporary crops.  Zucchini and squash can be 2 per.  My spaghetti squash ADORED the bales.  The second crop planted in the same spot got mosaic virus though, so I will move things around next time. 

4.  Take the time to tightly cinch your bales at the start or if you're going to do this more than once, you might want to build some sort of constraining  structure.  The bales can torque and twist over time especially if they are getting unevenly watered.  The bales that stayed viable the longest were watered with a soaker hose which watered them uniformly.  The bale that did the worst was watered with random loops of laser drilled drip line and one side had more loops than the other.  It damaged plants and was a mess but things still grew if their roots weren't exposed by the shift and often dropping height.  

5.  Straw bales take more water than MM or Back to Eden style (BTE) gardens.  

6.  If you are trying to go totally organic with straw bales - you will need to fertilize in some manner all season.  I did a compost tea weekly and actually added compost to the top of the bales midway through the season.  It is NOT as rich as MM, but for items that can get diseased such as tomatoes it's ideal.  You can grow in the same place year after year without having soil borne diseases.  

7.  Any soil you use MUST BE STERILE - do not reuse soils with disease or use the dirt from your garden or you can introduce diseases and pests from the soil.  What ever medium you would normally use to start seeds is the best to use on top of the bales if you're starting them in place.  I have found a potting soil that keeps incredible moisture content, wets thoroughly even if it gets dry and just all around works really well for seed starting it's: Sta-Green all purpose potting mix.  LOWE'S PRODUCT NUMBER 192430  

It is a very fine particle sized soil made up of Composted forest products, sphagnum peat moss, horticulural perlite, and ground dolomitic limestone as a PH adjuster.  They have added, water retaining crystals and a timed-release fertilizer that works by temperature rather than just time in it.  If you're a purist you may not want to buy it.  Since I just start things in it and then transplant into MM or my other gardens I personally don't have a problem with using it.

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Re: straw bale gardening question

Post  audrey.jeanne.roberts on 1/18/2014, 5:51 pm

I was working in my garden this afternoon - it's almost 80 degrees outside, literally too hot!  So in working on getting my new straw bales into place and finishing cleaning up the garden from the winter, I took apart this bale.  

I took a picture so you could see what happens over the course of the year.  The outside usually stays dry and somewhat hardens into a container-like function, the inside decomposes and is a light loamy compost growing medium for the plants.  


I could have planted in this bale for another couple of seasons, but instead took it to add to an 8 foot section where I will be growing potatoes.  I have spread out the remains of 3 bales and have about 12 inch high 2/3 compost, mixed with 1/3 left over straw.  I have left potatoes from last year's harvesting at the bottom of this and they should start to grow when the time is right.  I'll just add more material if and when needed for them to grow.

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Re: straw bale gardening question

Post  sanderson on 1/18/2014, 6:36 pm

Nice photo showing the decomposed interior.

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Re: straw bale gardening question

Post  CapeCoddess on 1/18/2014, 7:31 pm

@walshevak wrote:I am the only person in the South that cannot grow zucchini.

Count me in on that list.  I got 2 squash out of 4 plants last year.  Did better with yellow squash, but only for a two week harvest period.

Kay


I'm in this club.  I'm the only person on Cape Cod that can't grow a zucchini.  Zero out of 18 plants. Powdery mildew and squash vine borer took mine out. I doubt bales would help with that, right?

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Re: straw bale gardening question

Post  audrey.jeanne.roberts on 1/18/2014, 7:45 pm

@CapeCoddess wrote:
@walshevak wrote:I am the only person in the South that cannot grow zucchini.

Count me in on that list.  I got 2 squash out of 4 plants last year.  Did better with yellow squash, but only for a two week harvest period.

Kay


I'm in this club.  I'm the only person on Cape Cod that can't grow a zucchini.  Zero out of 18 plants. Powdery mildew and squash vine borer took mine out.  I doubt bales would help with that, right?

CC
I still fought powdery mildew, though I was able to catch it fairly early and keep it in check.  We get it in September when our intense heat lets up so the humidity rises. 

Still got bugs, it's just easier to spot them early on as they're closer to eye level.

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Re: straw bale gardening question

Post  Patty from Yorktown on 1/18/2014, 10:39 pm

Thanks all to have responded to my questions. I have found your answers very helpful. Please keep them coming. Thanks again.

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Re: straw bale gardening question

Post  sceleste54 on 1/19/2014, 2:03 am

@CapeCoddess wrote:
@walshevak wrote:I am the only person in the South that cannot grow zucchini.

Count me in on that list.  I got 2 squash out of 4 plants last year.  Did better with yellow squash, but only for a two week harvest period.

Kay


I'm in this club.  I'm the only person on Cape Cod that can't grow a zucchini.  Zero out of 18 plants. Powdery mildew and squash vine borer took mine out.  I doubt bales would help with that, right?

CC

I'm glad to hear I am not the only one with this problem !!  I would dearly love to have a bumper crop of ANY kind of squash !!  Maybe this year I will try the straw bales..

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Re: straw bale gardening question

Post  walshevak on 1/19/2014, 3:21 am

Does a straw bale filled with MM and grids count as SFG?

Kay

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Re: straw bale gardening question

Post  audrey.jeanne.roberts on 1/19/2014, 12:02 pm

@walshevak wrote:Does a straw bale filled with MM and grids count as SFG?

Kay
I would say not the same, unless you're talking about the people that use the bales as an outer wall and put MM inside.

The interior of the bales will never be as nutrient rich as well created MM. I have to fertilize my crops in them every couple weeks with various organic substances.

They have their place in my garden but don't compare or even compete with my SFG beds. Very Happy 

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Re: straw bale gardening question

Post  audrey.jeanne.roberts on 1/29/2014, 12:20 am

My bales are 1/2 way through the conditioning process. I won't rush on actually planting in them as last year I cooked a Roma tomato to death when the interior temps spiked again. I felt so guilty....  Embarassed 

Now I have to plan what I'm going to plant where. I have all my starts planted in my greenhouse.

This is the hardest time of the year.... waiting.... waiting.... I don't know how you people up north handle such a long winter season!

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Re: straw bale gardening question

Post  Goosegirl on 1/29/2014, 7:35 am

@audrey.jeanne.roberts wrote:This is the hardest time of the year.... waiting.... waiting....  I don't know how you people up north handle such a long winter season!
 rofl  rofl  rofl 
The forum and the gardens of you southerners are our lifelines!

GG   lots o

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Re: straw bale gardening question

Post  FamilyGardening on 1/30/2014, 9:55 am

@Goosegirl wrote:
@audrey.jeanne.roberts wrote:This is the hardest time of the year.... waiting.... waiting....  I don't know how you people up north handle such a long winter season!
 rofl  rofl  rofl 
The forum and the gardens of you southerners are our lifelines!

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Re: straw bale gardening question

Post  Patty from Yorktown on 1/30/2014, 11:52 am

I am sorry to report that your life line to gardening weather has been cut. We have about 6 or 8 inches of snow in Yorktown Virginia. My children will probably go to school on Monday, unless a miracle occurs before tomorrow. That will make two half days of school in the last two whole weeks. I think you should get some more catalogs or veggie porn, to help you through the rest of winter.

Patty from the snowy south

Ps. Do not get the Bakers Creek Catalog ( a normal great source of veggie porn) It has a big, hairy dirty man on the cover this year.

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Re: straw bale gardening question

Post  audrey.jeanne.roberts on 3/25/2014, 11:19 am

I'm trying an experiment on my bales this year.  I have planted my starts and the squash are about 9 inches high now.  I'm adding 2 inches of wood chip mulch on top as insulation to see if they will dry out less quickly.  

I've had it on for just 2 days and when I compare the sections I've left without cover and the sections with it, I would say it's working.  It will be interesting to watch that through the rest of the summer.  We are so dry and hot any little bit helps :-)

I hope you guys are starting to get a break and see some Spring weather.  It's spectacular around here (unfortunately, as we desperately need more rain).
Audrey

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Re: straw bale gardening question

Post  camprn on 3/25/2014, 11:45 am

@audrey.jeanne.roberts wrote:I'm trying an experiment on my bales this year.  I have planted my starts and the squash are about 9 inches high now.  I'm adding 2 inches of wood chip mulch on top as insulation to see if they will dry out less quickly.  

I've had it on for just 2 days and when I compare the sections I've left without cover and the sections with it, I would say it's working.  It will be interesting to watch that through the rest of the summer.  We are so dry and hot any little bit helps :-)

I hope you guys are starting to get a break and see some Spring weather.  It's spectacular around here (unfortunately, as we desperately need more rain).
Audrey
No such luck, There's a Really Blizzard coming tonight and tomorrow. ...Audrey, are you using the same bales that you used last year?

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Re: straw bale gardening question

Post  audrey.jeanne.roberts on 3/25/2014, 12:44 pm

I am so sorry to hear about the blizzard heading your way.  Being from California, I can't even imagine winter going that long!   Shocked 

No, I'm using new straw bales.  These should last me 2 years.  The original ones I had were a couple years old already and by the end of the summer half of them had broken down almost to the ground.  I broke up the ones that were left and created a potato bed out of them.  I prepared an 8' x 18" x 12" high bed during the winter and have since planted my potatoes in them.  The rest I mixed into the compost pile.

I adjusted my layout as well this year so I was able to add additional 4 bales into the same area I planted last year.  I'll take some pictures and post them later today.

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Re: straw bale gardening question

Post  Kelejan on 3/26/2014, 2:20 am

@Patty from Yorktown wrote:I am sorry to report that your life line to gardening weather has been cut. We have about 6 or 8 inches of snow in Yorktown Virginia. My children will probably go to school on Monday, unless a miracle occurs before tomorrow. That will make two half days of school in the last two whole weeks. I think you should get some more catalogs or veggie porn, to help you through the rest of winter.

Patty from the snowy south

Ps. Do not get the Bakers Creek Catalog ( a normal great source of veggie porn) It has a big, hairy dirty man on the cover this year.
We accept you apologies, Patty from the snowy south. Please do not let it happen next year. We Notherners need all the veggie porn we can get to keep us more or less sane.

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Re: straw bale gardening question

Post  audrey.jeanne.roberts on 3/26/2014, 12:42 pm

I finally got around to taking some pictures of my straw bale garden this morning.


This is my straw bales.  I have a variety of squash, cucumber and melons planted along with bush beans, lettuce, lemon balm and probably some other things I'm not thinking about right now.


This is a close up of the last two bales.  I planted these squash as seedlings when I left to go to Arizona and take care of my dad after his quad bypass.  They've absolutely exploded in growth.


My gardening companion, Tucker.  


This is what I was trying to explain yesterday.  The potato bed mounds made from last year's straw bales.  It's the remains of about 3 bales broken up and composting over the winter.

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