Today we have the conclusion to A Guide To Straw Bale Gardening by my friend Melana MacLeod.
Just in time, we should be able to start conditioning those bales soon :)
Straw Bale Gardening...Getting Ready to Plant -Part 3.
Ok, so by now you have conditioned your bales, they are lined up North to South like little soldiers! Awesome! Now comes the really fun part.....what are you going to plant?
Make a list of those veggies/fruits you want to plant. Visualize the SIZE of each plant. Do they usually "run" on the ground like cucumbers? If so these will be running "up" instead of "down". So your runners will be the tallest plants you have. Your tomato plants will most likely be your second tallest. Think about this...you wouldn't want to plant cucumbers in front of your pepper plants or your bean plants because they will steal a lot of sun from them during the day. Plant your bales from the smallest plants to those that will be the tallest.
When you make those decisions you will need to trellis those climbing plants.....they need somewhere to go don't they? You'll need to add inexpensive posts at the ends of the bales so you can run your wire between them OVER the bales so your plants have somewhere to climb. The posts also help keep your bale together throughout the growing season. This wire also is good when you first plant to put plastic over to protect your young plants and seedlings if you get a cold snap, it will act much like a greenhouse. And since the interior of your bales are still "cooking" the plastic will help hold that heat in and protect your plants even more.
This is where you need to make the decision whether you want to put an irrigation system in or not (before you plant). Many use "soaker hoses" and run them down the center of each bale and plant on either side of the hose. I enjoy the "watering" so I just water with the hose as needed (know that at the beginning you'll need to water more often). So, you have to decide for yourself how much time you wish to devote! If you DO choose to water by hand remember it is vitally important that you never water from the top of the plant down...always water right at the surface of the bale. This prevents the plants from holding water droplets on their leaves all day which makes them more susceptible to the dreaded white powdery mildew!
There are a couple ways to plant in a straw bale...you can plant seeds and transplants. Transplants or plants you purchase are the easiest way to get started if you are new to gardening....once you start to develop that "green thumb" you can start all your crops from seeds....I utilize the seeds from my strongest and best producing plants from the year before.
When your planting seeds if you were to just drop them on the bale they may not germinate, they'll get lost in the bale or some scavenger birds could come along and grab them up from the bale! So the easiest method is to put about 1-2" of potting soil on TOP of your bale and plant your seeds directly into that. Plant according to the package directions and keep the soil moist until they germinate.
When planting your transplants you'll want to "well" out a hole to put your plants into. You can use a hand trowel or even an old steak knife to hollow out a hole for your plant. I put a handful of soil in the hole just to help hold the water in while the plant takes hold.
Here are some tips for a variety of vegetables and how many you can plant per bale to maximize your yield yet leave the ability for air to move through the plants and not choke them out: Also, I do not recommend trying to plant corn...it just isn't worth wasting the bale!
Arugula or lettuces (leaf not head) about ~60 seeds per bale
Green Beans-Pole ~16 per bale
Green Beans-Bush ~30 per bale
Beets ~40 per bale
Broccoli ~5 per bale
Brussels Sprouts ~4 per bale
Cabbage ~4 per bale
Carrots ~48 per bale
Cauliflower ~4 per bale
Peppers ~4 per bale
Chard (Swiss) ~12 per bale
Cucumber ~4 per bale
Eggplant ~3 per bale
Green Onions ~60 per bale
Kale ~4 per bale
Lettuce (head) ~8 per bale
Melons ~3 per bale
Onions ~40-60 per bale
Peas ~30-40 per bale (climbers)
Potatoes ~3 per bale **SEE NOTE ON BOTTOM REGARDING POTATO PLANTING
Pumpkins ~2 per bale
Radishes ~60 per bale
Spinach ~30 per bale
Summer Squash (yellow crook neck) ~3 per bale
Winter Squash ~ 2 per bale
Tomatoes ~2-3 per bale
Zucchini ~3 per bale
**Potatoes are unique in that their crop grows off the root, the deeper the seed potato is in the bale the more potatoes you'll harvest! This, by far, is my favorite crop....just because it's so cool! I shove a broom stick way down to almost the very bottom of the bale and plant my seed potatoes there. Then on the surface of those bales I plant my lettuce, spinach and other leaf vegetables because by the time the potato plant actually comes out the top of the bale your leaf crop has already grown and been harvested! It's awesome! And in the Fall all you do to "dig up" your potatoes is to cut the twine or wire holding your bale together and pick out your potatoes. No digging to harvest them!
Straw Bale Gardening ~Tips, Tricks and Pests" -Part 4
Got it all planted, your noticing your seeds starting to poke up their little heads and your thrilled! Congratulations! You are now a SBG or a Straw Bale Gardener! It's so easy, it's satisfying and it will be the easiest garden you've ever grown! And one more thing....don't limit yourself to the "tops" of the bales! I stick marigolds and basil, Thyme and Oregano in the SIDES AND FRONTS of the bales too!. Just dig a hole into the front or sides of your bale, put a handful of dirt in there to help establish the roots and stick your plant in! You get to utilize a lot more than just the tops!
And in the end, when the frost has nipped your plants you can do a couple different things with the remaining bales. If your bales held up well enough you might be able to plant them again next season. Mine were SO "composted" by the end of the growing season that part of them went into the compost pile and the rest went to cover all my flower beds to enrich that soil and protect my bulbs that will come up in the Spring. Oh, and the twine that held them together? I clipped them, tied them all together to make a huge ball of twine and I'll be using that this year to put between my stakes to help support my plants! Nothing went to waste.....your potatoes you just cut the twine and let the bale fall apart and pick up your potatoes...NO digging!
I thought I would just pass along some tips and tricks that I learned along the way:
* It seems, at least in my area, that the Japanese Beetles love my plants. I can't say they are drawn to the bale gardens but I've gardened here for 7 years and never had a problem with them. Last year they were horrible. I found a great Japanese beetle trap that truly did the trick. Once I set it up in the yard I had literally 100's of them in the trap just 48 hours later. The one I used I found on Amazon and it's called "Rescue JBTZ-DB12 Japanese Beetle Trap", it's about $7. There are no chemicals and your not putting anything on your plants. It works by attracting them to the trap and once in they cannot get out. I loved that it did NOT have chemicals. When they died I simply took the trap down to the dock, unzipped the bottom of it and fed the fish! The catfish loved them!
* Snails....we have a snail problem here in Missouri. While I've read snails don't like to crawl up the bales I sill had some trouble with them. I just took a couple pie pans and filled them with old beer (got it from the local bar for free). No chemicals and the snails are very attracted to it...they go quickly and happily! LOL
* Tomato worms...how DO they find my plants? When I see them I just pluck them off, they are pretty big...then I dust the plants with a fine covering of wood ash. It works pretty well without using chemicals. I put it through an old flour sifter from a yard sale!
* You have to have a lot of happy bees to make sure your crops that need pollination get what they need. I planted a LOT of wildflowers this past year because the honey bees are in trouble environmentally. The year before I had to pollinate my cukes and squash plants with a small paint brush and my yield was very low. I found they bees really liked Zinnias and Black Eyed Susans....any wildflower mix will be good. You can even find some that are specifically for butterfly and honey bees and some that also attract hummingbirds. Just remember, if your putting chemicals on your plants you are also eliminating the "good" bugs too!
~Watering. Always, always water your plants on top of the bale. Do NOT water from the top of the plant down. Because you are putting plants in closer quarters your setting yourself up for "white powdery mold" which once your plants get this...they are done. You can slow it a bit but it will just overtake your "climbers" in as little as 24 hours. If your afraid of it or you have dealt with it in the past you probably know that watering that way is the end! If you have had it before and you'd like to be "pro-active" as far as NOT getting it in the first place do not bother with the "fungicides" they sell for it in the stores. They don't work, they are expensive and you don't need chemicals on your plants! The best "preventative" I found was buttermilk...let it "sour" for a day or so outdoors, put it in a spray bottle, add 2 drops of Dawn and lightly spray your leaves, tops and bottoms. If you need to you can thin it out with water. Do it in the morning so it can dry all day.
Your SBG will need less watering eventually but until your seeds/plants develop a good root system you will want to water daily.
~Fertilizer. Organic is best, there are a lot of organic "teas" you can make to feed your bales...you'll want to fertilize organically each week for about a month to a month and 1/2 until those plants are really raring to go! I also save all my egg shells, pull the membrane out of the inside and dry them. Once dry I crush them up and save them in an air tight container. When my tomato plants are up about 12" I put the egg shells into an old blender and add some water and blend it up. I take a couple of tablespoons of the liquid and pour it around my tomato plants...they love it. I also use Epson salts...the tomatoes LOVE it! Here is a link to everything you need to use Epson salt on your garden! www.saltworks.us/gardeni
ng-with-epsom-salt.asp It's cheap and plentiful and won't harm your plants OR the bees and butterflies!
~Wind. We get some really strong winds here so I stake my bales on each end and put twine between them. That way I can "weave" my plants as they grow. I "weave" everything...it just stops them from being blown over here.
Enjoy! I hope you have fun with your Straw Bale Garden this year...if you ever have any questions you can message me. Also there are all kinds of great videos on SBG on YouTube.
Happy Straw Bale Gardening!