Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Garden Math: Straw Bales + Mandala Configuration + Hugelkultur = Manbala Kultur

Straw Bale Gardening is all the Rage!
Hugelkultur or Hill Permaculture
Logs, branches and other heavier organic matter goes on the bottom
Hugelkultur, the garden practice that creates a permaculture garden in the form of a hill to enhance the organic matter for years, allows beneficial organisms to maintain aeration of soil and increases the planting area, has been practiced in Germany and other European gardens for hundreds of years. It was further developed by Sepp Holzer, an Austrian permaculture expert and others. It is becoming widely popular in backyard gardens all over the world. I, of course, can't be tied down to one thing so I've combined a number of garden techniques. See Permaculture Magazine 

The bales are placed over the organic matter and tied together if
you are using more than one together.
 Mandala Configuration
The Madala shape of the garden allows for the most garden planting area and ease of watering. Each branch of the mandala is individually a keyhole garden, which gives access to the whole planting area from the path that goes to the center of the individual branch. See Ecological Garden  
Once in place and watered, the bales would be very difficult to
 move so pick the location carefully. The amount of sunlight is a
major factor in choosing your location.

 Straw Bale Gardening
Straw Bale gardening gives you rich organic matter, heat which is needed early in the Spring to get a head start in the northern planting zones, protection from soil that may be carrying disease such as Bacterial Wilt and Early Blight that ruin tomatoes each year and besides, they're just plain fun! See Straw Bale Gardens and Bonnie plants

I recommend you start early in Spring or even in Fall. I purchased my bales from a local farmer I found on craigslist.com. I collected logs, branches and plant matter from our woods and gardens to assemble my hugelkultur bases in the mandala shape. The bales need to be conditioned for up to 2 weeks. This involves adding a fertilizer which is high in nitrogen to start the decomposition stage inside the bales. I tied 2 bales together for each of my sections to give me more planting space. 

 Seeds can be sown directly into the bales. I put in a small amount of potting mix to hold the seeds but it may not have been necessary. I tried some seeds without the potting mix a few days ago and am waiting to  see how that goes.

At first, straw bales require a more constant watering schedule but hold moisture well, if that makes sense. The water goes to the bottom so the tops need to be watered everyday. I plan on installing a timer and irrigation system. Once the straw breaks down and becomes part of the permaculture, though, watering will be less of issue because all of that organic matter will hold water.
 Here, in Wisconsin, we're having a very cold, slow start to our planting season. It's almost the middle of May and we have a frost advisory for tonight. I'm covering the newly sprouted plants and keeping my plants I've started in pots, in the little greenhouse unit 
 In the meantime inky cap mushrooms help break down the straw  

I can't wait for my ManBala Hugelkultur garden to be full and growing!
Happy Spring planting!

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