Friday, April 8, 2016

Correcting Subpar Soil: For Years to Come - Part 2

Ready, Set, Bale!

Want a super successful vegetable garden even if your garden soil is subpar? Just buy a few straw bales. I like to look on craigslist and find a local farmer who is selling them but you can also find them at most garden centers. I like the 4x2x2 foot bales but see what works for you. Make sure you can lift them or that you have some help when you need to position them.

This first step is very important.There is one side of the bale that will allow the most water and fertilizer to soak in. The sides that have the twine that hold the bales together will be on the vertical sides. The top is the side that has the most cut ends of straw, while the bottom has bent and broken ends of straw. 

It's not as though your straw bale garden will be a complete failure if you get mixed up here and set your bales in upside down. It's just that with our lives, as busy as they are, something should go smoothly and be a breeze. The straw bale garden can be your pride and joy. You can be the expert in your gardening circle, mentoring your friends on to their own successes. So, take a minute and look carefully

Though it appears that this side would absorb the most water because it is shaggy and uneven, it will actually be the bottom when placed on the prepared site.  See my previous blog: Correcting Subpar Soil: For Years to Come - Part 1 to see how I go the extra mile to prepare the site.

This side of the bale has the most cut ends of straw which the water will fill and soak into. The liquid fertilizer, which is high in nitrogen, will soak deeply into the bale this way and begin the composting process, which in turn creates the  rich growing medium for seeds and seedlings.

I tied two bales tightly together with twine to create a larger planting area on top. This allows for more moisture retention and planting space.

The twine tied higher up is tied correctly. It's tight and pulls the bales together creating an indentation. This will be important later as the bales begin to decompose and sag. The lower row of twine is too loose and will need to be tightened but it shows that at least two rings of twine should be used to make it more likely to hold and not break later.

Here, I've even tied three bales together! It really just depends on your available space.

The final, finishing step is  primarily helpful if you want to deter those burrowing pests who can't wait to move into this little neighborhood, especially after your garden is overflowing with a profusion of thriving, bountiful, mouth watering vegetables. 

Just mound some regular garden soil up against the base of the bales. This will settle, so be generous. Don't over pack the soil. See the level I'm mounding up to here? I've pushed soil to the side of the bales, here, while leaving the front open just to show the difference. 
Also, notice the planting material at the far left in this photo. This is actually what is left from last year's bales! It really does break down nicely. It's amazing!

Here, to the left of this double bale section are more of last year's bales. I can plant directly into this material, since it is composted, loose and still full of all the helpful nutrients plants need. This material is about a foot deep so most vegetable roots will not reach down through this layer this year. Next year, however, plant roots can begin to benefit from the soil preparation I explained in my previous blog: Correcting Subpar Soil: For Years to Come - Part 1

In the midwest, this is the perfect time to begin preparing for your straw bale garden. It is too early to plant but there are weeks of conditioning that need to take place before before these bales will become plantable. Let the nitrogen fertilizer, sunshine and nature do their stuff. During that time the tops of the bales will transform from this golden straw to a richly composted planting medium. See my blogs on straw bales that I posted last year to see what I mean.

I plan to take you through the straw bale process as I go this Spring but I don't want you to miss out on getting yours started yourself as soon as possible so here is the site that I found helpful last year as I tried my first straw bale gardening.

And here we go again...

Happy Spring?

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