Last spring I posted about our experiment with straw bale gardening. It’s high time I reported back on our experiment.
Supplies were minimal and some can be reused. We purchased nine straw bales, landscape fabric, six metal posts, and fencing wire; big bag of fertilizer and waterproof bin to store it in; a soaker hose, small metal stakes to secure it, and a water timer. A couple hundred dollars and carefully selected seeds and seedlings later, we were in SBG business. I’m happy to report I was pleasantly surprised by (most) of the results.
As advertised, there were no weeds! Seriously. Bonus: no grit! Straw bales made all the difference, especially for growing clean salad greens. Sitting atop a bale or two, greens were so easy to maintain. I’m sure the bales extended our growing season as well.
We did, however, miss a few cues. We overestimated plants required and had to backfill with containers in the center. Our biggest mistake was overwatering while conditioning the bales during an unusually cold, wet spring. We should have tented the bales to raise temperatures and expedite decomposition. We also should have watered less, all things considered.
After three weeks the bales were still much too hard to plant in the manner instructed. I emailed SBG founder, Joel Kartsen, in desperation. He generously rewarded my faith with a prompt and kind response. Something akin to “Carry on! It will work! I have talked many off this ledge!” He was right. We used a sharp trowel to create space for seedlings. It didn’t look promising but it worked. We added a thin layer of topsoil for seeds, per instructions. Eventually everything warmed up and grew quite nicely.
I added solar lights to deter night-time raiders. Despite lots of white-tail deer, woodchucks and other furry neighbors, we experienced little loss. This was another pleasant surprise and probably a fluke!
However, we did not anticipate one serious challenge. While we were galavanting around the Netherlands and the British Isles on our 35th anniversary sail-a-bration, a mama garter snake took up residence. By the time we returned her young family was happily enjoying their new home. Yikes! Harmless as they are, that was the last straw in my straw bale experiment.
As you may have read, I have dramatic history with snakes. I’m thankful my fear has gradually reduced but still I’ve no intention to invite them into my space. Do you think this form gardening is more conducive for snake habitat than traditional gardening? Have you tried straw bale gardening? I’d love to know more about your experience, with or without snakes!
~ René Morley
Another version of this post published originally on my alternate site, NorthCountrySolutions.US.