straw

Second try needed: straw bale garden

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Our bedraggled first attempt at a straw bale garden.
Our bedraggled first attempt at a straw bale garden.

When I came across the idea of straw bale gardens, it seemed like the perfect way of getting greater productivity out of the guerrilla-gardened food forest out the back.

As can be seen in the photo above, the garden didn’t work out well in practice. There were two main reasons: the hailstorm, which wiped out most plants; and the local birds who ate the rest.

I had a second attempt by planting a new round of seedlings, but we were then deep into winter.

So I decided to call it quits — but this is where straw bale gardens deliver their second benefit — by providing free mulch to spread around the garden.

Composting down straw, spread around the fruit trees.
Composting down straw, spread around the fruit trees.

It was easy to break off ‘cakes’ of the straw, and to layer them around the fruit trees. Fifteen minutes of work, and it was all done.

The hay now spread evenly across the whole garden, thanks to the chickens!
The hay now spread evenly across the whole garden, thanks to the chickens!

Of course, the chickens thought this was great! So within a day, they’d re-spread the hay so it was evenly covering everything. With a bit of rain, this is all breaking down nicely.

The idea of straw bale gardens remains sound, even if the first attempt was a dud. So I’m going to give it another go, this time earlier in the season. I’ll report back…

Kicking off a straw bale garden

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Six bales of straw, plus two bales of lucern hay (for good mesure)
Six bales of straw (plus two bales of lucern hay, for good measure)

For a long while now I’ve wanted to do two things: grow sweet potato (kumera), and have vegetables in the guerrilla gardened land behind our house. When I stumbled across the book Straw Bale Gardens, it seemed like the perfect answer to both desires.

Straw is the bundled stalks of harvested wheat, and it acts like, well, straws, sucking up and holding onto moisture. I sourced six bales from the friendly folks at Kensington Produce, piling them into my ute.

Six bales, laid out in their final position.
Six bales, laid out in their final position.

The concept is a simple one: lay out a number of straw bales, with the ‘spiky side’ facing upwards. These act as the base of a no-dig garden bed.

For the first two weeks, the straw bales get a few handfuls of fertiliser each day, and plenty of water. This kicks off the breakdown of the bales (straw by itself has very little nutrient).

A sweet potato (kumera) nestled in the straw.
A sweet potato (kumera) nestled in the straw.

Before planting anything else, I nestled a number of sweet potatos (kumera) into the straw (these babies are the main reason I created the garden). In theory I was supposed to let them shoot first, but I couldn’t wait — fingers crossed it works!

A soaker hose laid across the straw bales, with the start of a layer of planting mix.
A soaker hose laid across the straw bales, with the start of a layer of planting mix.

A soaker hose was then laid out across the bales, and then the bales are covered an inch-thick layer of potting mix. I then planted seeds of a mix of different quick-growing vegetables, including lettuce, green beans and amaranth, plus some strawberries.

The straw bale garden fully set up -- now I just have to wait for the seeds to sprout.
The straw bale garden fully set up — now I just have to wait for the seeds to sprout.

The straw bales are already encouragingly warm, so hopefully this will encourage seed germination. I’ll report on progress over the next weeks and months.

As a final note, I’d strongly recommend the Straw Bale Gardens book. It’s a simple concept, but clearly and powerfully communicated. Joel’s garden design is more evolved that the simple version I’ve created, so I’d encourage you to get a copy and start planting!