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My straw bale garden experiment

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  • My straw bale garden experiment

    I thought an experiment was worth trying, so I have 12 wet bales currently being "conditioned" - today I'm going to start adding fish, blood and bone and urine to kickstart the decomposition process.

    Yes, I have been weeing into a jug and pouring it into a plastic bottle.

    I figure the bales will be ready to plant up in a month or so. I'm going to try squash, a few extra potato tubers from last year's harvest that I didn't eat because they had a touch of green, and maybe a couple of spare tomato plants.

    And if it's a complete disaster, I'll still have a load of lovely rotted straw to enrich my soil with next year.

  • #2
    Sounds a good experiment and one I'll follow with interest. I've wanted to have a go for ages but have never got around to it. I had wondered on lining the bales up in a double row with enough gap between that could be filled turf, sticks, chicken bedding, straw, grass clippings - whatever as the base topped with earth/compost to sow plant into. But perhaps it would be too wide to work well?

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    • #3
      Well I think the recommended maximum width of a bed (assuming you can access both sides) is 1.2m (4ft). My bales are about 40cm, so at that you'd have a bit of room in the middle to fill with stuff.

      Mine are snugged up together to make two double row "beds". I'll add compost and manure and grass clippings to the top and to fill in the small gaps where the bales aren't square - I have access to as much horse manure as I want to go and collect, but it's a five mile drive out there.

      I probably should also take pictures every week or so, then it'll be easier to see what's going on.

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      • #4
        I might add rabbit bedding too. The rabbit's on newspaper and those wood pellets (like wood cat litter), do you think that would rot down fast enough?

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        • #5
          Originally posted by Silverleaf View Post
          Well I think the recommended maximum width of a bed (assuming you can access both sides) is 1.2m (4ft). My bales are about 40cm, so at that you'd have a bit of room in the middle to fill with stuff.

          Mine are snugged up together to make two double row "beds". I'll add compost and manure and grass clippings to the top and to fill in the small gaps where the bales aren't square - I have access to as much horse manure as I want to go and collect, but it's a five mile drive out there.

          I probably should also take pictures every week or so, then it'll be easier to see what's going on.

          Yes I was thinking of it being a permanent raised bed area, though I've not really thought it through. I've some tree branches I'd like to put to good use so it was kind of straw bale meets H├╝gelkultur. If I'm careful I could keep it to around 4', I'd be able to access it both sides.
          Pictures would be great, really helpful to see how it can be done. The horse manure should come in handy too. Good luck

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          • #6
            Originally posted by Silverleaf View Post
            I might add rabbit bedding too. The rabbit's on newspaper and those wood pellets (like wood cat litter), do you think that would rot down fast enough?
            I have added the newspaper from the chicken coop to stuff but it is slow to break down and I now tend to use it as a mulch around shrubs to help keep the weeds at bay.

            The wood pellets sound promising, are they like sawdust pressed together? I'f you are adding wee to the bales to get them started I would have thought rabbit poo and pellets would be a good additive for the process.

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            • #7
              Not much to see at the moment really.


              I need to sort out the black plastic and put some chippings or something down over it once the crazy wind stops, but that's how I've set mine up. That's half the bales - the other six are in the same configuration between my two raised beds. I didn't want to put them straight on the grass because i was concerned that the couch grass would grow straight through them.


              Added one box of fish, blood and bone this morning, plus 3 litres of wee. When it stops raining I'll go out again and put some rabbit bedding on too.


              Unused wood pellets for the rabbit - yeah, like compressed sawdust. They do a great job of soaking up his urine and they kind of "fluff up" as they get wet.


              What happens when the rabbit does his thing with them We add hay as well, he likes a nibble when he's doing his business! There's newspaper underneath which makes cleaning his litter trays out much easier.

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              • #8
                Looks good, you've got the bales on their side, does it make a difference?

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                • #9
                  I have never considered this or got into this, so watching your progress with great interest. Please keep the pictures coming.

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                  • #10
                    I read that if you have the straw cut side up it's easier to water and the bales retain more water that way. With the straw running horizontally the water tends to run off. And the strings are on the sides of the bales, holding them together.

                    If you're using a drip feed system horizontally might be better - that way the hose can be tucked under the strings.

                    I have no idea how much it matters. But for me I needed the narrowest possible footprint for the bales between the two raised beds, so that was a consideration too.

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                    • #11
                      Don't worry, I'll keep boring you to death with pictures!

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                      • Galina
                        Galina commented
                        Editing a comment
                        you couldn't however hard you tried

                      • Silverleaf
                        Silverleaf commented
                        Editing a comment
                        Is that a challenge?

                    • #12
                      I should totally keep track of what day it is, so we'll call today day 2.

                      Technically I should have watered for three days before I started feeding the bales, but it's been raining so much I didn't bother. So yeah, day 2. All I did previously was chuck on some grass clippings.

                      Day 1 (yesterday)
                      Added fish, blood and bone, urine, took the pictures I've already posted, added rabbit bedding (bunny waste, wood shavings, wood pellets, newspaper, hay). Bedding varied from months old to quite fresh. Added a little of the horse manure I grew courgettes in last year (not much left, the rest went in the raised beds last month).

                      Day 2
                      Added another box of fish, blood and bone and another 2.5 litres of urine.
                      Very sunny and warm for April, so I gave the bales a good soaking with water. Added organic slug pellets to put the slimy little gits off a bit.



                      No sign of the straw rotting yet, but it's very early days. I expect they'll start warming up over the next couple of days.

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                      • #13
                        The oldest rabbit bedding had been in a couple of huge pots for the last few months. It had obviously started to rot a bit with some white mould stuff in places and some brownish bits, but I was encouraged to see lots of huge worms in there. Hope they don't cook in my straw bales!

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                        • #14
                          Day 3
                          Rainy. Added 1 box of FB&B and 3 litres of urine. Didn't bother taking pictures because it looks pretty much the same as yesterday, just a bit wetter. Watered in the FB&B but no need to soak the bales, they obviously held a lot of water.

                          I can't wait to see signs of rotting!

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                          • #15
                            Originally posted by Silverleaf View Post
                            I read that if you have the straw cut side up it's easier to water and the bales retain more water that way. With the straw running horizontally the water tends to run off. And the strings are on the sides of the bales, holding them together.

                            If you're using a drip feed system horizontally might be better - that way the hose can be tucked under the strings.

                            I have no idea how much it matters. But for me I needed the narrowest possible footprint for the bales between the two raised beds, so that was a consideration too.

                            Good stuff, makes sense

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