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My straw bale garden experiment

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  • #31
    I'll try and get some delivered harvest time, if I can. They are at least £2 a bale here too, it's not a big grain growing area and most farmers have gone to big bales as it's easier for them.

    Fork handle always reminds me of the Two Ronnies sketch.


    • Galina
      Galina commented
      Editing a comment
      New to me - this is so funny! - and I didn't even know you could buy handles separately. We used to have such a shop, but long gone now.

    • jayb
      jayb commented
      Editing a comment
      I'm not sure we have any Hardware shops here any more, there used to be several not far away, 20 - 30 mins. I do go the the local agriculture store, which has all sorts of things. It's still really quite old fashioned and always cold summer or winter. They sell handles and candles though I'm not sure about o's!

  • #32
    That sounds sensible, you can leave them out over winter then and get a head start next year.


    • #33
      Good thinking I was going to cover them or put them in a shed till spring!


      • #34
        Can you see potato tops peaking, Silverleaf?


        • #35
          Yes, I noticed the first one the other day. Yay potatoes!


          • #36
            Yayyy, grow tatties


            • #37
              a few pages pack there was a post about which way round to have the bales. Here, when bales are harvested the straw is cut, then folded into the bale, so of the 4 long sides of the bale there are 2 sides the same where the culms are lying side by side, one side where the folded ends are, and another side where the cut ends are. Not sure if this makes any difference for urinary infiltration, but is of interest to those doing straw bale building. Just thought i would mention it.
              A few years ago i tried strawbale beds, but used plastic wrapped bales that i cut slots in - they got too hot in the summer sun and the tommies croaked...


              • #38
                Yes Templeton, the bales are made the same way here too. I put the cut side upwards with the folded side on the bottom, thinking it would be easier for water to soak into the bales that way. There are different thoughts on the subject though,so I'm not convinced it makes that much difference.

                Next year I'm planning a few more bales (assuming the whole thing works) so I might try different orientations and see what happens.


                • #39
                  Just looking through this thread again and wondered how you are getting on with your straw bale experiment, would love to hear how it is going so far?


                  • #40
                    Thanks for reminding me, I had forgotten about this!

                    Here's what's happening now. I have 12 bales, in two 3x2 blocks.

                    One block has squash - 6 summer, 6 winter, two per bale. They are doing absolutely fine. Not quite as well as the ones in pure stable manure, but I've had loads of courgettes already and four of the winter squash are 6ft+ and have three or four fruits set. Black Futsu is being slow but the one in the manure's slow too, the mystery maxima is way behind but I sowed it much later than the others, and the yellow crookneck has taken three attempts to actually get a plant so that's doing nothing right now, but I can't blame the straw for that.

                    Conclusion: yes, it works for squash. I think they like the fact that it holds moisture and is nice and easy for the roots to penetrate.

                    The other block contains tomatoes (8 plants, 3 to a bale), potatoes (6 plants, 3 to a bale) and ulluco (a couple of tubers in the leftover space).

                    Sandpoint x 3: Seem fine. Small plants but I think they are dwarf types anyway. No obvious problems, no other Sandpoints anywhere else to compare.
                    Snowdrop x 2: Half the size of the two plants I have in pots. They do have unripe fruit and look okay other than being small.
                    Latah x 1: Again much smaller than the two plants in the greenhouse (which are sprawly and absolutely covered in fruit right now) but it does have a fruit ripening right now.
                    Coyote x 1: Went crazy making sideshoots and took ages to get established and is only just setting fruit now. Won't bother with this one in bales as it's terrible compared to my greenhouse and pot plants. Might get a few fruits.
                    Katja x 1: Also not doing well. The fruits are very small and a long way from being big enough to ripen, and there's some BER and a lot of catfacing. Also probably not worth it in bales.

                    Conclusion: I'll try tomatoes again, but some varieties seem much more suited than others. This wasn't a particularly fair test as all the plants except for the Sandpoints were "leftover" plants, with the best going in the greenhouse and in pots. I'm sure stronger plants would give better results, and I'll try something more scientific next year with "matching" plants.

                    Harvested 3 Charlotte plants from one bale last week totalling 1219g. Two plants did well, one produced hardly anything, but overall only a little worse than the tubers in the raised bed at 1 per sq ft. Two Desirées and one Snookie are still growing, looking fine. Digging the potatoes out is easy because the straw inside is all soft and brown now, and the Charlottes looked good apart from a little scab (which I'm getting in beds as well).

                    Conclusion: yep, potatoes are fine.

                    Overall, I'm pleased. The bales certainly need less watering than the beds but of course they took a lot of water during the "cooking" process.


                    • #41
                      I am surprised that the tomato plants are smaller in the bales, but if they were smaller to begin with because they were leftover plants, it may not have anything to do with the bales. And as bales mean you didn't have to break impossible ground, an overall success. Not quite living up to the hype, but a good alternative for no-dig gardeners. What do you do for fertiliser?

                      Black Futsu is slow here as well. Plants not full size yet and only a few male flowers so far.


                      • Silverleaf
                        Silverleaf commented
                        Editing a comment
                        I never believed that straw bales would outproduce raised beds like they claim, and I was right to be sceptical I think. But it's definitely viable, and worth the effort, and certainly better than not being able to grow those extra 6 potatoes, 8 tomatoes and 12 squash - because if I had to dig to plant them, well that just wouldn't have happened.

                        I don't think I'll be able to make a fair conclusion from my leftover tomatoes, but I think there's no reason why it shouldn't work for them. Tomatoes certainly should appreciate the moisture "buffering" effect, as it's hard to overwater straw and it takes forever to dry out.

                    • #42
                      For fertiliser, the bales had a lot of urine and some fish, blood and bone during the conditioning process. I haven't really used much else since. The tomatoes have been fed with organic liquid tomato food just like the greenhouse and pot plants, but they've only been watered twice a week and not at all when it's been rainy, with no apparent ill effects. Potatoes and squash got two feeds of tomato food I think, and I did water in a little horse manure and some rabbit bedding before I planted.

                      I'm thinking I'll start using diluted urine on the squash, just in case they're running out of nutrients. They look absolutely fine with no signs of deficiency, but I know that squash are very hungry plants, so why not?

                      I definitely need to source some comfrey for next year to make tomato food. That stuff's expensive when you have a lot of plants!

                      And yes, it's definitely a good alternative to digging clay. And I can use the rotted straw as a soil conditioner once the bales are no use anymore. I think I'll get another year out of them, perhaps.

                      One of the nicest things for me has actually been the free rabbit food provided by the barley seeds that germinated. Neo ate loads of it and I've dried some for hay for when the new babies arrive (less than 3 weeks now!) and there are some lovely ears of grain which will hopefully ripen up nicely so I can sow some next year.

                      I'm going to have a little hay patch next year with ordinary grasses, barley, wheat, oats, alfalfa, and other bunny-appropriate plants. Drying plants on a small scale is so easy, I have no idea why I haven't tried it before.


                      • #43
                        Coyote doesn't need much encouragement to go haywire, sounds like it's loving the conditions. I find if a vine tomato has several fruiting stems it takes longer to form and ripen the first fruits. Coyote might just be putting too much effort into growing big rather than settling to fruit. If it's got lots of stems it might be worth you pinching out a few shoots after a flower truss.


                        • Silverleaf
                          Silverleaf commented
                          Editing a comment
                          I was trying for one main shoot, but it made a lot of shoots from the base which I didn't notice under the leaves. Obviously it used a lot of energy to do that and maybe I shouldn't have removed those stems?

                      • #44
                        Great that overall the straw bale garden was a great success and the season is not over by a long time yet. And the bunny food and hay was a bonus too - a side crop. Will you stick a few seeds into the sides of the bales for a late lettuce or rocket crop?


                        • Silverleaf
                          Silverleaf commented
                          Editing a comment
                          I haven't thought about that, to be honest, but it's a good idea. I'll have a look and see what I can do - I haven't managed to sow any lettuce at all this year because my space and time have been taken up with other things.