Index of Thoughts

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Straw Bale Garden

One thing that I have really been missing since we moved from Montrose, CO back to Telluride, CO is my garden.  I had the most wonderful garden in Montrose and spent so many hours there.  Getting my hands in the dirt keeps me grounded and is so needed for my soul.  I'm finally feeling a little more settled in our new house even though we still have quite the punch list. Although, that's how it goes since we are Do-It-Yourself-ers.  We are already planning our master bathroom remodel!

This spring we decided that we were going to have our garden!  I worked hard in our perennial garden pulling weeds and planting perennials based on their hardiness in this alpine region.  I planted lavender, coral bells, delphinium, black-eyed susan, hosta, lupine, sedum, plus some other miscellaneous fillers/ground covers.  I also planted some apple and peach trees and grapes.

I installed a drip irrigation system on a timer from our hose to make sure things got watered.  It is so dry here and the sun can beat down anything that isn't thoroughly watered on a regular basis.  Plus, we were going on vacation this summer and wanted everything to be easy as possible for our house sitter.  Otherwise, I would be wasting money in the ground without it.  It cost me around $300 for 4 zones.  Not too bad.

And finally, we yo-yoed about how to do a vegetable garden here.  We have a few limitations at this altitude (around 7000 ft.).  After careful thought and research on time, resources and money, we decided on a straw bale garden.  I didn't want to spend a lot of money on a raised garden only to have it fail.  We bought 18 bales of straw at the Nucla Co-op, 50 lbs. bag urea (Nitrogen), and 50 lb bag of 10-10-10 fertilizer.  We also bought stakes and fencing to make sure all the critters didn't eat everything up.  In March, I started seeds in the house.  I did a lot of different things so this year we could test out what grew best here.

Why we picked a straw bale garden:

- inexpensive ($4 bale)
- straw bales can be on top of any surface
- not very labor intensive
- it's super cool

Some down sides:

- you might only be able to use for one season
- you will have a big pile of mulch/compost material after the garden
- root veggies don't work in the straw
- watering is critical due to drying out fast
- grass grows in bales from seeds in the straw and mushrooms

How to start your own Straw Bale Garden

There are plenty of websites explaining all the ins and outs of straw bale gardening which I recommend that you research.  This just explains how we did it and what worked for us.

  1. We placed 18 bales in the shape of a U with 6 bales on each side. You want to have the straw bale face up on the side with the ends of the straw. Pick a nice sunny spot.
  2. We followed this procedure for putting Nitrogen, water and fertilizer on our bales to condition them to be ready to plant.  You start to break down/decompose the bale. We started this at the beginning of May.  The procedure says about 2 weeks but ours took about 3 weeks probably because it was still pretty chilly here.
  3. We transplanted our seedlings into the bales.  Some transplants didn't harden well and others did great.  I would definitely do these from transplant again: tomatoes, cauliflower, peppers, strawberries, leek. All the others, I will plant from seed in the bale: herbs, beans, lettuce, kale, chard, cucumber, melons.  I planted potatoes in columns with straw but they didn't make it this year.  I plan next year to plant in ground around the bales - beets, carrots, radishes, potatoes, onion and garlic. 
  4. We got anywhere from 4-6 plants per bale.
  5. I set up the irrigation in the garden and it was worth every penny and the time.  I highly recommend it.  It's so easy to do!!
  6. I planted the veggies with quite a bit of soil pep on top of the straw bale.  It helped it take root and it helped it retain moisture.  I also set up stakes and twine for my beans and tomatoes.  I let my melons and cucumbers cascade off the bale.  
  7. After planting I used Fox Farm Microbrew Fertilizer to help feed my plants.  I also had to use some granular slug and earwig insecticide because they were consuming whole plants overnight.
  8. I bought a big frost cloth so I can prolong my garden from the early frosts here and also to use next year to extend the spring season.  
  9. Gardening makes me a happy girl!  I am crossing my fingers for a second season of planting in these bales.  


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