Has anyone tried bale gardens?

CLBlakeySeptember 11, 2012

Due to my rampant quack grass this summer I took out my garden and planted fruit trees. I am now thinking about bale gardens where you plant in a bale of straw above ground. Bales must be left out over winter to help them break down a bit first. Has anyone tried it or had any luck with it?

Scammed this pic off the net

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northspruce(z3a MB CDA)

Interesting - looks like it would dry out really fast though.

    Bookmark   September 11, 2012 at 6:01PM
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nutsaboutflowers(2b/3a)

I've heard of it but never tried it. It seems rather interesting but I'm not sure I'd try it.

I think Northspruce is right, in that it would probably dry out really quickly, and also the roots of your plants could likely get too hot. I also wouldn't like it if the straw got mouldy in wet weather.

Hopefully somebody here has either done it or knows someone who has.

BTW I've seen straw bale houses, but would never live in one, so what do I know? Ha ha !

    Bookmark   September 11, 2012 at 9:33PM
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marciaz3 Tropical 3 Northwestern Ontario

Coincidentally, we talked about this at our Horticulture meeting this afternoon. One of the local greenhouses had a bale garden this summer and it did really well. I forget what all they grew in it, and i wish they had pictures of it on the net.

    Bookmark   September 11, 2012 at 10:07PM
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swontgirl_z5a(5a)

I haven't tried it either but I would think there could still be some weeds grow in it. As well the left over grain could germinate.
It looks like they have irrigated it with the black tubing and that would help it stay moist. I baled about 3500 small square bales of straw this summer so maybe I will leave a few out over the winter to try next year. My veggie garden has turned into a daylily seedling bed so this might give me some room back!
There's a couple of straw bale houses near us. The straw is inside the walls so it is protected from the elements. The one I have been in is stuccoed both inside and out. It is 2 storey and very nice.

    Bookmark   September 14, 2012 at 7:49PM
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CLBlakey

I am off to Wembley today to buy some straw bales it seems they are recommended the most as hay and alfalfa have seeds. Hoping this is the answer to my quack grass problem and I can still have a garden. I think I might box one set in to see if it will last longer than the 2 year expectation who knows.

    Bookmark   September 15, 2012 at 9:57AM
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marricgardens

Here is a lengthy discussion about straw bale gardening, complete with pictures Marcia! My only concern about it was how it would do in a very windy place. Hope this link works. Marg http://www.4042.com/4042forums/showthread.php?t=12405

    Bookmark   September 15, 2012 at 11:18AM
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CLBlakey

Great link thanks. Just got home with my straw now to set it in place got 8 bales. Will post pics through the process.

    Bookmark   September 15, 2012 at 5:55PM
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CLBlakey

So we decided because of quack grass we would put the bales on some old plywood that should stop anything from coming up. Then built a small frame to see if we could make the bales last more than 2 years. I will also paint the frame next spring to match the fence then it shouldn't stand out like a sore thumb. The lady I bought the bales from said that is what most of her bales get sold for. I am finally starting to get excited about gardening again. We will have to cook the remaining seeds in the spring with black plastic but by then they should have broken down a bit too.

    Bookmark   September 15, 2012 at 7:42PM
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beegood_gw

Wouldn't it be a haven for mice?

    Bookmark   September 15, 2012 at 7:57PM
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marciaz3 Tropical 3 Northwestern Ontario

Or snakes? Dh found some when he was breaking a bale apart to put on the potato plants.

    Bookmark   September 15, 2012 at 8:14PM
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CLBlakey

Apparently mice and snakes don't like wet beds so as long as they stay watered it should not be a problem. I read that on the thread posted above it is full of info.

    Bookmark   September 15, 2012 at 8:21PM
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bdgardener(3 AB)

Mice shouldn't be a problem when you are watering next summer, it's this winter that you might find them trying to nest. We are ranchers and it's feeding in the winter where we find the mice. Everytime we lift bales they come running out. Good thing for cats. I mulch some of the garden with straw and if any seeds do germinate they are easy to pull, roots on grain crops don't run that deep. Cheryl

    Bookmark   September 16, 2012 at 1:42PM
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CLBlakey

do you store your bales in a barn or outside? I will be starting to water them before winter so they should actually freeze solid.

    Bookmark   September 16, 2012 at 4:16PM
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bdgardener(3 AB)

we store outside, mostly round bales and some squares, freezing them should help but the spaces inbetween is where mice love to live. C

    Bookmark   September 16, 2012 at 8:49PM
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swontgirl_z5a(5a)

What kind of baler twine is on them? Mice and rats love to chew up the twine. More of a nuisance with sisal than plastic. It's in the fall when the weather is getting cooler that rodents are looking for a home. Is your dog a hunter? Maybe he can keep them away.
We have a new dog that chases me around as I bale, catching the mice under the rows of hay and straw. The poor red tail hawks must be hungry with him around getting so many mice this year. He's just as good in the barn. Poor barn cats!
Debbie

    Bookmark   September 17, 2012 at 9:34PM
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CLBlakey

Not a hunter at all she would be more like a babysitter or a mother licking them to death LOL that is if she could see them she is almost blind and part deaf turned 14 this year. The neighbor has a cat so that might help but I think water is the best idea. Can't wait for spring to get these puppies planted.

    Bookmark   September 18, 2012 at 11:36PM
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cmmwiebe

I think this has real possibilities. I think I would wrap in white poly for the summer which would make it look neat but also help keep the root zone temperature down.
Looking forward to your results.

Very hard to get those straw bales around here as everyone has gone to round even with straw.

Clayton

    Bookmark   September 26, 2012 at 11:25PM
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CLBlakey

Clayton I found my bales on Kijiji there is a farmer that makes a couple hundred each year just for bale gardeners.

My hubby found some more 1x4 so I can fill in my frame some more plan to stain it the color of the fence. So far no mice run out when I water them. They should be nice and broken down for the spring.

    Bookmark   September 27, 2012 at 6:57AM
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cmmwiebe

I was thinking about this last night as I could not sleep and it came to mind that I could not use bales from the fellow who farms around us as he sprayed Glyphosate for weeds and for crop ripening as well as insecticide for wheat insect pests and may have also sprayed fungicide. I do not have a problem with this in the big picture as it is less harmful than most home owners treatment of their lawns in the city or country but it would make me wonder about trying to grow veggies in the straw.

Sadly most so called organic growers are hardly better as their weed populations are higher and disease is not controlled so the straw will carry the spores. I am not trying to start a debate here but trying to think through this as I see it as a good possibility for us here where we grow too big an area to water properly and maintain a good crop.
It is just unreal how the weeds have taken over in our traditional garden even though we were diligent most of the summer to control them with weeding. And we hauled the weed residue off as well.
The other issue we find since we do not have many sources of organic mulch or amendments and we rototill mostly, the soil has packed so hard after a summer of frequent rains!

This is a great topic thread.

Clayton

    Bookmark   September 27, 2012 at 12:57PM
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CLBlakey

I so hear you about the weeds when we bought here we dug down 2 feet and replaced the clay with top soil thinking this would make a good garden but withing a year the weeds were so bad and the quack grass took over. I chased the quack grass for 3 years and spent hours weeding (too small for a rototiller) I finally gave up. I never checked if the straw I bought was treated in any way I actually never thought about it but it will be sitting out all winter breaking down not sure if that would help if there are additives.

So far I am very pleased with the way they hold water and after they break down it should be even better.

    Bookmark   September 28, 2012 at 10:54AM
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oliveoyl3

I just happened to stop by your forum and found this post. We're in western WA at 500' in the foothills of the Cascades in a clearing in the woods and grew tomatoes in the previous year's weathered straw bales after clearing some native vegetation several years ago. The site was facing south & had a slight slope, so was our most sunny spot for tomatoes.

We lined them up end to end in a long row were able to use them for 2 years until they were no longer holding their shape. The soil underneath was greatly improved and we were then able to plant right into it. It was a fun project for our children and we received a lot of comments about the tall tomatoes.

To plant in the bales we pulled out straw to make holes & stuffed the extra straw to fill in between the bales. Each hole was then filled with homemade weed free compost. We planted some onion sets & nasturtium seeds in the bales, but they didn't grow well at all. Initially, we had sprouting of seeds from the bales, but as the summer progressed few more. In front of the bales we had a welded wire fence with large openings, so planted peas in spring then a cucumbers, beans, & climbing flowers. The bales did tend to dry out more than previous plantings of tomatoes. We used bamboo, tomato cages & lots of string to support our menagerie of plants. It became a jungle of vines, but was fun to harvest.

After harvest we removed all plant material & applied a heavy mulch of partially composted horse manure, sawdust bedding, & shredded leaves to the ground & a handful in the planting holes of each bale.

The 2nd spring the bales were about 1/2 the original size and needed a bit of pushing back together. The strings were still in place, but quite loose. We again planted right in them. That year they didn't dry out as easily, so we watered less often.

After harvest, we added more manure again and broke up the bales the rest of the way as mulch.

The 3rd spring the soil was nice & fluffy, so we were able to plant right into the soil. I now use old straw as heavy mulch and don't have a need to plant in bales. If I was building new garden soil & had bales available I would probably try it again for tomatoes.

I looked for some photos, but couldn't find any. I hope this helps your project.

    Bookmark   October 2, 2012 at 5:53PM
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CLBlakey

Thanks Corrine the more I hear about them the more excited I get to plant next spring. You said you used old bales the first year did you leave them out over winter or just use the previous years straw? I am leaving mine out over winter hoping that it will help break them down enough to hold water better as it seems everything I read says first year uses more water and that is expensive here especially since the wind drys everything out. I am also hoping by boxing the bales in they will last longer than two years and eventually just be raised beds but much cheaper than buying top soil. I also hope the plywood base will not break down and let the darn quack grass through.

    Bookmark   October 3, 2012 at 3:01PM
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oliveoyl3

Whew, glad I popped back in here to see if my response posted. Email me directly through GW if you have more questions, because I won't remember to look here again.

The old bales we planted in were in the rain around Christmas, then stored in a covered area until we get them in March. The Christmas time rains weren't enough to soak them and start any composting, so they still looked pretty good. I didn't think they generated much heat until weeds were sprouting in the gravel driveway and we began pouring liquid from a bucket of chicken manure partially composted.

The 2nd year was better in the bales, so I'm guessing digging out your planting holes & filling with manure now will help prepare them for spring. Plus if you add manure on top of the bales this fall the worms will do some of the work for you! When we store bales in the garden on top of our manure there are lots of worms underneath in spring. Your bales are on plywood, so won't absorb moisture from the ground. I'm not an expert, but I think you need some soil & additional organic matter to get the decomposition happening. Our weathered bales The old bales as mulch I see lots of worms in the gaps of weathered straw.

They did need more watering than square foot gardening beds or inground beds and our climate is a cool summer by weather standards. In warm weather & windy conditions I imagine you will need to water daily unless you can add soil & compost with more watering holding capacity than the straw. When the straw is no longer yellow, slippery, and resisting water it is broken down enough to hold water.

Here are my saved notes on straw bales:

Orient bales string side around, not up & down
Wet them, wet them, wet them
Add some chicken manure liquid
Wet them, wet them, wet them

Options
1. plant right in
2. remove straw 6" across & 8" deep, add garden soil/potting soil, let sit a few hours, add more (2009: we added our cured compost from farmyard manures + animal bedding.)

Transplant when cloudy or evening when sun isn't too hot

6 cucumbers, trailing down.
3 squash, zucchini, melons (can set one upright?)
2 tomato plants per bale with one or two herbs and leafy veggies in between.
4 pepper plants
12-15 bean or pea plants.
poke in around the side a plant or two of some flowering annual for color and companion
Water
Water with compost tea (our version is a shovel of compost in a bucket)

I also had saved this list of websites with either photos or instructions:

beginner-gardening.com/straw-bale-gardening.html
no-dig-vegetablegarden.com/straw-bale-gardening.html
leavemealoneimdigging.blogspot.com/search/label/straw bale gardening
nicholsgardennursery.com/strawbales.htm
thegardenersrake.com/raised-bed-garden-straw-bale-gardening

I hope this information helps you,
Corrine

Here is a link that might be useful: straw bale article

    Bookmark   October 6, 2012 at 12:09AM
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swontgirl_z5a(5a)

Well I moved my straw bales to where I want them last night. Actually my husband did with the tractor. Boy were they heavy. I used them to protect some potted plants all winter and had 2 sitting in front of a Japanese Maple to protect it from the wind. They seem to have soaked up quite a bit of water judging by the weight. I am going to follow the directions in Corrine's article and start putting some fertilizer or chicken manure on them. They should be ready buy the end of the month to transplant into. I am looking forward to seeing how it goes. I just hope we get some rain this summer or I might be watering alot! I can see that moisture would be the big factor.
Debbie

    Bookmark   May 2, 2013 at 12:00PM
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CLBlakey

I checked my bales yesterday they are nice an wet inside. I am going to start planting tomorrow. Carrots, beets, chard and peas. I have some squash and cucumbers started inside but they are a bit leggy. Does anyone know if you can plant these deep like tomatoes. I will be getting tomatoes from my friend this year. She opened her doors on Wednesday. She said I could start my plants there if I wanted I might just take her up on it next year.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2013 at 6:07PM
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Ginny McLean_Petite_Garden

Apparently, you can't plant cucs the same as tomatoes but they will still do ok even if they are leggy. I put mine in last year on June 5th I think.....maybe later. Had a huge crop thanks to the summer heat and rain. :) I start mine in peat pellets so I don't disturb the roots and just pop them in to the ground up to the first baby leaves. :) Started 7 types this year. :)

Ginny

    Bookmark   May 5, 2013 at 7:30PM
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CLBlakey

Ginny were you talking tomatoes or cukes when you plant them to the first set of leaves? I have stretchy zuchini too.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2013 at 11:37PM
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Ginny McLean_Petite_Garden

Cindy, I was talking about cucs. They really don't like to have their roots disturbed but they will do ok even if they are leggy, once they get lots of sun, heat, and water. :) Same with any kind of squash.

Ginny

    Bookmark   May 6, 2013 at 12:14AM
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CLBlakey

the first set of leaves is 3 inches up the stem they won't go mushy if I plant them that deep? in the comment above you said you couldn't plant them deep like tomatoes so now I am confused.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2013 at 9:07AM
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harveyhorses(7 Midlothian Va)

Well, I am trying 4 bales with potatoes next to the raised bed with potatoes, gotta say I am not impressed, but if I did not have the raised bed to compare it to I'd be reasonably happy. My biggest problem so far is wind, a few plants were almost uprooted. Not sure why they were so insecure, but again no problems with the bed right next to it. Just not thriving as well. If I did not have a choice it would be O.K.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2013 at 3:11PM
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harveyhorses(7 Midlothian Va)

Grrr, did not mean to post in the far north thread! Didn't pay attention, just saw bale garden.
Sorry!

    Bookmark   May 30, 2013 at 3:14PM
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CLBlakey

No problem, Harvey. Did you put the bales on top of the potato seed or dig them in. We have lots of wind here too I think if I was doing potatoes I would put them between the bales on the ground and make them work their way up.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2013 at 8:05PM
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marciaz3 Tropical 3 Northwestern Ontario

Harvey, are you a lurker? Maybe we should revive our lurker thread!

    Bookmark   May 30, 2013 at 10:08PM
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CLBlakey

Lurker thread?

    Bookmark   May 31, 2013 at 9:05AM
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CLBlakey

UPDATE

Bale garden did not do well this year I harvested a single pea in a single pod. My carrots, beets and chard are barely visible. It has been watered lots in fact so much we have some sort of fungi growing on the north side.

the issue is the water drops down the the bottom half of the bale and the top 2 inches is dry. I am hoping with next year once it rots abit more this problem will be solved. I will also be putting up boards where the natsurtium are now.

I wonder if fencing it in instead of allowing natural spread played into it.

This post was edited by CLBlakey on Thu, Jul 25, 13 at 10:27

    Bookmark   July 25, 2013 at 10:24AM
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donna_in_sask

If it were me, I would take the results as: a failed experiment, cut my losses, and take the straw out, replace with good soil and garden in THAT next year. I think with this bale system, you are fighting a constant battle to give the plants enough water and nutrients because the straw (obviously) cannot hold any.

    Bookmark   July 25, 2013 at 11:52AM
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CLBlakey

Donna the bales are actually soaked all the way through and have held the water fine ...except the top 2 inches one inch of that is top soil.

    Bookmark   July 25, 2013 at 1:22PM
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freezengirl(3aMN and 5AK)

I have never tried straw bale gardening though I have often used straw bales for the garden. It started by accident when I was trying to make a garden under a bunch of oak trees. I have practiced Lasagna gardening for years with fairly good results.
I have a very large rural yard and we were busy building a house so gardening time was very limited, dollars very tight and watering an issue. I had a a bunch of shade plants and no where to put them except under the trees. The soil was extremely shallow and I didn't want to damage the tree roots (or smother them). I had about a dozen straw bales that had been left out all winter and were in bad shape. I mowed the ground around the trees very short, placed over-lapping layers of cardboard in the area I wanted to plant. I covered the cardboard with anywhere from 6-10 inch mats of the spoiled straw. I covered the whole mess with several inches of good black dirt. I put the plants in individually with a gallon or so of black dirt/composted manure for each plant. The following spring the whole area had shrunk down in height to about 1/3 what it had been but the plants were alive and well. In the following years I add composted manure/soil as needed to the top along with a layer of bark/shredded leaves. It looks good! The plants are healthy and the trees are healthy. I have since used this technique or variations of it for quite a few years. I find it works quite well in new raised bed gardens. It is my version of composting in place. It also cuts the costs considerably for having to fill entire beds with soil if you have to haul it in.

    Bookmark   August 4, 2013 at 9:22PM
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Dean_Burn

Of the many no-dig gardening techniques such as Raised Bed or Container gardening, Straw Bale is perhaps the most attractive option for many.
There is no compost to buy - except a start-up boost. There are no weeds to worry about (use straw not hay bales). There is definately no digging involved. Slugs are not keen on straw bales, and your veg are easily protected against insects like the cabbage moth.
All in all a great option for gardeners who are short of time or indeed space to operate a traditional garden.

Here is a link that might be useful: Small Garden Ideas

    Bookmark   October 6, 2014 at 1:12PM
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muscadines978(7, Dalton, Ga.)

I just came across the idea of Straw bale gardening. It sounds very promising. I have read all of the posts about it and come to the conclusion that most failures were due to not properly conditioning the bales, not adding enough 34-0-0 and water to make the bales decompose and then not waiting long enough for the bales to cool down before planting.
If my conclusions are wrong please le me know.

    Bookmark   February 8, 2015 at 4:53AM
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Hans P. Gruetzenbach

Started my first bale garden yesterday, 8 bales, about 24'.

    Bookmark   March 9, 2015 at 2:32AM
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Hans P. Gruetzenbach

Just started my second bale garden today, again 8 bales, 24' long.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2015 at 5:11PM
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Hans P. Gruetzenbach

Even after going through the conditioning process neither one of my 2 rows are heating up. I checked the Straw bale Garden Blog and it suggested covering them with black plastic to promote more heat. Think I will give that a try.

    Bookmark   March 22, 2015 at 2:27AM
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Konrad..just outside of Edmoton Alberta(zone 3)

I'd probably experiment to make a raised bed, [frame with straw bales] half sunken into the the ground, put the bales into large black plastic bags first, that should trap allot of heat when the sun is out, giving off slowly into the dirt, especially good during night hours. [Good insulation value also]

    Bookmark   March 22, 2015 at 8:54AM
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Hans P. Gruetzenbach

Before you make an uneducated decision, you might want to research Straw bale Gardening. Check it out on Google. It has been around for over 20 years with great success.

Hans

    Bookmark   March 22, 2015 at 3:50PM
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Konrad..just outside of Edmoton Alberta(zone 3)

Well Hans, ..I surly can do whatever I want and my idea sounds great as
a experiment,...don't see it anywhere in straw bale gardening.

https://www.google.ca/search?q=Straw+Bale+Gardening&hl=en-CA&biw=1494&bih=987&site=webhp&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=gYcPVY6tFtHfsAT39YCADw&ved=0CCcQsAQ

    Bookmark   last Sunday at 8:33PM
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Hans P. Gruetzenbach

Hope it works out for you.

    Bookmark   last Monday at 2:39AM
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Konrad..just outside of Edmoton Alberta(zone 3)

>>Check it out on Google. It has been around for over 20 years with great success.<<

Nothing stays forever,.. there is always room for improvements.

>>Before you make an uneducated decision<<

Looks like I wasn't the only one with this uneducated decision, [found one].. but can be improved further.

Source...http://ichabodthegloryhasdeparted.blogspot.ca/2015/02/straw-bales-today-carrots-on-way-total.html

    Bookmark   last Monday at 4:06PM
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twrosz

Konrad, that does make for a nice raised bed :)

With having a large yard and well amended relatively weed free productive soil, I hadn't looked into using the bale method and had wondered why anyone would even bother ... though, last night I had watched several videos and my thoughts had changed as I observed the benefits to be had under certain circumstances and am now "almost" tempted to try it with some peppers, as I guess they do especially well when bale grown.

Mmmm, I do have some two year old bales sitting at the back of my yard, but I'd be more inclined to do as Konrad's posted photo, because I'd like for the plants to draw the nutrients from the soil, rather than me having to be dosing the bales with fertilizer. Peppers require very good drainage and this would certainly provide for such and requires no carpentry skills of needing to cut and nail a bunch of boards together :)

    Bookmark   last Monday at 8:37PM
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Konrad..just outside of Edmoton Alberta(zone 3)

Exactly,..and I'd be tempted to put them into large heavy duty black contractor garbage bags, might just put some cheap strap tie or rope around the whole thing so they don't open up with dirt pressure. No need if I bury the bales about half way into the ground,..more work but less filling needed,..you're right, growing in soil I like it better too.
Bales would heat up much faster under black plastic, especially older/wetter straw, would break down faster with the heat but the gain is in the heated dirt beyond! I'd be curious how brand new dry straw bales would perform in the bag,..dry straw has better insulation value but might be slower to build up heat. The advantage, these bales could be used for many years,..if it works? Not sure if I get around this year for experimentation.

    Bookmark   last Monday at 9:18PM
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