Baling out of the perfect garden dream

The No Longer Secret Garden.

Early this year I announced my bale garden project. The advice of garden expert Rose Marie Nichols McGee has some great advice about bale culture. The Gardeners Pantry Blog is the best straw bale information you can get. Plus there are some very good recipes.

We both got busy with the many things that gardeners do. I neglected the blog entries I had promised because the bale garden was failing and I was away from the garden all of June. At first, the seeds I sowed in the soil atop the bales flourished in the spring. It looked like I would have a guaranteed success. The neighbor was where no where in site.

As the seedling roots reached deeper into the bail, they died or just stopped growing. I was not going to take a picture of this sad failure until I had an answer as to why the lettuce seeds were dieing. I continued to plant beans, cucumbers and summer and winter squash seed on top of the bales. There were no signs of insects on the plants. The seeds that were sprouting then struggling to survive.

The neighbor planted tomatoes. At first, I thought it was a fun and friendly competition because I always win. Not this year.

I planted tomatoes in the bales when the weather got warm enough. The tomato plants did not grow. The neighbor, who had red ripe tomatoes in his garden a full month before my garden, was down right joyful at his success. His success was a bellwether for my garden.

Most insulting of all, he kept offering me tomatoes from his garden. “I’ve got plenty of ’em,” he said.

Then, the natural baling ties began to fall apart. If I had bales with synthetic twine, the bales may have lasted for two seasons. The tomato plants were simply not growing. I finally figured out that the straw had been treated or sprayed with some herbicide. After the seeds got past the top soil on the bales, they started to die very quickly. Even weeds would not grow on the bales.

I abandoned the project, not mentioning it at all in this blog. The tomato plants were just not growing in the bales. A few shallow rooted chard plants grew on top of the bales. In July, the heirloom tomato plants began to grow. And one winter squash plant began growing fast and blooming like crazy. By August, early blight hit all the tomato plants in the garden, and in the bales.

In September, the tomato plants and the lone delicata squash are producing. That is the bale garden at the top of this blog. Because the surviving plants have been struggling all year they are weak and more susceptible to disease. A couple of the tomato plants on the bales aren’t even producing at all. Bugs are eating up the few remaining bean plants on the bales, and the squash bugs are in need of some serious crowd control.

Of the several marigolds that I planted surrounding the bales, only two of the marigolds lived. They are growing at about the same rate as the other marigolds around my other gardens. Nothing will slow down the growth of those hardy marigolds until frost.

Finally, I am now getting some good sized tomatoes from the bales. The success will be short lived because of the blight. The bales are slowly imploding, collapsing in on themselves.

The story of the bale garden ain’t pretty. Not all gardening projects go as planned. I’m not baling out. The project was enough of a success that I am going to learn from my mistakes and try again next year.

The short, frustrating story of gardening on bales ended by growing with some of my biggest tomatoes of the year.
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