Tag Archives: Straw Bale Gardens

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.

Straw Bale Garden

Vegetables By the Bale

    Example April 3,H 61,L55, p41. =
    Key:date:April 3,Te
    mperature High 61,Temperature Low 55, precipitation .41″

Rose Marie’s blog is The Gardener’s Pantry.
Patsy Bell’s blog is Oh Grow Up!

I decided to try straw bale gardening after reading about it by Rose Marie Nichols, of the family operated Nichols Garden Nursery and member of Garden Writers Association.

We’ve agreed to keep each other up to date on our gardens this year. Nichols Garden Nursery is in Albany, Oregon in the Willamette Valley and my garden is in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, in southeast Missouri hugging the Mississippi River (37°18 33″N 89°32 47″W elevation: 410 ft.)

For The Oregonian, Anne Jaeger and Rose Marie have a quickie video demo of how to do plant a straw bale. A more detailed guide is on the Nichols web page, Nichols Garden Nursery.

No point reinventing the wheel so, I won’t repeat every thing Rose Marie wrote about straw bale culture. I’m going to keep a journal on the blog and include photos.

I finally started my Garden Bales. There is not much to see. In front of the five bales on the south are alpine strawberries (right as you face the bales looking east).
In front of the bales on the north or left side are marigolds. I poked a few nasturtium seed in the corners of the bales. We will see how that grows. Nasturtiums have not been a good choice in the past. I attribute their failure to my neglect.

  • March 2009. Straw bales delivered. We are still getting freezing weather in MO. I’ve arranged the bales and watered them. The frequent freezes and cold rains are dashing hopes of an early start in the garden this year.
  • April 3, Hi 61, Lo55,precip 4. My bales are not baled with synthetic twine, as Rose Marie suggested. I was happy to get 10 bales of good straw delivered. I soaked the straw with water. For the next couple of weeks the starlings feasted on the straw seeds, some birds carried off straw for their nests. Still, there was plenty seed left to sprout into a green carpet atop the bales.
on the right, Baby Pak Choi seedlings. On the left leek seedlings.
  • May 8. I started 5 of the straw bales garden project by spreading the bales with bags of potting soil and compost to equal 2 or 3 inches of soil. The first thing I planted was some baby pak choi plants that I thinned from the raised bed garden, a few onions, leeks and scallions that I also planted in the raised beds. I also planted some pepper plant seedlings that are just an inch or two tall, and a few zucchini seed. Then I sprinkled in some mesclun (mixed lettuces) seed across the top of the rest of the bale. The leeks and onions are not a good idea, but I had extra seedling and no place to put them. So, that’s just an experiment. Perhaps I will transplant them again into the raised beds when I have a little more room, after I pick the peas.

The lettuces will be thinned and harvested to make room for the peppers and squash as they grow. The zucchini, by the way, is a Nichols variety called Aristocrat Zucchini , a hybrid, a dark green upright bush type.

  • May 9. We pounded in eight foot long 1 x 2 stakes to support tomato plants. It was threatening to storm and this is just before the big wind and rain storm that left many folks without electricity for four days.

“Why are you pounding in those stakes?” asked the teen next door. “To keep the bales from blowing away?”

Insects found the pak choi on the bales right away. Insects are not bothering the pak choi that was planted from seed in the raised bed beside the garden peas and chives.

  • May 10, hi 71, lo53, precip .25. Sprayed some insecticidal soap on the pak choi. The pak choi is a cool season crop and often bolts in a sudden hot spell. So, this is truly an experiment. If it stays cool, we may have some great stir fries this spring. I’ll share a recipe and show you how I cook them, if the baby pak choi do mature.
  • May 12, hi74, lo49, precip 0. One of my biggest challenges is to remind myself that not everybody knows or cares about gardening. With record garden seed sales, and even Michelle Obama planting a garden on the White House Lawn, I just thought everybody must be into gardening. So when a neighbor walked by the garden and asked what those purple flowers are in the raised bed, I thought she was kidding. (They are chives, by the way.) And then, the next day, another neighbor came by and asked,

“Whats with all those hay bales in your yard?,” so I explained all about straw bale gardening. The neighbors have taken notice that something different is going on.

Just a couple of doors down, a teacher with the cutest three year old son came by. The little boy mostly says,

“WHATS THAT?” He does not like many vegetables. He was a little curious about the garden, but his mom doesn’t care for a lot of vegetables either, so I should not be surprised he doesn’t know a pea plant from a potato. I think it’s important that kids know where their food comes from, so I’m not giving up. Perhaps when those sugar snap peas or sweet cherry tomatoes are rich and ripe, I may be able to tempt him in to tasting one.

  • Albany, Oregon: elevation:200 ft (for you gps fans, coordinates are 44°37 49″N 123°5 46″W)
  • Cape Girardeau, Missouri: elevation: 410 ft (37°18 33″N 89°32 47″W)

  • According to Yahoo maps,
    we live a driving distance of 2,094.61 miles apart or, a driving time of 31 hrs 8 minutes.

Tomatoes by the Bale

Straw Bale Gardening

I order seed and herb plants most every year from Nichols Garden Nursery in Albany,OR. I didn’t know much about herbs when I started my first herb garden. But, armed with a copy of Herb Companion and a seed catalog from Nichols, I plunged into culinary herbs.

I can’t say I have the same herbs I planted 20 years ago because I’ve moved. But I am starting a new garden with the same tools for success: herb plants or seed from Nichols Herbs and Rare Seeds Catalog and the most current news about herbs in Herb Companion Magazine.

This year my little garden will be expanded by adding straw bales for gardening. I learned about that from Rose Marie Nichols McGee. She tells all on her website.

Gardening friends and neighbors have always visited over the garden fence. This year Rose Marie and I are going to compare notes about our straw bale gardens by way of our blogs.

Heirloom Tomatoes are ordered and will be delivered from Abundant Acres by planting time. I’ll be planting some tomatoes by the traditional method and others in bales.

The straw bale gardening method is a new territory for me. I’ll keep you posted every step of the way, tracking what works and what doesn’t.

The exciting news is that you’ll also get to learn from the master, as Rose Marie shares here adventures in straw bale gardening.

One thing I know for sure because I’ve already ordered the seed, my bale will gave a little added color with Whirlybird Nasturtiums poked in some of the bales.

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