Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Straw Bale tales...

When the Cowman and I lived up a canyon, I worked for a little local feedstore/garden center.  The owner thought it would be a good thing if I took care of the garden/nursery area as well as marketing feed for all manner of livestock, critters, birds and fish. Fine by me I said, (I'm not a fan of cleaning hamster cages, or bagging live rats for snake food) just give me a bit of leeway to do some demonstration gardens.
  I grew a trial straw bale garden at home, as we lived on a hard pan shelf, where the only way to dig a hole was with a stick of dynamite. Our bale garden provided us with all the veggies we wanted and then some, with less work, and less water than a traditional garden.

not my garden, not my picture

 Next, I put in a demonstration straw bale garden at the store.  It worked well as we had wheat or barley straw bales, T posts, fencing, and starts and/or seeds of most every veggie that would flourish in our zone. My customers loved it. Especially the elderly, wheel chair bound, kids, and those living in places that had no regular garden space or poor soil.  
One customer, a rather cranky little ol lady, who had been an avid gardener all her life, was moving from her home to a retirement facility.  She was not able to kneel or bend over easily, so I asked permission from the facility management to put a straw bale garden on her patio.  She planted veggies, herbs, and flowers in her bale (completely hiding the bale).  She loved her little bale garden and spent hours on her patio entertaining the other residents, and sharing fresh veggies.  The last time I saw her she was in the store happily planning her winter bale garden.

a Paris balcony straw bale garden

I had a wheelchair bound gentleman that put his bale garden in the strip of ground between driveways, and quickly became the go to neighborhood veggie man. He got a sense of purpose and pride out of repurposing what had been wasted space. It also helped him to reconnect with his neighbors.
The straw bale process I used was gleaned from a bunch of good articles*, and only slightly tweaked to fit our needs. 

My home garden was all straw bales for the four years I lived up the canyon on the rock.  After I moved to the bunkhouse at Marymine's I put one in there as well, and that time used flakes from broken bales of alfalfa hay for the path ways.  The alfalfa flakes kept the mud and weeds down between rows, and further improved the tilth of the soil. 
I enjoy straw bale gardening, and have successful grown most veggies. The only crop that didn't do well in my garden was sweet corn, even staked it was too top heavy. When space is available, I plant sweet corn in a square block. That way it saves me from hand pollinating.   Anyway, the farmers market has great sweet corn, cheaper than I can grow it. And I don't have to put the blowup GI Joe with a motion sensor squirt gun in the garden to keep the coons away...


  1. You are my second blog buddy to tout straw bale gardens. I'm happy with my raised beds but may try the bale method out of curiosity.

  2. With all our clay soils in this area, I wonder why we have not seen more of these. We have a reasonably large agricultural area to provide the straw bales.

  3. I have bookmarked the website you gave us. Thanks! Not to take a step further, go build a straw bale house.

  4. Learned something new, I've heard of that, never seen it... Sure beats the hell outta plowing with a hand plow and weeding... Oh my achin back... :-) And thanks for giving those folks a better life too!!!

  5. ARKANSAS PATTI: I've put bales in raised beds and it worked beautifully. I would be interested in your thoughts, should you decide to try it.

    TABOR: Sometimes change is difficult... You could be the revolutionary senior gardener in your area.

    GRANNY ANNIE: I hope you give it a try. Thought about doing a straw bale house, but no longer young enough to do it by myself.

    OLD NFO: It sure does! I laugh when I see guys struggling with rotor tillers in the spring. Most here are just creating a hard clay layer below the reach of the tines...

  6. Hmmmm....never heard of a bale garden unless I've forgotten :-O Even reading this and even though I trust you to be a truth teller, I'm skeptical. Yet you did have a picture. Kind of like fishing...where's your picture of the one you released. No picture than it's just a fish story. :-)
    Hope all is going well for you and yours.

  7. We could do that here. Our soil when wet is like gumbo, if I walk around in it my boots weigh more than I do ;-0. With bales we can cover the walks between beds and let the gumbo live on its own. Pretty weed free I'd imagine.

  8. GRAYQUILL: So glad to hear from you and to know your still kick'n! I can't find the pics of my straw bale gardens, but I did have them, honest! Google straw bale garden pics and you will see many.

    CELIA: I used broken alfalfa hay flakes for the pathways, worked great. Straw bales for the growing medium. Hope you give it a try.

  9. I love the idea of the straw bale on a balcony!

  10. GRANNYMAR: Can you do one?

  11. Alas, I do not have a balcony.

  12. GRANNYMAR: In your yard, perhaps?