If you have enough space for a bale of straw, then you have enough space for a garden. Growing vegetables in a straw bale is easy, fun and a good way to inspire kids to start gardening. A straw bale acts much like a raised bed, you just plant directly in the bale. It is a great gardening method to use in areas that have poor soil, or if your dwelling has minimal outdoor space. Use these tips to grow your own straw bale garden.
Any flat surface that receives at least 6 hours of direct sunlight each day is a great location for a straw bale garden.If it’s a grassy outdoor location, place several layers of newspaper or weed inhibiting fabric on the grass, then place the straw bale on top.
Organic straw can be sourced from a local organic farmer. Bales can also be purchased from local garden supply center, but they may not be organic. I used Craigslist to source mine and I emailed before hand to see how the straw was grown and if it was sprayed with anything or grown in a field where the previous crop was sprayed.
Place the bale on its side with the twine running around the perimeter so it won’t impede plant growth from the top of the bale. The twine will also hold the bale together during the garden growing season.
Straw bales are usually cheap too! You can often find them for under $10 bucks a bale. We started our first straw bale garden with 20 bales and we got them for $6 a bale, delivered.
Start preparing the straw bale two weeks before planting time so the internal composting process will be well underway at planting time. You can find directions for how to do this but the basic idea is to water the straw bales thoroughly every day for a week. Every other day, place 3 cups of organic fertilizer on top of each bale prior to watering. The water will push the fertilizer down into the center of the bale where it’s needed. For a free natural source of nitrogen fertilizer look into human urine. It works!
On the tenth day place 1 1/2 cups of phosphorus and 1 1/2 cups of potassium on top of each straw bale and water thoroughly. Continue watering daily until the end of 2 weeks.
If you have prepared the bale(s) correctly, the interior should be hot and moist and black spots and/or mushrooms should be visible on the exterior of the straw bale.
Essentially what you are doing when conditioning straw bales for a straw bale garden is you are causing the bales to start composting which makes it easier for planting and it fills the bales with beneficial microorganisms. You need to wait 2-3 weeks after starting so that your bales are not still “hot” from composting and burn your plants.
Time to Plant
Use a hand-held trowel to create planting holes in the top of the straw bale. Place potting soil in each planting hole, then place selected vegetable plants into each hole and cover roots with potting soil. Water plants well.
To plant seeds, spread 2 inches of potting soil over the entire top of the straw bale and sprinkle selected seeds on top. Cover seeds with a light layer of potting soil and water well.
Plants that grow upward (peas) or need support (tomatoes, cukes) can be grown quite easily too. Just add some stakes with wire or twine going across to support vines and plants with heavy fruit. You can even plant in the sides of the bales. The growing space seems small but it really isn’t.
For information on companion planting and ideal layouts for straw bale gardens I highly recommend the book Straw Bale Gardens. I borrowed it from the library initially and had to buy it, it is a great wealth of knowledge.
Water straw bale as needed during the growing season. Straw bales can dry out quickly so make sure you are harvesting rain water so you can water frequently. A good drip system or soaker hose down the middle of each row of bales is also beneficial.
There is often no need to add more fertilizer, the straw bales contains enough nutrients to sustain the plants until harvest time. Though if you feel you need to add some extra nutrients you can use compost and compost tea.
Did you know that it is International Compost Awareness Week? Say what? Yes we have a week dedicated to composting awareness and I think it very much warranted. There is so much misinformation out there about composting. I want to pull my hair out every time I hear someone say they want to compost but is smells bad, or it attracts rats to their pristine neighborhood. My bullshrimp meter skyrockets.
Composting is incredibly easy and it is incredibly important to do. A whopping 50% of landfill waste is compostable. That means 50% of what you throw out in the waste bin could instead be thrown into the compost pile to make a valuable product that our much depleted soil wants and needs. There are no good excuses for why you aren’t doing this…right this minute, in some form. If you have a yard, then a compost pile is easy to set up. I have two and building them took about 10 minutes each. If you live in an apartment or condo then an indoor setup, such as a worm bin can be used, I did this for years. We can all do something.
5 Composting Myths Debunked
Compost Smells Bad – This is an excuse most commonly used by folks in nicer neighborhoods and cities who don’t want the neighbors to see (or smell) an icky compost bin. I have composted for over ten years now. I have never once had an issue with smell. If you have an issue with smell you are doing something wrong and it can be fixed. A gooey, sludgy, wet compost pile may in fact smell and this means you need to balance it out and add more dried leaves and paper. You can also turn to allow air to circulate. You may also be putting things in the compost that should not go in it. Read my post about What Goes In A Compost Pile. A compost pile done right smells like dirt and dirt is nothing the neighbors can’t handle.
Composting is Complicated – No, it really isn’t. Dead things decay, that is the process of life. Those things will happen with or without you. All you are doing with compost is managing it. All you have to do is add roughly the same amount of carbon materials as you do nitrogen materials (50/50). That is all.
Composting Takes Too Much Time – I have two large compost piles. We compost the food waste and paper waste for a family of five, we have rabbit manure that we collect and compost, and we have over half an acre of yard waste. We spend maybe 10 minutes a week doing anything compost related. Tell me again how composting takes so much time?? Pfft! That is what I love about composting. It is almost effortless and the rewards are so great..aka a beautiful landscaped front yard and a large produce garden in the back…all nourished with rich, nutrient dense compost.
Here is my 10 minute compost plan:
- Put food scraps in compost buckets daily.
- Once full empty buckets in rubbish bin just outside the back door.
- Dump rabbit manure in rubbish bin
- Add yard waste to the rubbish bin
- Once full (or getting too heavy) dump the contents of the bin into the compost pile
- Once a month (maybe) turn the compost using a pitch fork.
- Easy peasy and and barely any time required at all.
You Need Lots of Space to Compost – No you really don’t. When we lived in an apartment we used an indoor worm bin. When we moved to a duplex we composted in a 2×6 wooden box that my husband built. Since we had no yard waste (or rabbits) it handled all of our food and paper waste and we borrowed the neighbor’s leaves when needed. They really didn’t mind. This is what we worked with back then and we had some darn good compost!
Now we have half an acre and much more room to work with but really we don’t use much space for composting, as you can see. Each bin is about 5-6 feet across and 4 feet deep.
Compost Bins Attract Animals and Bugs – Bugs, yes and that is to be expected and celebrated. Bugs helps the composting process along. They do not however create a haven for so many bugs that it impacts our life in some negative way. As for animals, well in ten years I have never noticed any animals getting into my compost, ever (and we have lots of wild animals in the area). I even use open air compost bins with food waste. I just make sure that I do not add foods on the no-compost list such as meat, fat, and dairy. I find that this myth is just another “excuse” for why composting cannot be done and it has no basis in truth.
What composting myths are you willing to let go of and give this whole composting things a try? I would love to know!
Do we really need garden markers or labels? Well, if you are anything like me you go a little crazy when it comes time to plant seeds in early spring and then seedlings in late spring. Some plants I am used to because I plant them every year. I can identify them rather easily. Others are new to me and rather than be left scratching my head wondering what in the sam hill I planted in various spots around the garden I like to use garden markers. They also help my kids learn to identify what is growing in the garden. No more asking a child to cut some cilantro for dinner and have them return with parsley.
Here are some garden markers that would be super helpful your garden…
Vegetable Garden Markers – This set of ten markers are super cute! They actually have pictures of various veggies that are popular among vegetable gardeners. Includes: Onion, Eggplant, Lettuce, Pepper, Tomato, Cucumber, Carrot, Broccoli, Radish, and Peas. (pictured above)
A more grownup version of this can be found here.
Slate Artisan Plant Markers – These hand crafted markers are made of slate and can be written on with a waterproof grease pencil (also in the set) to create a chalk-lettering look and comes off easily with mineral spirits. The markers hang on a metal rod you stick in the ground.
Herb Garden Markers – These laser-etched plant marker stakes are stylish and made just for herbs.
Copper Plant Labels – These cute labels come on stainless steel stakes and can be written on with markers.
Seed Packet Plant Markers – These might actually be my favorite marker. My mom always taught me to tape or glue the seed packet to a stake and use that for my garden markers so this takes that to a new level. Of course that won’t work if you are using heirloom seeds or seeds from a seed swap!
Plant Labels Made from Recycled Pots – Not a huge fan of plastic but I like that these are recycled. They have a very solid, robust slate-like look and feel so no plastic “look” and of course we know the material is weather resistant and long-lasting. 20 labels in a set.
Ceramic Garden Markers – If you are a hardcore herb gardener or vintage lover and you have money to burn than you might want these gorgeous sculpted markers with a glossy ceramic finish in four vintage colors. They are expensive though!
There is just nothing better than strolls through your garden on spring and summer evenings. It is my fave part of the day to take a leisurely stroll to see how the garden is progressing, what is newly sprouting, and what is ready to be harvested. It is common for my husband or I to excitedly inform the other about what wondrous things we have discovered.
It is also a joy to “smell” the garden. I love walking outside to be greeted by the smell of roses, hyacinth, or honeyvine milkweed. It is a bit of heaven on earth.
Of course you need to plan a bit and pick fragrant flowers and plants. Here are some of my favorites:
English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) – Always a favorite and much hardier than french or spanish lavender. It smells so good is it any wonder it is popular in perfumes and beauty products?
Lemon Balm – Great citrus scent and you can use it for cooking. Get some of these lemon balm seed balls and disperse through your yard for an aromatic delight.
Rosemary – Smell the lovely fragrance and cultivate it for culinary uses. I cannot walk by my rosemary without grabbing a small sprig to smell and enjoy.
Peonies – Not only are they a gorgeous flower to grow they smell really good too. Try Felix Crousse or Shirley Temple…lovely, pink, and fragrant.
Daylily – These are very regal and lovely. Like flowers for royalty. They also smell royal. We have a variety of these lovely flowers in our garden.
Catmint – Looks similar to lavender and smells wonderful when you walk by it.
Gardenia – I have to mention what is probably one of the most famous garden fragrances. The lovely white flowers pack a punch when it comes to scent.
Sweet Pea – This is a vine with delicate flowers and a heavenly scent if you get the right kind.
Lilac – I have been obsessed with lilacs ever since reading the Nancy Drew book Mystery at Lilac Inn as a kid. You just can’t get anymore gorgeous than these conflowers and the scent is out of this world.
Heliotrope – Smells like cherry pie and it has gorgeous dark purple flowers.
Honeyvine Milkweed – A vine that smells incredible. The scent carries long distances and monarch butterflies adore the stuff so you get lots of butterflies too. Careful where you plant though. It is very invasive.
Enjoy your garden!
Children have so many ways to keep busy. Computers, televisions, tablets, game consoles, the Internet, and more. However, as a parent, you know that some of those “things to do” are rather mindless and void of any learning value. The question is, how do we get children away from the mindless into something not only educational, but fun as well.
Take gardening for example. Gardening for kids can be more than a hobby; it can be a life skill that can serve them for the rest of their lives. Gardening is not only educational, it is relaxing, fun, and can bring you and your children together in a new exciting way. Not only that, but creating a garden that is free of artificial pesticides, growth hormones, and other dangerous chemicals is healthy for your family.
Here are five ways to get your child in the dirt and growing a garden that everyone will enjoy.
1. Let your kids choose what to plant. Give them a say as to what goes in the garden. Just be sure to offer some guidance without making the choice for them.
2. Give them the opportunity to dig in the dirt and create the rows. Yes, they may be crooked, but with time it will get better.
3. Design a garden just for them. Put their favorite veggies and fruits in a spot created for them. You can even let them make a special sign just for their garden. The book Roots, Shoots, Buckets, and Boots explains how make a pizza garden for instance.
4. Make your garden an insect friendly one. No, not for unwanted insects, but rather for those that aid in keeping your garden clean of the all the bad bugs. Lady Bugs are great insects to have around because they eat the nasty aphids that want to ruin your garden. Bees are also quite welcome and once you explain how vital they are to a garden, it helps alleviate fear.
5. Tell your kids that once the garden in complete that they can create a special salad or bouquet just for the family. Don’t get in the way mom, just be a guide.
There are so many ways to make gardening for kids a special treat. Find a nursery near your area and visit it often with your children. Get them ready for the experience and the joy of gardening.
Remember that as a parent, you have way more influence than any television show ever could. So be creative with your approach, make it a fun experience, and your children will learn to appreciate, maybe even love, gardening.