"Self-sufficiency does not mean 'going back' to the acceptance of a lower standard of living. On the contrary, it is the striving for a higher standard of living, for food that is organically grown and good, for the good life in pleasant surroundings... and for the satisfaction that comes from doing difficult and intricate jobs well and successfully." John Seymour ~ Self Sufficiency 2003

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Oh brother, this is brilliant!

I was reading a blog posting by Mama Crow about straw bales.  Now, MC has spoken before about them, and I always assumed that she was going to build a straw bale home.

But she isn't!

Well.... actually, she is...

But, she is also going to plant herself up a straw bale garden!

Photo source: http://www.growandmake.com/straw_bale_garden
That is absolutely perfect for our clay / rock hard soil.  And, it is a raised bed vegetable patch at the same time!

Photo source:
This is the inital layout I am planning:

Straw bale vegetable garden plan 

As you can see, being in the southern hemisphere, I have orientated the planting with the northern sunlight in mind.  I reckon planting the lettuce behind the peppers will provide enough dappled light - time will tell.  I may also alternate tomatoes and peppers bales in a row.

I am going to try both methods of laying the bales down - one bale will be with the twine side horizontal to the ground, and the alternative bale will be with the twine vertical.

The advice for successfully growing in straw bales is as follows:

• Days 1–3: Water the bales thoroughly and keep them wet.

• Days 4–6: Sprinkle the bales with 1/2 cup of ammonium nitrate (32-0-0) per bale per day, and water it well into the bales. I didn’t have any trouble finding ammonium nitrate from my local ag-supply store. They sold it in 40-pound bags. I have heard, however, that some people have had difficulty finding it in more urban settings. Ask around. (Apparently, ammonium nitrate is used in bombs - that may explain the difficulty in obtaining it.)

• Days 7–9: Cut back to 1/4 cup of ammonium nitrate per bale per day and continue to water it in well.

• Day 10: No more ammonium nitrate, but do add 1 cup of 10-10-10 fertilizer per bale and water it in well.

• Day 11: Transplant your plants into the bales. I used a spatula to make a crack in the bale for each plant. Place the plant down to its first leaf and close the crack back together as best you can.
(Info source: http://www.carolinacountry.com/cgardens/thismonth/march06guide/straw.html#intro)

And, apparently, when growing squash / watermelons / pumpkins in straw bales, the crop yield is terrific.

And at the end of a years' growing, when the bales are looking really sad and sorry for themselves, simply open them up, spread the straw around, and add another straw bale on top and start all over again...

They can even be used for growing flowers in...

Googling straw bale gardening or info and images brings up a wealth of info / idea's!

I had been trying to visualize mixing clay and compost for my vegetable patch on a grand scale without a tractor / rototiller.  Now I have one more problem solved - thanks MC!

I reckon this might even work for those over there in Terlingua - their ground is even harder... J


  1. What an unusual way to grow plants...very interesting. I'm off to check out your links.

  2. Mr H - I thought so too :-) Especially for those of us with difficult ground!

  3. They make crystal Meth with ammonium nitrate here and it can be very hard to obtain unless you have a license in some states. But I have seen something like this done with bags of soil instead of the bales. You just open a hole in the bag and plant the plant. Cant wait to see how it works out for you.

  4. Jane - have tried the bags of soil. I find they get too waterlogged, even with drainage holes at the base - reckon the weight of the bag doesn't help the drainage...

  5. Just a couple of observations . . .
    Please be careful of providing too much nitrogen. You could end up with lots of foliage and no edible produce. A link provided on one of the links you mentioned shows the directions from the folks at Univ of Florida who are credited with developing the idea says the first and second applications of ammonium nitrate are one-time events followed by several days of water, rather than daily applications of ammonium nitrate.

    Second, be careful of overplanting. I think four tomato plants in one bale may be overdoing it. I'm a fan of Mel Bartholomew's Square Foot Gardening methods, but even in his dense plantings he recommends 18" per tomato plant (about 1/2 a meter).

    I haven't tried gardening in straw bales, so these observations are just based on my experiences with soil gardening.

    I'm looking forward to watching this work for both you and MC.


  6. Julianne - welcome. And thank you for all the hints and tips. They are very welcome. The more info I can get at the start of this new direction, the better...!

    I'm off now to check up on the links you provided :-)

  7. Well I will be watching and as I already have my plants in for this year here in Terlingua it may be the thing to do next year.

  8. Frann - I saw your tomatoes - they look good :-)

    See you also have to use a wind screen! The wind is hectic, but often I wonder how much hotter it would be without it?

  9. Hey, Julianne! Nice to see you here, and thank you for saying you'll be checking in on my little blog every once in a while :)

    Thank you, Dani, for mentioning me in YOURS ... wow ... I hope and pray I make new friends from this nice surprise.

    The more the merrier :)

  10. MC - Feel it's only fair to link to my source of inspiration - if I can remember where that is - don't always do so LOL

  11. I'm a fan of Mel Bartholomew's Square Foot Gardening methods

    ditto on that....best little books evah!

    The bales sounded incredibly interesting until the crystal meth/bomb making ingredients came into play.....regular fertilizer from the local hardware store isnt good enough??? HAHA

  12. wickets - have also got a lot of info on square foot gardening, but the you have to have soil you can work with. Ours is so hard in summer - it will take an enormous amount of compost to make it friable.

    Yeah - also thought of asking at my local nursery for a fertilizer high in nitrogen. Alternatively, MC's option is also a possibility LOLOLOLOL

  13. It sure is an option ... LOL ... a brilliant option ... LOL.

    Seriously, though, research it ... it's perfect, really.

  14. MC - have heard of this option of fertilizing before - they reckon it is very good for tomatoes LOL. But, yes, will research it...

  15. Hi Dani, Sounds like a neat thing. I hope you have great success. We have such hard hard ground here so I built raised beds (w/husbands help!)but it would nice to use a bale of straw here and there to grow other things. I will check out your links. Keep us posted! Emily

  16. emilysincerely - I will be trying a combination of things - raised beds, straw beds, am even considering wicking beds... - I need to find out exactly what is going to work the best for us.

  17. Oh, Dani! Your blog is a blessing to me! When my wife and I finally move to Rietkuil in the not too distant future we will certainly duplicate many of your gardening methods - very inspirational!

    1. Rogan - Welcome :) Thank you. Sharing is everything - and will certainly help everyone here to benefit from mistakes made and learnt :)


Thank you for taking the time to comment - it makes my day and removes the "loneliness' of sitting at my screen blogging supposedly to myself ;)