"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

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Straw (Hay) bale gardening - part 2

In October last year I wrote about trying out a straw bale method of gardening in my town garden.  The neighbours border trees were positively shooting out roots into, and dramatically invading, my shadecloth veggie bed - they obviously loved the water I was providing to the beach sand garden I'm trying to grow veggies in.

Well, as promised, here is a report back.

When we returned from the farm in mid-January I was met with a veggie patch I could barely enter.  It was completely overgrown with tomatoes, basil and borage - the borage plant was completely out of control, but that's fine, because I couldn't see a single thing wrong with my tomato plants - obviously they (and the basil plants) work brilliantly as companion plants to tomatoes.  A word of warning though - because of the size of the borage plant achieved, don't plant them as close as I did - one plant (situated in the middle of one of the 3mtr beds) completely overtook this 2 X 3 mtr veggie patch. Or maybe it was just a mutant borage plant.  It spread to 1.8 mtrs high (before it collapsed on the ground) and the full 3 mtrs wide...)
How do I get in?  Straw bale bed on the left,
composed beach sand bed on the right.
I had been over ambitious with the planting - planting up a single tomato plant, 2 lettuce seedlings, and a basil seedling to each straw bale.  The lettuce seedlings got eaten, the basil is OK, but not in a major way, but the tomatoes - fantastic!

As a control I had planted two tomatoes on the other side of the patch - in the composted beach sand the garden has as soil.  They have also grown, although not as much.  The one plant has absolutely no fruit on it, and the other has just a couple.  A stark contrast to the profusion growing in the straw bale bed.  And the straw bale bed does not get as much sun as the normal bed.

Also, the tomato plants which I had growing in (large) pots on my patio are not performing / producing anywhere near as much as the straw bale plants!

I had to string up my tomatoes to the roof structure - they covered the floor to the extent that I couldn't get inside without trampling on some...
Plump, beautiful tomatoes
Beautiful plump, firm tomatoes - of all different kinds - even the heirloom tomatoes are producing madly.
Gorgeous heirloom tomatoes
My second observation - straw bales decompose (duh).  When they decompose they do so at their will, and not in a tidy fashion.  There you can see how the "fallen" tomato plant dragged the straw bale over with it.
Collapsing straw bale
This is the straw bale I had outside, into which I had planted a zucchini and borage plant.  it didn't get enough water.  The zucchini died of thirst while we were away and the borage - it wasn't a happy plant at all and I had to put it out of it's misery.  The left over straw - well, that got plonked on top of my high flying pumpkin hollow.
Collapsed straw bale
My conclusion - I will definitely be giving straw bales a go again.  The amount of fruit on these plants, compared to a couple I had growing both inside and outside is outstanding!

And I will prepare the bales exactly as I did last time - yes, it is very different nipping outside on a chilly winter morning, pouring "you know what" onto the bales to fix them with nitrogen.  They were also dosed with a sprinkling of Talborne Organics for Vegetables a couple of times.  When it came time to plant out the bales, I opened a hole (putting the nitrogen fixing method firmly in the back of my mind) in the top on the bale, filled it with some composted sand, planted the seedlings, and kept them damp.

Voila!  It worked!

Incidentally, I discovered the roots from the neighbours trees growing up into the straw bale which I had left outside the veggie patch.  I had just plonked it down on top of the soil.  The bales in the shadecloth veggie hut that I had placed on a thick layer of damp newspaper - they have no roots growing inside the bale at all :)


Sue said...

We have pine trees surrounding our gardens and I've noticed they LOVE to put their roots into my compost piles and steal all my good stuff!

Loved the idea of straw bales and hope to try that myself at some point. I'm glad it worked out well for you.

John said...

Sounds like a good thing. I use straw as a mulch. I had an experience with borage last year...I just threw some seeds out. Big mistake. Very prolific! Everything looks good in your garden!

Dani said...

Sue - My biggest problem is finding small, rectangular straw bales - all the farmers seem to bind their straw into the enormously large round bales :)

Dani said...

John - Thanks. Yes, I discovered the "throwing some seeds out" bit myself. I tossed a small handful of rocket on the farm - I now have (giant) rocket for Africa LOL

1st Man said...

Great followup! I'd love to try that but because of our drought in these parts, hay was at a very steep premium last year. Maybe it will come back down now with our recent rains.

Mrs. Mac said...

Ahem .. I remember you posting about your fertilizer for the hay bales .. I was positive it would work .. Look at those beautiful tomatoes!

Dani said...

1st Man - The straw bales will certainly help you produce your veggies - and the water won't be "escaping" into the surrounding soil :)

Dani said...

Mrs Mac - LOL - t'was over the top, but it definitely works :)

Mr. H. said...

I'm glad you shared the results of this experiment as I was wondering how it worked out for you...might have to try this myself. Beautiful tomatoes!

Dani said...

Mr H - Thank you :) Yes, I will always report back if I say I will - t'is only the memory that could create a problem there LOL (this aging process is a crock!)

Leigh said...

When you first put the straw bales down, I was very curious as to how it would do. So glad to hear of your success, it's encouraging for the rest of us. I was also very interested to hear about the borage with tomatoes. My borage didn't make it last year but this year for sure!

Dani said...

Leigh - Straw bales rule LOL I dunno where I heard about borage and tomatoes, but it certainly seems to work.