Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Hot Times

Day 1 for fertilizer.  Things are heating up already.
Normally those words mean there are beads happening.  Soon, very soon.

Even though my glass melting addiction has dampened my enthusiasm for ornamental gardening, it hasn't seemed to lessen my desire to grow food.  And since discovering that we do have a fairly sunny area to do it, I've been dreaming of putting down some semi-permanent vegetable garden roots there.  This year I'm trying straw bale gardening, which appears to be picking up in popularity, based on the press.

My little sunlight experiment last summer managed to give us several batches of pesto, strawberries, some peppers and some onions, but it was painful to look at.  That weathered blue box on the right was my husband's childhood toy box, lined with pond liner and filled with potting soil. A veritable deer buffet.  A glass bead maker friend in the Midwest shared photos last summer of her amazing straw bale garden, so this year I had to try it. 

This was the experimental garden to see if there was sufficient sunlight in this area.
Her yield was phenomenal, and there was something quite appealing to the Iowan in me to see those rows of produce all nicely lined up.  Straw bale gardening is excellent for areas where the soil is too poor or hard to cultivate, which is my primary reason for trying it.  Much less work than tilling and building raised beds with gopher wire bottoms.  And as a Master Composter who loves to make hot compost (remind me to tell you sometime about stalking landscapers to get grass clippings), this is all just made of Right.

The bales arrived just as I finished laying down four rows of hardware cloth for gopher protection.
The bales (12) were delivered on Saturday evening - around here I was hard pressed to find anyone who would deliver, so I went with Brown's Ranch and Supplies, and the 75 year old owner himself showed up ready to rock and roll those bales.  I've read somewhere that 5 bales per person is about the right number, so 12 isn't that far off for our little family.  If you're in the area I recommend him, but be aware that in the Bay Area these are more expensive.  I think we paid around $15/bale, delivered.

All lined up.  Fence posts will be added at the row ends, with wire strung between.
The first day I soaked them with the hose for as long as I could bear.  They are so tightly packed it's doubtful to me that the water reached the center.  Thus begins the "conditioning" stage that will create the humus inside the bales that the plants will live in.

Today they got some more soaking and the first dose of nitrogen.  There is an organic and a non-organic method to this part - while I mostly prefer organic methods of fertilizing plants, in this case I just used the high test nitrogen (ammonium sulfate).  I figure it probably doesn't matter in the hot composting stage as all you're doing is reducing carbon and nitrogen to humus, but once the bales are planted I'll be using organic fertilizer for the plants.  You can also use blood meal for this, or any other source of nitrogen.

Tomorrow I'll just refresh the moisture, and then it's more fertilizer every other day for about 10 days.  So far it's nearly up to 80 degrees inside, and I fully expect it should get up near 160 at the peak. 

The deer fencing should arrive any day now, and I still need to get busy on a gate for the enclosure that will repel bunnies and a neater drip arrangement on a timer.  I'll keep you posted as it comes along.


esbeads said...

This is so cool! It seems like a great way to give an existing garden space a break, too, and I imagine you can till the "leftovers" into the garden at the end of the season. Looking forward to seeing your progress!

Patty said...

Absolutely! According to the press, this technique produces wonderful garden soil.

Barb Svetlick said...

I am searching for hay which wouldn't be hard to find here. I'll keep following your progress.

Patty said...

Barb - while you *could* do this with hay, straw is recommended because there are no seeds, or at least fewer. Hay has the grass grains bound up with the straw, and will sprout when they get moist, while straw is just the empty "tubes" from the grass plant without the seed heads. That said, I understand there are possibly weed seeds mixed in with the straw, but much less. In most places hay (animal food) will cost you a lot more than straw (animal bedding). Good luck!


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