Monday, June 2, 2014

Straw Bale Garden Update: Week 7

I think I was recalling the bucolic vineyards in New Zealand that have roses planted at the ends of the rows.  Why not marigolds to attract beneficial insects?
 Things are really shaping up nicely now in the new straw bale veggie garden.  The bales would have been fine to plant in a month ago, but between work and life, I'm approaching this slowly.  It's not too out of whack for our coastal mountain gardening zone though, where we lag at least 30 days behind what's growing down in San Jose.  As of mid-May we're past any danger for tomatoes, but the true warm summer weather is (technically) at least a month away.

So what have we accomplished since the last time?  Everything!  Well, not quite.  I still need to put in the irrigation.  But I've installed the vertical structure for the tall things in two of the four rows of 3 bales where support will be needed.  There's a ginormous structure for the tomatoes made from salvaged aluminum conduit and wire fencing.  I did the prescribed straw bale garden fence using metal fence posts, a salvaged 2 x 4 top beam, and fencing wire for the beans and cukes.  I can tell you with certainty that the my new fence post driver is elbowing the leaf blower out of the top spot as my favorite tool.  That danged thing got a fence post in our hard clay ground faster than a speeding bullet - so much so that it's actually shorter than I'd like right now.  Get one - much safer than swinging a sledge hammer too.

Fence Post Driver.  Hole on the bottom, solid and weighted at the top.  Fits right over fence post and you'll never miss it when you swing.
Holy Tomato Tower Batman!!
Beans and cukes.
I ordered, assembled, and installed the metal deer fence gate, and got the final wall of deer netting up (with help).  My wonderful husband helped dig the post holes for the frame, and did the concrete.  The McGregor Fence Company makes a wide range of gates for their deer fencing products, and while I didn't get the deer mesh from them the gate is the bomb.  They have online videos of the assembly process and their customer service is great, and shipping is free.   I still want to install a permanent threshold under the gate as there is a gap big enough for a rabbit to squeeze through, and the same for the vertical gap where the gate meets the frame.

Planting in the bales was a learning experience.  Don't expect to gently part the fibers with your hands and nestle a plant in the straw.  These are very tightly bound bales.  The thing that worked best for me was my husband's dykes - pliers with long handles that have a fairly good biting surface.  I used the pliers to extract clumps of straw to create each planting pocket.  In doing this I found that the density of the bales varied widely.  But for each of them I needed the pliers to pull the straw out.  I discovered that just below the outer surface of the dry looking bales there was loads of moisture, which was reassuring.  I had been watering them with the soaker hose every day for about 15 minutes, and it was keeping them plenty moist.  Anyway, once I pulled enough out to fit a 4" potted veggie plant I put a handful of soil in the hole, inserted the plant, and used the removed straw to make a little collar around the plant.

The potatoes were planted about 2-3 weeks ago (late for around here, but I'm hopeful) and some very healthy looking leaves are already poking out of the tops of the bales.  At the same time I planted some onion seedlings, and for those I added a little more soil to help keep the very tiny sprouts moist until they got larger.

Potatoes - YES!
 And then my reward was to make it pretty, so I put some marigolds on the ends of the rows (on the side of the bale - apparently this works fine), and a few nasturtiums here and there to wander.  For me the sight of neat rows of edible plants is beautiful enough, but the flowers will make my early morning bathrobe-clad trips out there even more special.  Also on my list is to find four ornamental fence post toppers for the 4 4x4's holding up the corners of the deer fence.  Something fun.  Maybe glass obelisks?  Know anyone who blows glass? 

As soon as my muscles recover and I get some time I'm going to hook up the irrigation - I'm going to run 1/2" poly tubing supply lines to each of the rows where it will connect to the soaker hose segments. 

OK, that's the garden update for today.  Even though the hard part is nearly done I'll be posting updates as things grow.  I'm planning to make another batch of worm compost tea (the aerated kind) very soon, as liquid fertilizer is best for this gig and I'm keen to do it again.


Deb said...

Great post Patty!Love the reference to the roses & grapes - they are such a great early disease detector I'm surprised that not all vineyards do it.

I tried a similar thing here last year with some permaculture based, layered no dig style in raised frames - but it just gets too hot here & the pockets of soil became hydrophobic. Everything struggled - right up until a couple of weeks ago, when it all decided to start coming away because of the cooler weather. Too late - I'd already decided that it was going to become green compost for a bit of direct composting over winter - so the pumpkins, basils, parsley, peas & beans are all shredded & piled on top & covered with the remains of the straw (now shredded too) - all topped off with black polythene & heating up winter.
I can see vege gardening here is going to be a challenge.
I might just have to settle for following your adventures!

Patty said...

Sorry to hear of your misadventure, Deb. I'm familiar with the "hydrophobic" situation, but never heard that term before. Thanks for clarifying the purpose of the roses in the vineyards. It makes sense that it's not just decorative. :-) Thanks for the comments.


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