The Straw Bale Garden Experiment


Have you ever made a really big mistake, then compounded it by making yet another, even bigger mistake?

Gather around children and I will tell you about the time Mrs. Pickles (that’s me) really, really made her life more difficult.

Back here in the woods we have limited direct sunlight and clay soil full of tree roots. This makes growing anything but moss and certain mushrooms—difficult. Last spring, we decided we would grow some of our own vegetables in a raised bed garden in the only available patch of sunlight, up against the front of our house. The previous owners had placed shrubs there, you can’t eat shrubs-at least the ones that were there.  So we uprooted the shrubs and built a raised bed.  We didn’t invent this idea of replacing ornamental only plantings with edible plantings, it’s called Edible Landscaping, and we love this book.

So we stole some topsoil from a lumpy spot in the yard (mistake #1) and topped that soil off  with loads of uncomposted horse and chicken manure (mistake #2). We grew a few beets and peas  and beans and more varieties of weeds than ever gathered in one place ever-ever in the  long history of gardening. We went visiting in the Great Northwest for most of the month of August and returned to a “garden” that would have made a great set for the next Jurassic Park movie. There was a mullein taller than me, technically a very useful weed, if it is not in the middle of the carrot patch.

How do you deal with an infestation of some of the most tenacious weeds on Earth?

Straw Bale Gardening

We started our new garden adventure with Straw Bale Gardens Complete by Joel Karsten.  This is the straw bale guru.

Straw Bale Gardening will be this year’s garden experiment. Smother all those weeds with layers of cardboard and plop conditioned straw bales on top of that cardboard to be your growing medium. We have started to place the cardboard (now you will all know just what kind of an Amazon Prime junkie I really am) over last year’s garden. We have purchased a few bales of straw. These were more expensive than we had imagined-$6.50/bale. But spring is not the season for straw, autumn is-so you pay the price.  Straw is cut in the late summer after the wheat or barley or other grain has been beheaded or harvested, as a normal person might say. The point is that good straw is pretty much just hollow stalks, not seed heads. The reason these hollow stalks are prized by the local farmers is because those little stalks will suck up cow pee when strewn on the floor of the barn. Too much information? Just talking barnyard,here. We want the little hollow stalks because they will suck up water and hold it for the composting process that will go on in the interior of the bale. We will need to condition these bales by sprinkling Blood Meal (alright that is gross too, but it is ORGANIC!) over the bales and allow the April Showers to water the blood meal into the center of the bale where the magic of composting will start. We can’t plant much before mid May here in Ohio, our last date of killing frost is then. So the next several weeks are going to be about prepping the bales.


We hope to share our experience with our followers this growing season. Stay tuned!

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