Our first year here in the new location, we had a small garden at first where we grew squash, okra, zucchini and green beans. It was a nice start, but the following year we decided to try bale gardening. We prepared the plot of ground and designed it to hold five rows of nine bales. It was an area more than double the size of our starter garden. A farmer delivered 50 straw bales for $200 and we set them out in the rows and were off and running. We conditioned the bales with ammonium sulfate to start them “cooking” and while we waited several weeks for them to prepare we built the infrastructure around them. (picture on the left is pre-planting and on the right later in the season)
We fenced it to keep our unwanted guests. (Our Brittany Spaniel helps with that task,) We drove six foot fence posts at both ends of the bales and in the center. We tied all the fence posts together with 2×4 headers and ran three wires to tie plants to. We used electric fence wire as the perfect size wire to use for this and many other tasks. We built a frame over the first row where tomatoes were to be planted and covered it with 40% shade cloth. We ran a PVC cross brace to keep the heads from leaning to the side.
We made a PVC header with a faucet for each row and ran soaker hoses down each row to keep them soaked up. (Later when the plants were up we determined that an irrigation sprinkler used more water but in fact did a better job of watering the plants.)
Once the bales started showing the internal heat that indicated they were ready to start working we chopped holes in the tops of the bales and filled them with potting soil. We would plant seeds directly in this soil. Transplanting plants we would plant them in this soil as we would putting them in the ground.
Everything grew very well, the bales retained water nicely reducing water usage, plants were raised up knee-high making it easy to work in the garden. Best of all, there were no weeds. They would grow in the aisles, but not in the bales. The aisles are easy to work with a weed-eater, hoe or rototiller. As the bales decompose they provide fertilizer for the plants. At end of season the bales that are still in decent shape can be used again, some can become mulch in the flower beds and greenhouse floor, the center part that has decomposed goes into the compost pile.
We used cinder blocks to build a waist high asparagus bed and planted two year old crowns in it. This season it grew a thick crop of ferns so when they turn brown we will cut them back and mulch it. We should be able to get a nice crop off it next year.
We may build some raised beds in place of the bales for this next year to try that. Details will be in the blog on building raised beds. We plan to line the aisles with cardboard to minimize weeds and put it under the beds as well.
BALE GARDENING LINKS
RAISED BED LINKS
researching and mixing fill for bed https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vWzR9kX76lo