"Good intentions will always be pleaded for every assumption of authority ... the Constitution was made to guard against the dangers of good intentions. There are men in all ages who mean to govern well, but they mean to govern. They promise to be good masters, but they mean to be masters." - Noah Webster

"There is no worse tyranny than forcing a man to pay for what he does not want just because you think it would be good for him."
-- Robert A. Heinlein

Monday, August 9, 2010

First Year Success: Straw Bales

This first picture shows our harvest from just one Sunday morning two weeks ago. Cucumbers, from only six plants, tomatoes from about six plants - with many more green ones still hanging - yellow squash, and jalapenos. (Danged if I can remember the ASCII code that lets me put that little squiggle worm over the n.) We have had this wonderful crop from a very small space of ground because we stumbled upon the idea of straw bale gardening. When I get better at inserting that html code stuff here, I'll make it easy for you to just click on the word or phrase to do the linky thing, but for now, if you just google the phrase, you can find several pages that tell you more. However, we want to share with you what we have learned.

If you think it's too late to start this process, you'd be wrong. There are plenty of winter type crops that you could be practicing with soon. I'm going to be planting cabbage, lettuce, mustard, broccoli, and a few other cold hardy plants, plus more spinach. I'll be using the remains of the straw bales that provided the crop you see above. But first, some background.

Why do this straw bale gardening?
Here in the mountains of North Georgia, unless you live on an old flood plain next to a river or a creek, your basic ground is going to be red clay and sand with lots of quarts and granite mixed in. It doesn't make for the best basic soil to grow most food plants. We've only been here for a year. Actually, I didn't move up here to be with Twyla until February, or Febu-ugly, as I like to call it. When we started discussing the garden plans it became apparent that preparing the ground would be slow, back-breaking work, and while I'm in pretty good shape for my age, I'm no spring chicken and I did work my way back from having had a herniated disk in my back years ago, so I didn't like the idea of swinging a pick-axe for hours to get a few square feet of arable land. Twyla discovered this straw bale thing on the internet, and after reading about it and discussing it, it made sense.  No digging, except to level the bales, which means no deep digging.  In the photo above, you see we laid out the bales in single rows.  While it worked out okay, I will not be doing that in the future because as the bales decompose, they do so unevenly and the tomatoes tend to fall over.  Also, the squash plants want to stretch out and put down extra roots, so a broader base would be helpful.  Therefore, we will be doubling the bales together, long-side to long-side, with a bit more space between the bales to walk. This more recent picture shows why.

The tomato plant could have used another couple of feet away from the yellow squash.  That is one huge yellow squash plant in the foreground. There is one zuccinni plant behind the yellow squash.  This one yellow squash plant has provided up to 15 squash and is still producing and blooming. For contrast, I took a photo of the yellow squash plants that were just planted in the soil along the steps on the west side of the house. We've only collected about four squash total from the eight plants that were just stuck in the regular dirt and provided with mulch and fertilizer. The cucumber plants (6) were most prolific. We have harvested at least 120 and there are still more to come and there are still blossoms coming out.

Not a pretty sight, huh?

If you want to try this straw bale thing, get the bales at least ten days ahead of time.  Position and level them carefully, with the understanding that they are going to decompose and collapse. Don't undo the baling twine.  Soak them with water at least once a day, everyday.  Expect to see mushrooms pop up after a while.  I actually got some porcinis come up and ate a few of them.  If you are sure you know what you are doing when it comes to identifying mushrooms, it shouldn't be a problem.  If in doubt, don't.

When the weather starts to turn a little cool, and I know that the existing vines are all spent, I'm going to salvage all the straw bale material and create new beds for growing spinach, lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, mustard greens and more.  I will turn the front porch into a greenhouse with clear plastic sheeting.  That will be after we celebrate Sukkot.(Feast of Tabernacles).

If you have any questions, please leave it in the comments. I'd be happy to help.

Shalom v'berakhot Adonai,


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