3 tips for Straw Bale Gardens

It’s been a few weeks since we planted the seeds in our straw bales and they have grown into nice healthy plants. We have found some things we should have done, and some things we shouldn’t have, so here are some things you need to know about straw bale gardening.

Straw Bale - Plants started from seed (peas and swiss chard)
Straw Bale – Plants started from seed (peas and swiss chard)

You will need to water your garden more than you would normally.

Soil holds water much better than straw does. When you water your plants in a normal garden, the water seeps through the ground quite slowly because there are much fewer spaces for the water to drip through. This means the roots get as much time as possible to soak up the water. In a straw bale, however, there are more gaps, and they are much bigger. The water takes much less time to soak through, meaning the roots have less time to take it all in. This causes the plants to get much less water from one watering. We watered our strawberries around 2 times a week in winter. (In summer, you would need to water daily.)

Transplanting seedlings generally works better than seed tape.

A seed tape is when you put the seeds between two wet paper towels. (If you want more detail on this, go here.) Transplanting is the name for when you grow (or establish) the seed in a pot or a dirt garden, and then move it to the straw bale. We found that overall, the seedlings we transplanted grew much faster than the plants that grew from a seed tape. The reason for this is a bit unclear, but we think it’s because of the root system. When a seed is planted in a straw bale and the roots begin to grow into the ground, they are actually growing into air, because at the top of the bale, there isn’t a lot of nutrients and things that help a young plant grow. The real goodies for a plant are in the middle, and the plant can’t get there without them. This is not a problem when a plant is growing in dirt, because the nutrients are already all around the roots. When a seedling with already-grown roots is transplanted into a straw bale, it can already reach the middle of the bale. It takes in the nutrients and shoots up very quickly.

However, using a seed tape is actually better for some plants like peas and garlic. This is because the seed in these two plants germinates quite close to where the good nutrients are. Some plants also don’t work well with being transplanted, like beetroot or carrot, so the seed tape is just the best option.

Straw Bale with established plants (lettuce and strawberries)
Straw Bale with established plants (lettuce and strawberries)

You will still get some pests on your plants.

We thought that snails and slugs wouldn’t be a problem, because;

  1. The plants are up high, making it hard to get to, and
  2. Climbing up the straw is hard because the side of the bale is jagged.

This turned out to be wrong. Pests can still get up there, but you won’t get as many as you would in dirt. There were also ants on the top of our bale. To stop this, we made a chili and garlic spray to put on our plants. This got rid of the ants. You can also put some crushed eggshells on to keep away the slugs and snails. You can also choose to just leave it. There would be much less pests, so deciding to put up with it wouldn’t be as bad as in dirt.

 

 

6 Tips for Growing Garlic

garlic

Growing your own garlic is incredibly rewarding and simple. Growing garlic where the previous crop was tomato helps address nemotode problems (a type of pest that attacks nightshade plants like potato, eggplant and tomato) and is a natural pest repellent.

Garlic has is well known as having antiseptic properties but most importantly, it tastes fantastic. It stores well in those beautiful woven plats and takes about 9 months to grow. A good time to plant garlic is before the winter solstice because it is a bulb and uses the daylight hours to tell when to and how to grow. The ideal time is April and May, to ensure that the plant is well established above the ground. Planting now (April/May) means a November/December harvest. Yes, it takes nearly 9months to grow your own garlic, but the taste/flavour is worth it.

Top 6 tips for growing Garlic;

  1. Add Blood and Bone – Garlic loves a liberal application of blood and bone. Using blood and bones means that you go from an ok sized bulb to an excellently sized bulb. M
  2. Mulch – Goes without saying but particularly applicable here because garlic HATES competition. Many other plants can spread out and shade out weeds but garlic can’t because it grows so narrow. Mulch with pea straw to suppress weeds.
  3. Regular Weeding – However, you are still going to get weeds because that the nature of gardening.
  4. Use Reputable garlic bulbs – While it is possible to use garlic from organic veggie shops, you should buy and use bulbs from a local garden shop as they will stock the correct type of garlic for your area.
  5. Ongoing fertilisation – When the leaves to emerge, you should still fertilise. So if you see yellowing leaves, then give them a feed with a nitrogen based feeder. Coffee grounds will also do the job.
  6. Pests – Good news! Garlic has very few pests and if you follow the tips above, there isn’t that much that can go wrong.

And don’t forget to look at our Garlic companion planting chart for more tips on growing garlic

Straw Bale Gardening – Week 3

beans
Swiss Chard at 12 days
Swiss Chard at 12 days

It’s week 3 of our straw bale gardening project and the seeds have sprouted. We now have Swiss chard, lettuce, and pea seedlings on our straw bales. We also grew strawberry plants separately and transferred them onto the straw bale.

What is really interesting about this is that the seeds have emerged about 2-3 days earlier that they would normally. We aren’t sure if this is because we need to water more frequently or because we use seed raising mixture (when we’d normally just throw them in the ground), or because we are out looking and observing so much more. In any case, we think we are ahead of where we would be if we didn’t use bales.The temperature of the inside of the bale has dropped from 50o, and it’s now the same as outside. This means the decomposition has slowed right down, leaving lots of good nutrients for our plants. These added nutrients will help your crops to grow faster than they would when planted in the dirt.

Next week, we will be posting another update on how our plants are growing. (For the first week, go here. For the second, go here. For information on how to make a seed tape to plant your seeds, go here.)

 

How to transplant artichokes

artichokes

artichokes Transplanting artichokes is a great and cheap way to get more artichokes. by transplanting them away from the site of the parent, you also get more healthy plants. The ‘chokes I’m showing you below are from a 4 year old plant. I now have 10 plants around the garden.

You can transplant artichokes when the last season’s plants have died back and new shoots are starting to appear. Often you will have 3 or 4 shoots appearing on one site.

Step 1 – Cut back the old stem.

Step 2 – If the artichoke is a couple of years old, it will have spread its root system under the ground. Identify which shoots are strongest.

Step 3 – Gently dig out the root with the shoot attached to it. I have tried to gently prise the shoot off the root but because I have sausage fingers, I have ripped the shoot off completely and ruined it.

Step 4 – Dig a hole that will be large enough to accomodate the root of the new artichoke. Spread well rotted compost in the hole. Even though artichokes have huge tap roots that search off for nutrients for their leaves and chokes, they like a good feed.

Step 5 – Cover the root and bury the shoot up to a little bit above where it pops up from the root. ie the root should be buried but the shoot should be above ground.

Step 6 – Water in well. Very well. In general when transplanting, you almost can’t over water.

Straw Bale Gardening – Week 2

lettuce

We are now on our second week of straw bale gardening (read the first week here) and the straw bales have been conditioned with water, nitrogen, and fertilizer. The next thing to do is plant the seeds.

Because the straw bales have spaces throughout, planting a seed normally in one will cause it to fall straight through the gaps to the bottom, and it won’t take root. You can avoid this is two different ways. Number one is planting it in a pot, and replanting it in the straw bale when it’s ready. Number two is the seed tape method. We used the seed tape method, and for information on how to prepare the seed tape, go here.

Planting the seed tape in the straw bale

Once you have your seed tape, you need to place it on the straw bale lengthways so that all the seeds are on the bale. Water the tape on the straw bale so that the seeds will have enough water to germinate. Ccover the top of the bale (including the seed tape) with about 2-3cm of seed-raising mixture. This provides support for the new plant while it is still young and fragile. Give the top a water, and you are done! The seeds will take root in the straw bale and grow upwards out of the seed-raising mixture. The paper towel covering the seeds will rot away into the straw.

Make sure you keep watering the plants as they grow like you would any other plant. The growing time of the plant should be quicker than what it says on the packet, because the plant has access to more nutrients in the straw.

Once you have harvested your fully-grown plants from the straw bale garden, it will pretty much fall apart due to decomposition. It will still be full of nutrients however, so a great way to reuse it is to put it on a normal dirt garden as fertilizer, whether it be yours or your neighbours if you don’t have your own.

We have entered the straw bale garden into The Garden Planner App and you can track how we are progressing over the coming weeks and months.