Thursday, November 7, 2013

My Straw Bale Garden (Part I)

Cucumber Vines from Our Garden

This was a big year for my husband and I.  We moved into our first house in the spring, did some remodeling, and almost as soon as I could, I started my first garden.  I had wanted to have a garden for several years, but until this year we were essentially like nomads, in transition due to job changes and we had no permanent place to “put down roots.”

I wanted to garden for many reasons, among them frugality, quality organic produce, nutrition, and taking back at least some of the power behind what my family and I eat.  The more I learn about the craziness of the current food system in our world today, the more attractive growing my own food becomes.  I no longer wanted to be ingesting tasteless produce, grown thousands of miles away that was doused with who knows what chemicals, and had its entire genetic code altered by some lab somewhere.  It’s getting really scary out there in our food system folks!

I wanted to start growing my own food but I had never, and I mean never, gardened before.  When I was growing up, my mother had always grown tomato plants and every now and then some strawberries that she grew from starter plants, but I had much, much bigger plans.  I tell you, inside me beats the heart of a farmer, even though I grew up in the city.  There is something primal about this that I can’t quite explain, but it resonates within my very soul.  Once I reconnected to this primal urge to grow and tend to living things, I knew that this is what I needed to be doing, even if it required time and energy.  I knew that it would be well worth it. 

I think that for many of us, we are rediscovering these primal agricultural roots.  Growing something and being a part of nature is what we were born to do.  Our culture that we have all grown up in within our modern world has convinced us that we are somehow separate from this call, and we just need to have “those people over there” do our growing for us.  Well, we have all seen the mess that giving up our food sovereignty has done to us within the last few generations.  The degradation of the land that we depend on and our very own health have paid the price for this delegation of responsibility to grow and to obtain our food.  I made a decision that I was going to take at least a part of that responsibility back, and I would know what I was eating, where it came from, and how it was grown.  My long-term goals are to grow as much as I can myself, and to eventually seek out as many local food resources as I can that I have established a relationship with and know how they were produced.  Right now, I am in the beginning stage with learning how to garden and to preserve at least some of my own food.  The rest will come later, but at least I’ve started to do something.  You can start doing the same thing, beginning with TODAY.

Since my background is in environmental science, ecology, and sustainability, there was no question in my mind that the garden would be as organic and ecologically-based as possible.  I had learned a lot about the importance of soil ecology in school, and the Permaculture Design Course that I took last summer provided me with a great foundation of ecological principles to get things started off on the right foot.

There was one big problem, however.  We had just moved into our house and didn’t really know the property very well.  We purchased our home when there was still snow on the ground, and we had no clue as to what the soil was like or if it contained any contaminants.  We also had not had many opportunities to observe the property (outside of checking satellite images on Google Earth) to determine where sunny and shady places were during different seasons of the year, where wind occurred, or where water collected.  This made it challenging in this first season to figure out where the most ideal spots would be to place more permanent plantings.  Then, I discovered Straw Bale Gardening.

I had first learned about Straw Bale Gardening on the Growing Your Grub podcast, when the host of the show interviewed the inventor of the Straw Bale method of gardening, Joel Karsten.  Joel praised how growing plants in straw bales is a particularly productive way to grow a garden, and there is very little weeding to do.  Intrigued by this idea, and upon discovering that this Joel Karsten fellow was giving a free seminar on Straw Bale Gardening at a local garden store near where I lived, I decided to attend his talk and learn more about it.

In his hour-long talk, Joel demonstrated how to grow a straw bale garden, how to set it up and prepare the bales to grow vegetable plants in it, and how to maintain it.  Joel’s book, Straw Bale Gardens, leads you step-by-step in how to grow a straw bale style garden, from prepping the bales, to incorporating growing space for specific types of plants, to maintaining the system, and harvesting.  The preparation of the bales for growing takes about two weeks, and requires the addition of nitrogen-rich materials, such as composted chicken manure, and watering the bales on a daily basis.

Two of the biggest advantages of growing a straw bale garden is that you can grow one just about anywhere (even on roof tops where there is no soil at all), and there is very little weeding required, which is one of the greatest time-consuming activities in traditional-style gardening.  You can also set up a soaker hose (a hose that will drip-irrigate your plants) on a timer in your system, which reduces your work even further.  In the end, you will have extremely rich compost, as the straw and the other organic materials decompose over the course of the growing season.

My Straw Bale Garden at the Peak of the Season
(the mylar ribbons serve as bird deterrents)

My Experience with Growing a Straw Bale Garden and Lessons Learned Coming Next Week….


  1. That is incredible. I am looking forward to learn more, as I have creeper, or cricket moles in my garden, and they destroy everything. Strawbale gardening might be perfect to foil them.

    1. So glad you've enjoyed the post, Christien! This was my first straw bale garden (my first garden ever, in fact :) ), but it turned out to be quite successful. I'd say give it a try!

  2. Put down "hardware cloth" (local building supply store), preferably 1/4" openings; set the straw bales on top.
    Stops gophers, should stop moles.

    1. This works GREAT! I literally had to build a garden cage due to raccoons and ground hogs who had a previously enjoyed a 24/7 salad bar from my past gardens. Vertical and horizontal wire was nailed to landscaping timbers. Nobody entered my garden this year except ME! The straw bale harvest was bountiful!

    2. Awesome Kreations of Kooking! I know that I found straw bale gardening to be a pretty productive way to grow a garden. I was pretty pleased with the results that I got, especially since this was my first garden season.

  3. Welcome to my Day by Day Homesteading Community! I hope you all enjoy the blog and the info I have to share. I'm looking forward to learning from you and others as the site gains more readers overtime. We can all learn a lot from each other!