Straw Bale Garden – The Sequel

Things are just beginning to settle down with us, living in the new house and beginning to stumble into some sort of a routine rhythm for our farm life.  We had a lot of company this week that gave us the sense of urgency we needed to move some furniture around and do a little fine-tuning.  Today was a big day of catch-up and napping.  What a luxury!

So, one thing I have been dying to get to is attending to my poor, neglected garden.  Well, really, in Michigan you don’t plant seedlings until Memorial Day unless you want to risk them getting frost bite.  I think the danger is past now, though, so I made my first excursion to the local nursery.  I picked out a variety of peppers, tomatoes, and herbs to plant in my straw bale garden.

Straw bale? Yes, I began the experiment last year after finding articles on the internet about how well it can work.  What I read was that you soak the bales for 2 weeks and then just break open a hole in the straw and drop in your plants.  Hmmm.  It did not work quite as easily as all that.

First of all, what did they mean by “soaking?”  I ran a soaker hose across the tops for an hour a day for 2 weeks so that they were good and moist.  A friend asked if I was putting them into the pond and how would I get them back out?

I planted my seedlings and endured the scorn of my family and friends as I patiently waited for the crops to begin to produce.  What happened was that they stayed alive throughout the summer but just never grew.  I got one or two tiny peppers and tomatoes but they were clearly not flourishing.

Well, if you know me, you know that I don’t give up that easily.  I decided that I will try again now after a whole year of straw decomposition.  It is brown and moist inside and the internet still says this should work.  Here are my two rows of experimental gardens, just after planting on June 1.  Let’s see if they make it this time.


The rest of the garden is currently covered in thick cardboard from our moving cartons.  We are going to get a big load of mulch and compost to put over it before I put in zucchini, cucumbers, and carrots.  (Actually, I sprinkled some carrot seeds into one of the bales just to see if they sprout.)

I do already have spinach and sweet peas growing from seed, although not going gangbusters.  I am debating whether to use fertilizer or to try to stay all organic. My perennial garden is doing better with fresh asparagus appearing each day, a rhubarb plant that is still rather small, and a strawberry patch that looks full of berry buds this year.  What if I broke down and added a dose of Miracle-Grow?  Would that be caving to technology when I was hoping to be all organic?

I have built my first worm farm in a nice covered plastic tub.  I followed the instructions (on the magical internet, again), and bought $25 worth of redworms to start it.  I am collecting compost in the kitchen and dumping it into the bin every few days, along with paper and Cheerios to keep the worms happy.  I kind of don’t like the gnats that swarm in the garbage compost, but it is supposed to begin breaking down into nice healthy soil.  If I keep adding kitchen waste, will this ever happen?  I feel so ignorant.  Time to go do more research.  In the mean time, though, I’m having great success using a few redworms each time I go fishing in the pond.  The bluegills love them!


About bluestempond

Hobby farmer living at Bluestem Pond in Michigan.
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4 Responses to Straw Bale Garden – The Sequel

  1. Sam says:

    Congrats on getting worms! Cheerios? If you’re getting gnats, could you have too much citrus or food? Generally when our compost has flies, there is not enough carbon. 2 parts brown to 1 part green.

    Hope the strawbales work well for you! It is always fun to try something new!

    And we’re a little jealous of your pond and open space.

    • bluestempond says:

      Aha – more paper! I have two cardboard egg cartons waiting to add to the pile, so I’ll get on it and add them this morning. Thank you for the tip!

      • Sam says:

        If it helps, I always think of compost as a fun balancing game. We’ve been using our paper shredder to shred junk mail and newspaper, and then toss that on the compost too! Good luck!

  2. calmjess says:

    I’m attempting a mini garden again this year, although I historically have a black thumb. Hopefully we will get some tomatoes, peppers, and herbs this time. I’d love to try worm composting some day, but I’m not sure if Ryan will go for it…

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