Harvesting the straw bale garden
I call this experiment a success! After reading and reviewing the book Straw Bale Gardens sent to me by author, Joel Karston, I became intrigued by the concept of growing a garden in straw instead of soil. I wondered if this would be a good idea here in the Sierra Foothills, since our soil can be difficult and usually we have the best success with raised beds and purchased soil.
So, last Spring in mid-May, I decided to give it a try with a modest four-bale garden. Tractor Man had just helped me enclose a garden area with some old ranch gates we found on the place. The bales were bought and ready to go! If you know me at all, you know I love garden experiments!
The cost was modest. Instead of soil you buy straw, long metal stakes and some wire. A little fertilizer in the form of bloodmeal is the only other thing purchased. See the links at the end of this post for the step by step instructions.
August vacation leave
Leaving home for three weeks is risky at any time when you’re a gardener and with my straw bale garden in the experimental year, I admit I was nervous! So far, I had harvested a pound or two of tomatoes and had the pleasure of giving some away, I had made a tomato, pepper and eggplant soup and frozen four large tomatoes in a gallon sized freezer bag. I was thrilled to have gotten this far, so I thought if there was nothing left, if a deer jumped in and devoured everything or heavens, it dried up and rotted away, I wouldn’t be heartbroken. This is my first real vegetable garden that actually produced food for the table. So, I told myself not to worry…
Last year, I had a tomato and onion garden in galvanized tubs, unprotected from deer and although I didn’t notice any nibble that year by four footed animals, I did notice the devastation caused by the footless pest, the tomato hornworm! Bad luck and I didn’t have enough tomatoes planted that I could agreeably share with a worm. He wiped me out.
First week of September
So, back to today, the first week of September. After returning from vacation, I was delighted to find that the garden had not only survived, but flourished, big time.
I noticed that the left end of the bales, due to it being on the end where there’s the most water, I think, is sagging and tilting down. I was hoping to plant winter vegetables in the bales once the tomatoes were done, but I may have to change those plans, especially if the tomatoes keep producing this Fall. I’m thrilled with how it’s producing and there must be fifty more tomatoes on the vines.
About the Book
Straw Bale Gardens: an imaginative way to upcycle straw bales and grow all the vegetables you need,…easily!
Today, I just harvested:
- Two pounds of Japanese Long Eggplant
- 10 pounds of tomatoes
- A handful or two of basil
- One pound of green peppers
No sign of hornworms
The entire garden was lush and green with half as much water given (Our neighbor watered every other day, instead of every day, for 20 minutes.)
The rug prevented weeds in the center of the garden.
First of all, the top wire of the trellising sagged a foot under the weight of the tomato vines
The deer did find the vines and fruit that grew through the gates
Some tomatoes vined all the way to the ground where they were attacked by gnats.
Favorite salad for when Tractor Man is at softball
This is great for a light meal with or without the chicken or shrimp. When you have a bite with all the ingredients on it, it’s heavenly!
On leafy greens, add:
- Shrimp or chicken
- Chopped tomato
- Kalamata olives, halved
- ¼ med clove of garlic, for 1 salad
- Chopped green onions
- Crumbled gorgonzola cheese
- Coarsely chopped walnuts or sunflower seeds
Serve with chunky Bleu cheese dressing for richness or easy vinaigrette:
For 1 salad
Whisk in the bottom of the salad bowl:
- 4 T olive oil
- 2 T white wine vinegar
- 1 t mustard
- Salt & pepper to taste
Preserving the extra
Did you know you can freeze tomatoes whole? It’s easy.
Just wash the not-so-pretty tomatoes and in this case the Heirloom Italian and San Marzanos, meant especially for sauce and pop them in one layer in a large freezer bag. Squeeze out as much air as possible and freeze flat. When you’re ready to cook, just thaw and the skin just peels off easily. Simmer, season, reduce and then blend to make a wonderful pasta sauce.
Reader, K Sage Buffington asks: I wonder how many nutrients the plants/fruits can have? Does the straw have bioavailable similarity to growing in the earth? :::wondering:::
‘Straw Bale Gardens,’ Author, Joel Karston: The fruits will have exactly the same nutrient content as traditionally grown vegetables. The straw as it decomposes, is becoming soil inside the bale, thus you are growing in “soil”, however it is brand new soil, just created by mother natures helpers. Bacteria, worms, insects and fungi all team up to make soil from the straw.
My question was, ‘Can I plant winter vegetables in the same straw bales if they are in good enough shape? I imagine that they may become mounds instead of ‘bales.’
Joel Karston: You can use the bales that remain for planting fall crops. If they are still in good shape, they work well. This is often predetermined by how large and compact the bales are that you purchase at the beginning of the process. Bigger and more compressed, thus denser and heavier is a good thing, all-be-it they are harder to move around, they do tend to last two seasons.
More on Straw Bale Gardens
You can catch up on the early progress of my wonderful straw bales here:
Part 1 Creating a straw bale garden
Part 2: Growing a straw bale garden!