I met Joel Karsten last summer and had the privilege of spending a little time with him here and there throughout the season. He is a genuinely nice guy and great gardener. Needless to say, I was convinced to start my own straw bale garden. This series will follow me through the summer documenting my straw bale gardening journey. I will be following Joel’s book: Straw Bale Gardening and letting you know what I think.
Make sure to watch the video of this post below!!!!
I live in zone 4 in Minnesota. Our last frost is usually mid May. I started my garden on May 4th, a little later than I would have liked, but it should be no problem because theoretically, straw bale gardens give plants a little bit of a head start because decomposition of the straw creates heat.
I should start off by saying that I have had a vegetable garden for a few years. The soil is poor, it is constantly full of weeds and my sprinkler system is on the fritz. I finally made the decision to try the straw bale garden because if nothing else, I would compost a bunch of organic material and could till it into the ground next spring. I read Joel’s book and made a list of everything I needed to make the garden totally self-sufficient. I charted out what my new garden should look like. Here’s where it all began:
- 28 straw bales ($3 x 28 = $84. *see my notes on this)
- 1 water timer for $24.95
- 1 heavy duty hose for $29.97
- 4 remesh Sheets for building a trellis. (4 x $7.25 = $29) Remesh is used to put into concrete. It is heavier duty than most tomato cages or trellis’ you can buy in a garden center and it is flexible. All you have to do is use a bolt cutter to cut out what you want and shape it into any shape you like.
- 100′ of irrigation hose for $11.97 I will need about 74 feet of this in my garden. I will store the rest for later. It will I also bought a $2.05 tool for tapping my own holes.
- 100′ of bailing wire. I will use this for the trellis and to make large staples to hold the irrigation hose in place. $6.29
- Nitrogen-rich fertilizer and a standard balanced fertilizer. Not slow release, and not with herbicides for weed control. (about $50)
- 9 8′ garden posts (9 x 6.98 = $62.82) – These were not at Home Depot the day I purchased the rest of the material, so I will have to go pick them up later.
- 1 16′ 2X6.
* When you buy straw bales, if you are getting more than one or two, try to go direct to a farmer. The garden centers by me were selling a straw bale for $9.99. I was able to go to http://strawbalemarket.com/ and find a farmer who was selling them for $3. I saved $195.72 by driving one hour to get my straw. That is a lot more than the gas I burned. In his book Joel also shows how to make your own bales at home if straw is hard to find where you live.
I ran off to the store to get everything I needed. All of these items are a one-time purchase and it totaled $308.05. Keep in mind that if I was not going to do a straw bale garden, I would have spent about the same amount of money on manure, pete, and compost to get my soil healthy. So, I am very happy with what I have. Next year, assuming I have to replace every straw bale, my total expenses will be about $84.
After an hour-long drive to pick up the straw, I unloaded everything and brought it back to my garden. I placed the straw bales in the garden where I wanted them and started the first day of prepping the straw. It is important that the straw bales begin decomposing before you plant them. It takes 10-12 days and Joel lays out a very simple process in his book.
Here’s what it looks like on Day 1!
Transcript of video: Hi this is Chris from LiveDan330.com. We are doing a series on straw bale gardening. We are doing some videos to go along with it. I want to start, obviously we have our garden going already, But I wanted to start the series on how to get your bales and how lay them out. I live in the Twin Cities area and it is a big large metro area. Bales are $10-$12 a pop at the local garden centers around here. Um, an hour west of here is farming country. And we were able to get these bales made out of oats they are staw bales for $2 a piece. It was a short 45 minute drive. We were able to pick them up and bring them back so if you can, check out any way you can friend a farmer. That is just better for you. I saved a lot of money with 28 straw bales. The second part we started out with a laying our bales out. You can see that all they do is they simply just sit here and the process of the the straw bales is that you get them to decompose and the plants grow in the decomposed matter in the bales as they go. Um, we have our bales here have a nice entry way that was a tomato arch and we had a couple other trellis’ you can see but largely the bales are set up and there are paths through them. We did that. We wanted 3-4 feet just to make sure we got plenty of airflow through there. We didn’t want to have happen was this to all grow up and start getting mold and things like that. So find a farmer. Get cheap bales. They aren’t that expensive. If you don’t have bales, you can make your own out of organic material. I will have some notes below on how to do that. And also, just make sure that you set them up so there is plenty of airflow. You also, don’t forget that we have a lot of vines that are going to take up a lot of space too. So these plants are going to get bigger. So really make sure you give yourself enough space.
Alright, a couple more things about picking out your bales and setting them up. Make sure you get straw bales, not hay bales. Hay bales of lots of seed. You get them wet and those seeds will grow and you are going to have a great big weedy mess. Get straw bales, um, they are just left over from grains farmers have. They are all over the place. Um, if you have … when they make them, they cut one side. So there is a cut side. You can see here this is what it looks like. And you can see each of these holes in here. It looks like a straw. That is why it is called a straw bale. Ok? This one we put sideways to see what the difference would be. This is the side. You don’t want this side up. You want the straw side up. Because it is going to suck up the moisture better um, and hold the fertilizer and things in there better so it is going to decompose faster and you are going to get a lot more happy with it. But umm, we will follow this and we will see what happens.