Planning, Conditioning, and Setting Up Our Bales

This entry is part 12 of 31 in the series Grow Your Own Challenge

I don’t want to get into a huge discussion on how to condition, plan and prep our bales. If you want to know how we do that, you can visit our series on Straw Bale Gardening here and learn every step. Today, I am just giving a quick overview.

straw bales

Now that the bales are in my yard, I need to set them out how I like them. I come from a background of perennial gardening so I prefer to have aesthetically pleasing gardens, not just functional ones. There are four different parts to our straw bale garden this year: The kitchen gardens (2), the vine bales, the tomato tunnel, the potato towers and the gourd tunnel. Each has it’s own look as you can see below:

Kitchen gardens:

kitchen gardensIMG_6094 2-16

These gardens are going to produce our summer produce and tomatoes mostly.

Gourd Tunnel:

Grourd Tunnel

This will be full of decorative and edible gourds that hang from the ceiling.

Vine Bales:

IMG_6611 2

These bales are just spread out so that the vines can fill in all the space around them.

Tomato Tunnel:

tomato tunnel

With about 20 plants, this will produce about 400 pounds of tomatoes by the end of the year.

Potato Towers:

IMG_6627 2-4

Last year our first potato tower grew 10 pounds of potatoes with about 2 pounds of seeds. This year we expect each of our towers to produce 50 to 70 pounds of potatoes.

A Few Tips:

It is important part to remember not to stack gales too close together. There should be a minimum of 4 feet between rows to keep good air circulation in the garden.

When the bales are set, we add automatic irrigation to them. Mostly, we used soaker hoses on timers to cover the bales. The exception was our vine bales. We thought it would be easier to just have a traditional sprinkler on them.

If you have vines, tomatoes or other plants that need a trellis, you can build whatever you like on top, I prefer using remesh and t-steaks as you can see in the pictures

Conditioning Bales:

After your garden is laid out, it is time to condition the bales. Basically, you just have to add a few cups of nitrogen to the bales and keep them wet for a couple of weeks so they start to break down. Joel Karsten has a very specific system he uses in his book Straw Bale Gardens, but I know that just leaving them outside long enough will start the process. When the bales start cooking, they may get as high as 150 degrees and then cool down. When they get to below 100 you can start planting. This year, I hardly noticed any rise in temperature. But I know we were good because you could see the start of composting in side the bales if you looked. just before you plant, fertilize them with a 10-10-10 fertilizer and you are good to go.

Go ahead and plant and have a great season! With the automatic watering and the bales, you won’t have to water or weed at all this summer. Just make sure to check the moisture periodically in case you have to adjust your water timers.

Look at the posts further down in the series to see our progress!

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