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blacbird
03-24-2013, 12:59 AM
I just read an article from the New York Times (given to me by a friend) about straw-bale gardening. I've never heard of doing this, but evidently it is something that used to be done fairly widely in rural America, and seems ludicrously simple. Basically, you get a bale of straw, infuse it with almost any kind of fertilizer, let it ferment for a couple of weeks, then just stick in seedlings. The insides of the bale compost very quickly, reducing to black, organic-rich soil. The external part of the bale composts much more slowly and provides an aerated containment vessel.

You need to let the bale compost for a few days, because it will actually get pretty hot (up to 130 degrees F). This makes lots of sense to me, because I grew up in the Midwest, where one of the hazards of farming was barn fires caused by spontaneous combustion of decomposing wet hay or straw. After a few days, the internal temperature of the bale will cool to around 100F, which is very nice for me, because I live in a place with cool summers. A warm hay bale would aid in growing warmer weather plants like tomatoes and peppers. I already have some tomatillos sprouting in pots, just as a pipe dream.

One of the best lines in the article was the point that straw bales cost about 5-6 dollars each, "literally cheaper than dirt".

I'm going to give this an experimental goal this summer, provided, of course, that summer ever comes to Alaska. Today, the day before Easter, we are having a standard winter snowstorm.

Has anyone else here ever tried straw-bale gardening?

caw

Wicked
03-24-2013, 01:15 AM
Interesting.

The growing season here isn't all that warm. I start to wonder if my tomatoes will ever grow.

Usually we use bales for wind, hail, and frost protection. I'll have to give this a try. My daughter and I just started our seeds yesterday (indoors).

Snowstorm
03-24-2013, 01:42 AM
Never heard of this before, blacbird. Sounds fascinating, since I have cool summer nights here too. I am so saving this as a favorite. Thank you for posting this!

blacbird
03-24-2013, 05:39 AM
I am definitely going to try this, on an experimental basis, and I'll keep everyone apprised as to the results. I am seriously enthusiasticalloidalistically fired up about this.

caw

shadowwalker
03-24-2013, 05:32 PM
Straw is a godsend for gardeners. We mix it with leaves in the fall to cover our roses, then in the spring it all goes into the post heap. Just make sure you specify 'clean' straw (and don't get hay by mistake ;)). And yes, it is cheap. Around here $6 will get a large bale (about 2x2x4 feet).

Bushrat
04-09-2013, 01:47 AM
One of the best lines in the article was the point that straw bales cost about 5-6 dollars each, "literally cheaper than dirt".

That's the price down south, though, or can you get straw that cheap in Alaska? In the Yukon, it's $15/bale, which unfortunately puts straw bale gardening into the same luxury category as building straw bale houses :(

blacbird
04-09-2013, 02:47 AM
That's the price down south, though, or can you get straw that cheap in Alaska? In the Yukon, it's $15/bale, which unfortunately puts straw bale gardening into the same luxury category as building straw bale houses :(

It probably costs more here (southern Alaska) too, but we do have the state's principal agricultural area only about 40 miles north of the city of Anchorage. If it ever stops snowing*, I'll do some sleuthing about how to find baled straw up there. $20-30 for a couple of straw bales for me would be worth it, just as a hobby/experiment for the summer.

caw

*We got about a foot of new snow Saturday, and it's snowing again today, supposed to do more over the next couple of days. Then get cold. T.S. Eliot was right about April being the cruellest month, but he had the reason all wrong. Ain't no lilacs appearing here anytime soon.

Fenika
04-09-2013, 03:02 AM
There are other cheap methods for growing food in cool climates. Building a low cold frame (or straw box) and adding some manure regularly for warmth is good. Doesnt work so well for taller plants though.

There's also wall o waters which you could combine with a cold frame. Cost: reuse some plastic water bottles.