Fall is almost here and I’m wishing it was spring. However, fall is the best time to start preparing your garden for the next gardening season.
My straw bale garden did not do well at all this year which was rather disappointing. I had such high expectations. I’m not saying the system doesn’t work; it just didn’t work for me. Ideally I should have laid out the bales last fall and let them condition over winter, but I didn’t have my spot picked out at that point.
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The amount of light the space gets is ideal for a garden, so I have been converting my straw bale garden into a raised bed area. I have taken the bales and broken them up, then spread the straw over the area I wanted for the beds. Once the straw was spread out I added thick cardboard as a weed barrier. The wooden frames (4′ X 8′ fir) were placed on the cardboard, and more straw was added.
After soaking the straw with collected rainwater I added soil from the tomato planters I had in my greenhouse. (My cats were attracted to that instantly; it’s like they thought I had made oversized litter boxes just for them.) I raked some fresh cut grass and added it to the beds, then another layer of straw.
I’ll be adding two more ‘rings’ to the far bed, and one to the closer bed to allow for the planting of root crops (carrots, beets, turnips, etc.). By filling the beds with the materials now I should have friable soil by the time spring planting time rolls around.
These beds are on the west side of my greenhouse and have a 2′ pathway between them. It works out well because the greenhouse is 10′ long and there’s no garden bed extending beyond it. It’ll also be easier when I mow as I left a bit of a path along the outer edges so I don’t have to get right next to the frames.
The frames aren’t touching the ground yet, but after the decomposition process through the winter, they should be. The additional rings will add some extra weight as will the snow. I’m contemplating adding plastic to start up the decomposition process; even if it’s only until the first snowfall. I don’t want to keep the plastic on all winter as the snow itself will help with the process and add moisture to the beds as well.
I’ll be making 2 beds on the east side of the greenhouse as well in the same fashion, but they’ll be 4′ X 6′ as the angle of the driveway doesn’t allow for anything longer. They too will be at 2 different levels to allow for crop variety.
My hope is that giving the materials a chance to break down over winter gives me a better garden next year. It was disappointing but as the saying goes, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”, and neither are garden beds. It takes time to condition the mix of straw, grass clippings, potting soil, and other compostables, so don’t be discouraged if the first year doesn’t work out.
Letting the micro-organisms and Mother Nature break down the layered materials over time creates a healthier growing medium for fruits and vegetables. Plus the composting action will warm the soil created so the beds can be planted earlier than if the seeds and transplants were going into cold ground. And here in Alberta we know all about cold ground, and how it’s generally not wise to plant anything until after Victoria Day weekend.
Learning about what does and doesn’t work in my new yard will take a few years I’m sure, but that’s what keeps gardening interesting. The best thing to do is to keep a record of what is done from year to year in a gardening journal. Mine has been started in written form and is in the process of being transferred to an easy-to-read format.
Have you started garden beds with straw, or have you used other methods? Let me know in the comments below.