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Straw-bale Raised Beds (February 2017)

Have you ever experienced trying to explain to someone else exactly how you want your raised beds placed? No? Well, count yourself lucky. Yes? Then you understand, oh yes, you understand.

For years, I have been hounding my hubby to get raised beds constructed from the salvaged wood off of the south porch/deck. The problem is basically this... I have it envisioned in my mind where and how I want them and when I try describing it verbally, or drawing it on paper, or even using grass paint, it just simply has not translated to actual raised beds being built.

Then I learned about straw-bale gardening. I decided to give it a go.

Here was my first attempt... a test garden, 2 years ago.

There are several things I absolutely LOVE about this:

  • I don't have to sit or kneel on the ground to plant or harvest.
  • There is very little weeding necessary.
  • You can put supports in and even use poly film to make a cold frame very easily.

The trouble is, as you can obviously see, it slumps. It is difficult to mow or weed-whack around without cutting into the bales.

I was slow getting straw (since I didn't need it after having gotten out of chickens) and so ended up without straw to make my garden last year.

Here is what it looked like after only a year! Wow, the worms et al must be well fed in that patch of soil.

And so I thought, hmm... if I had put my raised bed boards around my strawbales, I could have avoided the headache of the slump et al (from the test year) and I could either put new bales on top of the decomposed bales the following year or simply add some soil.

This would give me the best of both worlds!

This is the remains of the turkey coop: my little hoop house. The hubby helped me move it into the yard for the raised beds last spring. I put layers of paper and landscaping material under it to prep it for planting (not seen in this photo).

Then I decided I could put raised beds on the outside.

I did discover a source to get straw this fall! He is a what we consider out here to be a neighbor (his house is about 5 miles away). He delivered 50 small square bales of wheat straw to the farm on September 2, 2016. The only application of herbicides was a product called Harmony the previous March. My research shows a fast breakdown so the straw shouldn't be a problem for growing stuff/cover. Obviously, it doesn't qualify for organic certification but it does work for what I want.

Below you see the beginning of my straw-bale raised beds.

They work perfectly to demarcate where I want the hubby to build the wooden raised beds. Do you see the board leaning on the bales in the center of the picture? He had already started pulling the lumber out of the old stable.

On the right you see the little hoop house with three bales on the either side. I also used straw from one of the bales to cover the landscaping material. Just to the left of that is the original straw bale garden with it's nine new bales in place.

Then there are four more sets of nine bales to make beds without supports built in.

Not only can the hubby see exactly where to build the raised beds, I was able to test my placement using the riding mower to be sure I had left enough room between and around them for mowing.

It's just about time for me to be adding the fertilizer and water to jump start the microbes to turn the center of the bales into nutrient rich compost!

More photos once the wood is in place.

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