Follow along, step by step, and we'll take the "Hay Bale Garden" experience together.
You'll notice from the blog that I've gone directly from Fall to Spring with no mention at all of Winter. Some years it's just not worth a mention and this was one of them. Now, however, tiny buds are beginning to appear on the tips of bare twigs and the sun feels warmer and all of my gardening urges are at their impatient peak.
So.......if you are a bit on the lazy side or have limited space or poor soil or a bad back (all of which apply to me), you might want to give this idea a try. There are many sites on the web with "how-to" information and I thought (for about a second and a half) of including links to several of them. But the truth is that the ones I found, though informative, were often tediously detailed and included a great deal more labor than I felt inclined to put into the project. Therefore, taking a few of their helpful hints, I've struck out on my own.
Here's what I know, or think I know, about my own situation:
I have an 8' x 8' space available, well...almost.
Some of that space already contains garlic, onions, oregano and lavender - at least I think the lavender is still alive but I need a creative bale arrangement - I settled on a "T".
Every mole in the neighborhood has chosen my yard as home so I'm using chicken wire as a hopeful barrier.
My soil won't hold water even when amended and it's nutrient poor - but the hay should remedy all that.
We have had wet springs but summer droughts so my bales are located only feet away from my hose.
The summer heat is oppressive, not at all conducive to hoeing and weeding and all that yukky stuff.
Straw is better than hay because it has less seed for unwelcome sprouts but we had no straw available.
Weed barrier cloth under the hay is a must - I bought the cheapest I could find.
The hay needs to be watered daily for about 2 weeks to help it begin to decompose before planting.
The hay also needs nitrogen-heavy nutrients added...but nitrogen alone is not so readily available these days.
Topping the hay bales with good soil seems to be recommended, mine will be store-bought and I'll add it after about a week of watering the bales.
1- Prepare the soil. NOPE! My area used to be a garden with plenty of loam and manure and, most recently, weeds. I'm covering it all up with weed-barrier cloth. Hopefully the weeds will die under the black plastic and bales and the weeds might even add some additional nutrients to the soil as they wither away.
2- Cover area with Weed-Barrier Cloth. OK, so I used the cheapest, thinnest plastic available. It's primarily under the bales, right? AND, I intend to get some better barrier for the areas surrounding the bales to eliminate the necessity of weeding or mowing around the bales. And I will top it with a couple inches of mulch to emphasize my point.
3- The twine holding the bales together: Those who know say that the twine will rot and the bales will fall apart. The pervading solution to this is to drive a couple of stakes into the ground at each end of the bale to hold the straw in place. My solution was to wrap the bales with nylon strapping which will not rot. (Wish me luck)
4- Which side of the bale goes DOWN? The hay strands seem to go in one direction, the ends of which appear on the sides of the bales that do not have the twine. Therefore, if the twine is on the ground, the surface hay is running parallel to the ground. This position will decompose more slowly - but you want the decomposition. Also, the ends of the hay strands will be pointing out the sides of the bales. It seems to me that will make planting on the vertical sides of the bales more difficult as there will be nothing to hold in any soil. At any rate, there seemed to be arguments on both sides of the bale-side issue so I opted to try it both ways...2 up and 1 side-to-side.
5- Plant density seems to be in question. Some plant a single tomato plant per bale. Some say not to plant Okra or Tomatoes at all, (except for the bush, "determinate" varieties), as the plants will become tall and top heavy and cause the bales to fall over. Who knows...I'm believing more is more and intend to plant with variety and abandon!
HERE'S WHAT I'VE GOT SO FAR:
Three bales fit into the van, so three bales it was. That worked out well in helping avoid the garlic, onions, oregano and lavender already in place (from years past - bless their little hearts).
Wrestling with the roll of chicken wire proved to be an unnecessary unpleasantness as I quickly realized that leaving the roll at the bottom of our three steps to the deck would nicely control one end. I measured across the deck to my desired length (9 feet) and marked the end-point location.
The heavy umbrella stand caught my eye as a perfect anchor for the unruly, previously-cut end of the chicken wire. With everything in place, it was an easy task to pull the wire to the desired location, weigh it down with the umbrella stand and return the the edge of the deck, at the stairs, to cut the proper length.
From the cool of the morning and a hot cup of coffee, to pouring the coffee over ice seemed to be an incredibly short span of time. It was about then, and quite soon after my husband had cut a dozen of these cute little anchoring stakes for holding the chicken wire in place, that I remembered I had an abundant supply of "garden staples" set aside from previous years of lawn and garden care.
Homemade stakes or store-bought staples, I don't suppose it matters but securing the whole base to the ground is important and I was finished with the operation in less than an hour and was ready to move the bales into place and water them well.
(See, two bales with the straw on end and one with it parallel to the ground.) I finished by adding the nitrogen-rich fertilizer from the local feed store and watering some more.
Now, my little "T" shaped garden is ready for three days of rain while I make plans to pick up some better quality weed barrier and mulch to finish the job while I wait, and fertilize and water and wait some more until the bales actually become warm and ready to receive my many, many plants.
I'll post more when I add the soil and begin to plant. Stay with me.
I've spent a week and a half dutifully adding fertilizer to my hay bales and enjoying being able to let the rain do most of the watering. A couple days ago, I piled on potting soil and watered it in well. Sure enough, with a hand over the soil, you can feel the radiating heat...that's supposed to be a good thing.
The 2 bales with the hay stalks standing upright are nice and tidy looking. where
the bale with the stalks running parallel to the ground looks a bit
ragged though it does have a wider planting surface.
.Today I cleared the rest of the little 8' x 8' garden area, put down more weed barrier and added a great deal more mulch. I'm using the "no-float" cypress mulch which costs a few cents under $2 a bag.
I feel quite accomplished in being able to say that I actually weeded the onions and garlic, which are returning from last year...
and it looks like the lavender is willing to keep on growing.
So, I rinsed off the sidewalk and watered the bales and sprinkled the new mulch, thoroughly enjoying the drips that were leaking into my garden clogs and cooling my feet on this sunny, productive day. The change to daylight savings time had lowered the sun more than the clock said it should and the shadows from the remainder of the pergola quickly walked across my work.
But, there in the remaining bright sun, stood my little potting bench complaining of its winters neglect. I thought to myself, "I'll re-stain it this week". but the dread reality that the entire deck is due a re-coating crossed my mind and dampened my spirits for a moment. Then I noticed the Weeping Willow tree waiting to be planted. That reminded me of the two rose bushes waiting by the front porch for the same thing. Suddenly I felt tired and wondered for a moment why spring is always my favorite time of year. Then I remembered that I am so thankful for the sheer ability to deal with the list of things that need to be done. It may take me longer and the periods of rest between chores may be more frequent but the sun still feels warm on my shoulders and reminds me of spring as a child. It's just a good and hopeful and energized time of year and the buds on the dogwood are bigger each day and when they bloom, my entire world becomes a wonderland.
(Click HERE to link to Hay Bale post #1, and HERE for post #2)
Todays unexpected cloud cover seemed like the perfect condition for planting. Of course, knowing my impatience, I might have thought the same of a sunny day. Nonetheless, I grabbed my big, long, kitchen knife (with an edge that will cut most anything) and the trowel and set happily to work. Now I understand why some decomposition of the the hay is desirable...not only for the plant growth but for the ease of digging a little way into the bale. And, by the way, it is easier to cut into the bale with the stalks parallel to the ground than it is into the ones with the stalks standing upright.
Between the knife, the trowel and my hands, the knife and my hands were by far the better combination. I don't know that the trowel served any purpose at all.
Waddling out a hole deep enough to fully insert my fingers was just about perfect for planting
...though it did make for ugly finger tips. I know, most people wear gloves but what a great excuse for a manicure.
Marigolds have never been one of my favorite flowers, for flowers sake, but I love them in the vegetable garden for their insect deterrent properties. So, I loaded the bales down with the little yellow balls.
A TOMATO GROWING TIP:
(taught to me, long ago by an actual farmer, is this)
Before planting, pinch off all the side leaves, up to the cluster at the top, and plant the seedling deep enough to include the newly exposed stem.
It seems that tomatoes will send off root shoots from the buried stem and produce a stronger plant...gotta love that.
After planting the lettuce, I trimmed whatever outer leaves were wilted or broken and added mulch to avoid further episodes of the leaves coming in contact with the soil.
So, that was pretty much it. Lettuce, Red Bell Pepper, Bush Beans, Summer Squash, Eggplant and Tomatoes are all planted and cabbages will be added to the three bales as soon as I remember to buy them. But I did get the little Weeping Willow in the ground and planted the Sweet Mint AND I have a tip for the Mint and/or any other invasive plants...
INVASIVE PLANT TIP:
Several years ago, I cut the bottoms from a couple of plastic planters and set the bottomless containers in the ground. Originally, the edges stood a couple of inches above the surface of the garden soil but since I've added so much mulch, I'll have to keep an eye out for leaf shoots over-hanging the edges and trying to root. But, the good thing is that the roots are contained and the Mint, as well as the Oregano, stay where they belong.
The garden is growing so well and so quickly; I don't know why I was surprised this morning to find little beans popping out all over.
LOOK! baby beans...
and, teeny, tiny squash.
The first red bell pepper is so small I couldn't get the camera to focus on it.
(That's my fingernail in the foreground)
Cabbages with leaves as big as dinner plates are beginning to "head" in their centers.
The tomatoes are blooming all over the place but no tiny orbs, yet. (For Hay Bale Garden "How-to" in Photos, click HERE)
The little weeping willow I just planted has loved every drop of rain this season but the 8+inches that fell here last week brought our pond alarmingly close, surrounding oaks and maples and sassafras and my big gardenia. Fortunately, the water is beginning to retreat, both here and in surrounding ponds and streams and rivers - Whew!
Sometimes an idea starts rolling around in my head and will not be gone....like Easter = empty tomb = resurrection. So, here I am, with these suppliesand high hopes. But I can tell you right now that the Marshmallow filled, Oatmeal"Pie" is likely too soft to do the job I have for it. We'll see. So, here goes...
I supposed that a mixture of chocolate and vanilla icings would result in either a beige or a gray, either of which could reasonably pass for the color of rock.
I cut the cake to stand it on end, then cut a slice or the remainder to fill in the back...
and cut the little end piece in half to help round out the shape.
Added a little icing between the pieces to act as glue (I used the Chocolate because it looked like I was going to need much more of the Vanilla for color).
Then, on to icing the whole thing taking no care at all with mixing the colors...just letting it blend as it wanted to.
I did, however, use more Chocolate around the base and blended it on to the plate.
Now for the most dreaded experimental part: Crushing Vanilla Wafers into "Sand" and "Pebbles". Oh, what ever did we do before zip type bags?! Crushing was actually easy although patting the crushed cookies onto the icing was a bit messy.
The secret to using the cookie/pie (as the large stone that sealed the tomb) was to open it and "fill" it with the lid from one of the icing containers. Stiff plastic...just cut off the rim and it worked fine.
A battery operated tea light provides the glow from inside.
And there you have it...a No-bake Easter Resurrection Cake.