Tuesday, April 21, 2015

(1) Hay Bale Gardening - The Lazy Way

Plants purchased early and awaiting a home
 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!

 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.


Thelma Bowman said...

I'm following the updates on your hay bale garden, and it's looking great! Your post here is the perfect guide if ever I want to try it myself. They're so easy to replicate. That you for sharing, and good luck with the plants!

Thelma @ Quality Strapping Systems

cia said...

Thanks Thelma. I will post occasional updates throughout the season as "things" happen to and with the little garden.