|Straw is messy to transport, but it smells great|
and is inexpensive, even at Lowe's rates.
Joel Karsten is probably single biggest force behind straw bale gardens (SBGs). Long ago, he had a lot where nothing was going to grow without extensive renovation, digging, etc. He did not have money to build raised beds, which is the standard solution. He recalled the old straw bales on the farm with weeds growing in great abundance from them.
Karsten reasoned that straw bales could be a quick solution to the cost and work of creating raised beds. He created a career out of a need, and many are grateful. However, he never got over his agriculture degree and turned the simple solution into a complicated one.
Here is my problem. Karsten recalled the broken or wet straw bales fostering tremendous growth on their own, since this was pre-SBG intricacies. And yet he has gardeners adding all kinds of amendments to the straw bales. I love the elaborate frames he builds around and above them. Scratch that off my list, because frame-building fails the Maynard G. Krebs Principle (too much work) and cost-effectiveness (how much is that going to gouge my rose budget?)
|I plant tomatoes in the ground with no support and fish through the leaves to obtain the fruit.|
Frames are the result of giving a redneck tools and a budget.
A bale of straw is big rectangular solid of neutral growing material. It is not hay, loaded with seeds, but simply the hollow stems left from cutting wheat, an ideal bedding material for animals, because it is absorbent, and also for plants.
To get the most from the least work and expense, we need a 3-D view of the garden, above and below the surface. Perhaps straw does not have much nutrition for the plant roots, just a soft, warm, absorbent bed for the plant roots. But what delivers nutrition to the roots? Short answer - fungi. They are not only the primary decomposers but also the tiny tubular trains delivering exactly what the roots demand in exchange for carbon, which they cannot make for themselves.
Thus the straw bales, once soaked and sitting in the sunshine, develop the decomposition process, which means fungi and soil creatures invading the bales. So the sunshine will deliver the energy needed by the plants to perform their magic below the surface, sending roots (more importantly, root hairs) to barter for what they want in exchange for what they need.
The gardener can sprinkle anything he wants on or in the bales - the real work is microscopic, with the earthworms and visible soil creatures giving evidence of the microbic population explosion fostered by moisture. Nothing we use for amendments will change a plant until those elements are converted for use by the plant.
Since the fungi obey the chemical directives of the plant roots, sprinkling stuff on the surface has the same effect as blowing on dice before rolling them in a game of Monopoly. The elements of Creation obey the software implanted in them, and they work without complaining or slowing, unless we fail to help where help is needed.
|I have seen the local gardening pros do this with their bushes,|
line the entire margin with a row of flowers.
It is easier right in the bale and provides more food for beneficial insects.
Fun with Bales
Karsten brought up the idea of planting flowers on the sides of the bales. Potatoes can be growing in the bales, strawberries on top of the bales, and borage on the side. Borage is also called bee bread, so it has the advantage of attracting the bees while using walls of the bales to grow.