Sunday, 11 September 2011

From straw, big things will grow

by Megan at The Byron Life

Spring has arrived in Northern NSW and with its warmth my thoughts are turning to my new abundant food garden. The one that is but a twinkle in my mind’s eye at present.

We are currently house-minding a wonderful old house with a big backyard and a dozen chooks. It’s been an lesson in greener living; picking fruit from the small, but productive, backyard orchard; caring for a flock of chickens and meeting some wonderful green-minded folk who have shared with me their knowledge and produce of their own gardens.  I have learned so much here and I am inspired for when we return to our own home on the coast in a few weeks.

However, I know the challenges of the garden to which we shall return: The beautiful, but unruly, tropical garden of ours that is dense with established ornamental trees and palms and very little open space. We live in a suburban area on a block less than 500m2, and most of that is taken up with house. The one area that gets a consistent amount of sun, and would be most suitable to vegetable growing, has some real challenges.

This sunny area is small; at least half of it is paved in concrete and the unpaved areas have drainage problems. We have poor soil made worse by us previously compacting down a load of sand for a small above-ground pool (now gone). Sounds inhospitable for a new veggie garden, doesn’t it?

On the up-side it is an area protected from wind, gets a full day’s sun, is close to a water source (tap water at this stage, later it will be a rainwater tank) and is within easy access to the house. And, I visit that space several times a day as the paved area hosts the clothesline.

Previous attempts at a no-dig garden using layers of cardboard and compost had limited success because of the poor drainage. My solution for this potential garden oasis of mine will be to deal with the drainage problems through a drainage trench, raised garden beds and composting to improve the soil quality. That sounds like a bit of work, but doable. 

However,  I think I have stumbled across a simple and affordable way to deal with all three issues at once:  Straw bale gardening. Straw bale gardening, as I understand it, involves planting directly into a bale of conditioned straw (not hay, it has too many grass seeds) filling the planting holes with some compost, watering well and feeding regularly with worm juice or seaweed solution. As the straw bale breaks down, the plant’s roots are nourished by this newly formed compost. It is essentially a form of container gardening with the straw bale acting as the container.

The straw bale garden can be grown anywhere, including on concrete.  And, once the bale breaks down, after a season or two, I’ll have a rich source of compost that can be put to use building up the soil for a more permanent raised garden bed.

What also appeals to me about this gardening idea is that it is affordable, drainage will not be a problem and I can build up my new garden in any shape I want. I will also be using a renewable resource for my garden “beds”.

Right now I am taking advantage of all of that wonderful chicken poo and straw  from the chicken coop to make compost and I am growing seedlings ready for planting in the straw bales. The next step is finding a source of organic bales – something that hasn’t been treated with fertiliser or pesticides. In my region there are many sugar-cane farmers, so I will search for one that grows organically.

This is my very first post for the Simple Green Frugal Co-op and I am hoping that within this experienced community, both readers and writers, there will be those among you have either tried straw bale gardening, or will be just be able to offer some advice on whether you think the idea has any merit. I'm keen to give it a go.
Below are some good explanatory links to straw bale gardening that I have found. Do you know of any other links on this topic?

~ Megan

Links on straw bale gardening: