Here is what you need to get started:
Find some suitable straw.
Finding a good straw bale is relatively easy in and around Calgary. Organically grown straw is your best and you can find organic growers at the farmers market, classified ads, or anywhere you see straw bales in the field. Make sure you don't get straw with active seedlings or you will end up with a bumper crop of wheat and barley. Straw is easiest to find in the fall after harvest.
Set up the straw bales
Find the sunniest area on your property to place your straw bales. Areas that get at least 5 hours of sunlight are best for growing vegetables. You will want to Place your straw bales with the twine at the sides instead of at the top because of course, the top of the bale is where you will be planting your garden. You can place your straw bales in one long row or several rows depending on what your area allows. Long single rows are best because you can run trickle irrigation or a soaker hose along the top of the bales and easily water your plantings.
Prep the straw bales
2- 3 weeks before you plant is an ideal time to get your bales prepared for planting? You will need to soak the bales with water each day and add 3 cups of organic fertilizer to each bale every couple of days. The water combined with the fertilizer will start to break down the organic material in the straw and create excellent nutrients for your plantings. After about a week or so you can add 1.5 cups of organic fertilizer to the bales. On day 10 add 3 cups Bone meal and fish meal to the bale( 1.5 cups of each ) To check that the composting process has begun, dig into the bale with your fingers. The area should feel warm and you should notice some blackish soil starting to occur inside the bale. This peppered soil will continue throughout the growing season and that’s the highly nutritious soil that will help feed your vegetables. If you spot mushrooms don't be concerned they won't harm your plants and the appearance of mushrooms means you have created a great environment for your plantings to thrive.
Set up watering and/or greenhouse enclosure
Once you have established that your bales are plant friendly you can go ahead and add a soaker hose or trickle irrigation to them. Run the lines along the top of the bales and rest them on the straw. You can also choose to hand water your plantings with a hose or container if you don't want to run irrigation lines.
For a greenhouse or cloche, you can insert stakes into the bales that stick up a couple feet or more. Once your plantings are in you can drape a plastic cover over the stakes to create a greenhouse. You could also choose to use the stakes as support for netting to keep the birds away if you are planning on growing strawberries or other fruits or vegetables that birds are attracted to.
Time to plant
Now its time to get your plantings started. You can grow virtually any vegetable that you grow in the ground in a straw bale. Tomatoes, strawberries, green beans, and squash are some of the favorites. You can start your plantings from seeds in the bales but this should be reserved for warmer climates than Calgary. Start your garden in mid-May with plantings from your local garden center or use plantings you started yourself from seeds under grow lights in the winter months. Use your trowel to dig a hole in the bale and pop your plantings in the hole.
For a thorough explanation and guide to straw bale gardening check out this great resource, complete with pictures:
For a complete book on straw bale gardening visit this link:
Happy straw bale gardening!!
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