I have tried a variety of gardening methods over the years. My soil is full of rocks and clay dirt. I’ve never actually tilled the land to make a garden. It’s just more effective for me to do other methods. In the past I’ve used square-foot gardening, and last year I did container gardening. They both were relatively successful, but I wanted to spend less money on soil.
Square-foot gardening is very fun to do, but you have to have a lot of soil to fill the box. If you aren’t familiar with this method, you build a 4’x4′ square box out of wood, and create a grid making 16 squares in which you garden from. You can add trellises to the structure to control your vining plants. If you’d like to learn more about this method, you should check out Mel Bartholomew’s book here.
For my container gardening, I used 5-gallon food grade buckets. They required a lot of soil as well, so this year I discovered straw bale gardening, and I love it!
In straw bale gardening you get straw bales not hay bales. Hay bales can contain grass seeds, which would cause you trouble when trying to grow plants in your bale. You can get as few or as many bales as you want. This year I started with four bales lined end-to-end. You go thru a 12 days process at the beginning of spring by fertilizing the bales and watering them. As the fertilizer starts doing it’s job the internal temperature of the straw bales rise, causing some decomposition. If you notice mushrooms growing in the bale, that’s not a bad thing. It’s actually a great sign that you’re getting the proper decomposition of the straw. After 12 days, you can lay a soaker hose along the length of the bales, then you put a solid layer of potting mix that is about 3″ in thickness. Then you can plant your seeds or your seedlings. I bought a hose timer, so that my bales will be watered at 6am and 6pm. It has a rain delay feature on it. You can see the hose timer I bought here. We put fertilizer on it every few weeks. Some of the things we’re growing this year are: zucchini, butternut squash, cherry tomatoes, beefsteak tomatoes, lettuce, cucumber, collard greens, and bell peppers. We’ve had some of the crops flourish, while a few have never picked up any steam.
To start the garden wasn’t especially cheap this year, but some of the items we bought this year will be good for the future. I have seeds left over that I will be storing in the fridge in a Mason jar. The hose, timer, and tomato cage are of course reusable. The only things I’ll have to buy next year are the straw bales (they have decomposed far too much to be used next year), potting mix, and fertilizer.
Also there is Joel Karstan’s book on Straw Bale Gardening, which can be found here.
Here are some pictures of the garden when it was first starting out. I’ll soon post some pictures of how it looks now, and some of our veggies.