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Copyright J oel Karsten 2010

The moral right of the author has been asserted.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or
transmitted in any form or by any means electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or
otherwise, without the prior written permission of the copyright owner.
Table of Contents

Chapter One Never Fail with a Straw Bale!
Convenient: All-in-one container and growing media
Easy: Straw bales are easy to find
Fast and Flexible: Preparation is quick

Chapter Two - Advantages of Straw Bale Gardening
Dirt is not free
Less expensive
Dependable and predictable
Physical advantages
No soil no problem
Pest control

Chapter Three - Site Selection & Setting Up The Bales
Put it anywhere
Good sun exposure
Room to grow
Cut-side up
North to south
Support system

Chapter Four Conditioning the Bales
Cooking straw
Get into good condition
Day-by-day recipe

Chapter Five Time for Planting
Check your calendar

Chapter Six Maintenance of the Straw Bale Garden
A bugs life
Critter control
Chia Pets
Building support

Chapter Seven Harvest Time
Cold dont
Mush is for sled dogs

Chapter Eight What Remains is Gold
Theres gold in them there hills bales
Dip a toe into gardening with the straw bale technique and the next step will be to dive in head first
Chapter One

Never Fail with a Straw Bale!

Container gardening, or the act of growing plants in large plastic pots, window boxes,
clay urns, etc., has been a great alternative for gardeners with poor backyard soil. By using
potting mix, often referred to as growing media, in these containers, the gardener eliminates many
of the pitfalls of using traditional soil. Growing media will never contain weed seeds, soil-bourn
diseases or insects, and will usually have a suitable particle structure allowing for adequate
drainage with good moisture-holding capacity. Other characteristics of good quality growing
media include good fertility and a predictable nature to its performance, where the same inputs
will produce similar outputs on a yearly basis. Most planting media, purchased by the bag, has
many qualities that make it a terrific alternative to regular backyard soil; however, the cost can be
prohibitive, especially if a large quantity is needed to fill a variety of containers.

One alternative to the traditional container with growing media is to use a straw bale as
the container and the planting media all in one. Encouraging the tightly packed straw inside the
bale to compost quickly into a welcoming planting media is a process called conditioning and
is an essential part of any successful Straw Bale Garden (SBG). The resulting composted straw
has all of the desirable characteristics of a good potting media, without the cost. Straw bales are
held together by a few thin nylon strings, so keeping the strings intact is essential to maintaining
the container for the growing season.

Finding straw bales can be as simple as visiting your local garden center. Gathering a
large number of bales at a lower cost per bale could mean a visit to a rural area near you to buy
directly from a farmer who has some to spare.

The process of preparing the bales for planting is quick and can be done in 12 days or
less; however starting the process in late winter or very early spring is also acceptable, especially
if the gardener gets spring fever. The preparation should be done just prior to the last potential
date for frost in the local area. May 12 is a good target date, but is not necessarily a hard-and-fast
rule. In some years, planting May 1 is possible, and other years a tender crop planted May 20
could be nipped by frost.
Chapter Two

Advantages of Straw Bale Gardening

Dirt is free! So true yet so wrong! Using backyard soil as the planting media could
just possibly be the most expensive method of gardening. Considering the labor needed to keep a
garden free of weeds, diseases and insects, labor (your time) is a major factor in growing a
successful garden; therefore, the concept of free dirt is tenuous at best. Other costs may be
incurred to improve existing soils in an effort to correct problems with soil drainage, water-
holding capacity, particle structure, fertility and pest control. Some existing backyard soils are
filled with gravel, rocks or clay, or are nearly all sand, making it virtually impossible to grow
anything. It may take years and be very expensive to make modifications to existing soils to
transform them into a suitable state to sustain a successful garden. Using a growing media (such
as Miracle-Gro

potting mix) is a great alternative to tackling non-productive and inhospitable

existing soils, however the drawback with using large volumes of growing media can be the
substantial cost of purchasing the product.

The cost savings of using straw bales, when compared to buying equal volumes of
planting media in bag form, are immediately apparent to anyone who has a calculator. With an
average volume of approximately 14 cubic feet per bale and an average cost of $5 including costs
to get the bale conditioned to plant, the cost per cubic foot of the resulting media is 36 cents. A
single two-cubic foot bag of planting media sells for an average of $10 or $5 per cubic foot,
which is nearly 14 times as expensive as the straw bales per-cubic-foot of resulting media.

Straw bales are a great solution, eliminating many of the difficulties often encountered
with soil gardening and are an economical solution for even large scale garden production.
Finding bales of straw should not be difficult, but the costs will vary based on the buyers
proximity to the source of the bales themselves.

Like any good quality growing media, straw bales are predictable so they will react in a
similar way from year to year when treated in the same manner. Straw bales will always be straw
bales, from one farmer to the next; the oats or wheat stalks will not change from one year to the
next. This creates an advantage for the gardener, in that similar results can be achieved if the
same process is followed each season.

Some physical advantages also exist for those growing a SBG. One is the height of the
growing surface if the grower has any physical limitations that preclude bending over to ground
level, or is wheelchair bound, having a working height of 20-24 inches can be a real advantage.
Another is the elimination of the hard labor required every fall to physically turn the soil with a
spade or a mechanical tiller. The tedious physical task of hoeing or pulling weeds on a weekly
basis throughout the season is also eliminated.

The existing soil in the gardeners backyard is irrelevant to success when growing a SBG.
Even the edge of a concrete patio or an asphalt driveway would allow enough space to plant a
SBG. Utilizing a rocky or inhospitable gravel patch can be a big advantage for a space-
challenged gardener.

Spraying to guard against insects and disease or to eliminate weeds, or putting up fences
to keep out wildlife, can all be eliminated or dramatically reduced by utilizing straw bales. It is
the physical height of the garden that discourages the development and infiltration of these pests
and problems, and provides a big advantage over a traditional soil garden.

Chapter Three

Site Selection and Setting Up The Bales In The Garden

A SBG can be placed on almost any surface. The surface or soil underneath the bales is
irrelevant and will not play a role in the process. The sub-soil acts only as a drain for water that
filters out of the straw bales and as a mechanism to hold the bales in place. If the area chosen to
set up the SBG has a slight slope, it can be advantageous as it will keep water from pooling
underneath the bales and making the aisles between the rows of bales muddy.

It is vital that the site selected for the garden is in full sun exposure with a minimum of 6-
8 hours of sun each day. Anything less than this will limit the vegetable crops that will grow and
will not allow other crops to yield as much. Limiting sunlight not only reduces photosynthesis
(the process by which plants grow, using sunlight), but also slows the drying of morning dew or
overnight rain from the leaves of the vegetable crops. Wet leaves spread disease, fungus and
bacteria, and should be avoided for overall plant health and better crop production. If possible,
pick a spot that allows for morning sun exposure so leaves dry earlier in the day, which leads to
fewer problems with disease.

Spacing rows of straw bales apart from each another to avoid one row shading another
row is also important. A spacing of at least 24 is recommended, because the space between the
rows of bales will need to be maintained by mowing the grass or putting down a layer of
landscape fabric, or unrolling an old piece of carpeting cut to fit the width. These weed barriers
will eliminate the growth of grass and weeds between the bales. If you choose to grow vine crops
like pumpkins, squash or cucumbers in your SBG, its especially important to use a weed barrier
such as landscape fabric between the rows of bales to prevent unappealing weed growth up
through the vines.

Take notice that straw bales have two distinctly different sides. One is the cut side and
looks as if the ends of the straws are aligned and have been sliced off. The other side of the bale
is the folded side and will appear as if the straws have been folded over in the baling process. It
is important that the cut side is positioned upward (facing the sky) to allow for much easier
penetration of water and fertilizer. The strings of the straw bales should be around the sides of
the bale and not on the top or bottom surfaces of the bales. This is most important to avoid
damage to the strings, which would destroy your new container.

Setting up the rows in a north to south orientation is best, however not essential.
Allowing morning sun to hit as much leaf surface as early in the morning as possible is
advantageous as discussed above and this orientation allows for that to happen. Planting annual
flowers in the sides of the straw bales is a great way to make the garden attractive as well as
productive. Since a north to south row orientation will allow sunlight to hit the east side of the
bales in the morning and the west side in the afternoon, this allows the grower a wider choice of
annuals that could grow well. With a row of bales set in an east to west orientation, any plantings
on the north side of the row of bales would be limited to shade-tolerant annual flower selections.


Pounding or planting a five-foot tall steel post, pipe, or wood stake into the ground at the
end of the rows of bales will help to hold the end-to-end bales tightly squeezed against one
another. These posts also allow a wire to be stretched tightly back and forth between the posts
above the bales approximately three or four wires back and forth (zigzag between the posts) to a
height of about 30 above the bales, at a 6 to 10 spacing vertically. These wires will create a
trellis to support vines or a heavy vegetable crop. Without these support wires, it may be
necessary to individually stake any plants that require support. When staking individually it will
be necessary to drive the stakes through the bales and into the soil for stability. The bales will not
provide a stable enough mechanism to support movement of the stakes and may cause the entire
bale to tip over. Creating the wire trellis is ultimately easier than individually staking plants!

Chapter Four

Conditioning the Bales

The process of getting the bales to compost internally to a stage at which they will
support root growth is called conditioning and is a simple but essential part of the process in
growing a SBG. Most gardeners are familiar with the concept of composting and they understand
that any organic matter can be composted; however, some materials decompose more quickly
than others. Composting hardwood wood chips from an oak or ash tree can take several years,
while composting fresh grass clippings can be completed in only a month or two. The compost
pile is always alive with microbial activity and spurring on these microbes is as easy as turning
the pile, adding moisture and incorporating nitrogen-rich fertilizer every once in a while. These
inputs can really get a compost pile cooking! In many cases a freshly turned, fed and watered
compost pile will heat up due to the microbial activities happening inside the pile, to temperatures
of 150F or higher. This heat usually does a thorough job of killing off most harmful bacteria,
such as those present in manure. The combination of this microbial activity, heat, and worm and
insect activities on a compost pile produces a rich, fertile organic media that plant roots love. By
applying what most people know about composting to straw-bale gardening, it will help explain
the methods and processes involved in the conditioning process.

The process of conditioning the bales will take approximately 10-12 days and will be
somewhat determined by the temperatures during that time. If the target planting date was May
15, then beginning the process on May 3 would allow the appropriate time for conditioning. It is
essential to allow the bales to compost for this short time prior to planting into them. If a potted
seedling is inserted into a raw straw bale, the microbes in the bales may pull nitrogen from around
the seedlings roots to feed their reproductive process and literally starve the plant for nitrogen,
turning it yellow and killing it. The lesson here is to always compost any organic material before
using it as compost around young, shallow-rooted garden plants.

Day One: After the bales are set in place and the rows are adjusted to be in their final
position, the first application of nitrogen-rich fertilizer should be applied evenly over the bale at a
rate of cup per bale. This fertilizer should be watered into the bale until the bale is thoroughly
water logged and water is running out the bottom. Ammonium nitrate (34-0-0) fertilizer is
recommended as it is 34% pure nitrogen and the nitrogen is in a highly available form. It must be
noted that ammonium nitrate can be difficult to find in some areas (which is probably due to its
infamous use as one component in a rudimentary explosive concoction similar to what was used
to blow up the Federal building in Oklahoma City many years ago). Try visiting a farmers
supply or farmers elevator, as they often stock this in bulk. If ammonium nitrate is not available,
look for a substitute fertilizer with similar high nitrogen content. Urea is another common
nitrogen source, which would work as a good substitute. Make certain that the nitrogen in the
substitute fertilizer used is immediately available nitrogen vs. a slow-release type of nitrogen.
Many combinations of fertilizers exist, but do not use anything with any herbicide content.
Avoid weed-and-feed type combinations, and avoid those that have less than 20 percent nitrogen
content as they will be less potent and the quantity required will make working it down into the
interior of the bale more difficult. The proper fertilizer is providing a food source for the
microorganisms that are going to do the actual work of decomposing the straw. The moisture is
also a key component that is required to fuel the same microorganism party inside the bale.


Day Two: All thats needed is to water the bales again and ensure they are completely
saturated. Using rainwater or water collected the previous day in buckets is helpful as the water
will be warmer. Cold water tends to slow down the microbacteria that are hard at work digesting
the straw.

Day Three: Add another cup per bale of the same fertilizer, and water the fertilizer into
the bale.

Day Four: Another water-only day, again to full saturation.

Day Five: Add another cup of fertilizer per bale and more water.

Day Six: Water only! By now it is likely that a somewhat sweet aroma will begin to emit
from the bales. Curious or concerned neighbors should know that this aroma does not last long,
but can be rather pungent for several days during this time. A quick check inside the bales
interior by sliding a hand or thermometer down inside will show a slightly elevated temperature,
and the beginning of a microbial party inside the bale. This decomposition process will
eventually generate a significant amount of heat, but for now a slight increase should be felt and

Days 7-9: Apply cup of fertilizer followed by watering each day.

Day Ten: Apply a full cup per bale of a balanced 10-10-10 type general garden fertilizer.
Many water channels will have developed in the bales, as the water tends to create these paths of
least resistance through the bales. Try to force water into the areas around these cracks to get the
fertilizer into the interior of the bales without allowing it to wash into these channels and quickly
out the bottom of the bale. This is the last step in the conditioning process. Within a couple days
the bales will be ready to plant!

Dont be surprised to see an accumulation of earthworms in the straw bales, as they enjoy
this nutrient-rich decomposing organic matter. This decomposing straw bale is like a five-star
hotel for worms, and worms mean one thing worm poo and believe it or not, this is a good
thing! Worm poo happens to be extremely rich with soluble and available micronutrients that
have been transformed through the worms digestive process into a form that can be easily
adsorbed by plant roots.

What now exists inside the straw bales is a nutrient and micronutrient rich, composted
organic matter that is still slightly warmer than surrounding air and soil temperatures as it is still
composting, is weed- and disease-free, is full of worm and microorganism poo, and has good
particle structure that holds plenty of moisture but drains excess water easily. In simpler terms,
its a plant seedlings paradise, so lets start planting!

Chapter Five

Time for Planting

The nights may still be a bit cool but the chances of frost are minimized, so now that the
bales are conditioned, it is time to plant the bales.

Pre-started Plants
If pre-started plants from the garden center are being used for your warm-season crops,
such as tomatoes, peppers, melons, eggplant, cucumber, squash or sweet potato, now is the time
to make a shopping trip. Once you are ready to plant, use a hand trowel to stab into the bale and,
working back and forth, open up an area large enough to insert the entire root mass easily without
breaking up the roots. If necessary, remove a small amount of straw to accommodate the roots.
Make certain to remove the pot, even if the pot is a peat pot and says to just plant the whole
pot, it should still be removed. Tear the pot away; do not try to shake a plant from any pot, as
this will loosen the roots and can cause damage. Use a small amount of potting media, purchased
from the garden center, to make sure the roots of the potted seedlings are well covered and the
space around them is filled. Water these newly planted seedlings well to assure the roots are
sealed in and will not be exposed to air as this will dry them out quickly. Make certain to have
some paper milk cartons, coffee cans or plastic juice jugs ready, just in case the forecast says that
a frost is coming that night. It may be necessary to run outside in pajamas and cover these plants
if any chance of frost exists or even if temperatures of 35 or below are forecast. Make sure to
remove any covers in the morning or they may get too hot under a plastic helmet during the next
day if it is sunny and warm.

Seed Packets
For planting cool season crops (such as peas, beans, carrots, or lettuce) from seed, the
seed packets should also be purchased during your shopping trip. It will be necessary to create a
seed bed with bagged potting media (do not use soil) on top of the bales for effective seed
germination. The Miracle-Gro

potting mix is a good one and it has slow release fertilizer mixed
into it. Purchase approximately one cubic foot of media per bale you plan to seed directly.
Carefully mound up the potting media on top of the bale and use a long piece of wood to tamp
down the media into a 1-2 flat layer from edge to edge and from end to end on top of the bale.
Use the same long board on its edge to create a seed trench in which to drop your seeds. Read the
back of the seed packet to determine the proper depth for planting and the recommended seed
spacing. (Heres a tip if you have trouble seeing the tiny seeds as you drop them into the seed
trench: Use a length of toilet paper cut in half, and fold that half into half again so it forms a v.
Line the seed trench with this toilet paper v-shaped liner, and it will be easy to see the exact
spacing of the seeds. Go ahead and bury the paper as it will dissolve away quickly.) It is okay to
plant plenty of seeds, however it is important to come back and thin the sprouted seeds to the
desired density after they have emerged, or overcrowding will surely occur.

Once the seeds are planted cover each bale with two clear seed tray covers, 35 cents each
at almost any garden center. Bend a 20 length of wire (like the wire in those flags used to mark
underground utilities) in half, and use it as a giant staple to stick through the seed tray covers into
the bales, to hold them in place. These covers will help hold in the heat being generated from
inside the bale due to the decomposition that is happening inside. The covers will also hold out
the hard rain that is sure to arrive and wash all the media off the surface of the bales, if they are
not covered. The heat being generated inside the bales will have a remarkable effect on the
growth of the seedlings and the germination percentage of the seeds themselves. A warm-root
growing zone, with cooler plant tops and surrounding air temperature, is the greenhouse growers
dream situation. Creating this type of growing environment in a green house is very difficult
without using expensive electric rooting mats or hot water coils inside of expensive rooting
benches. The decaying, heat-producing straw bale will create this ideal environment for plant
growth, without any electric bills! The plant-rooting zone inside the upper half of the straw bale
will reach temperatures of 85 degrees and maintain nearly that even during cooler nights. This
makes plants grow quickly and will result in fuller and healthier plants. Measuring the
temperatures of the soil just next to your straw bale garden may show a difference of 30 degrees
or more, so it is not difficult to understand how the plants in the straw bale garden may grow
more rapidly.

If desired, the SBG can look more attractive to the neighborhood by planting the sides of
the bales with annual flowers. The flowers on the side will not effect the growth of the vegetable
crops on top of the bales. Use the handle of a hand trowel or a broom handle to push a
downward-slanting hole into the bale, in the middle of the strings on the side of the bale. This
makes a perfect hole to insert an annual flower, from a six-pack. One six-pack on each side of a
straw bale is right for most flower species. Using marigolds (which have an inherent natural
pesticidal quality) may help to protect the vegetables on top of that bale from potentially
damaging insect pests. Any 12 or shorter annuals should do very well, so try whatever flower
species look appealing.

For All Plantings
Liquid fertilizer application is recommended every two to three weeks, beginning only
after the seedlings have reached the stage where they have set their third leaf. For the first few
times use the fertilizer at half the normal mixture rate, and apply it slowly with a rain-head style
watering can so the media is not washed away. If you planted from seeds, the seed tray covers
will need to be lifted to water and fertilize, and should be permanently removed before the
seedlings are touching the roof. Remove the covers slowly by lifting one end a little each day,
and over three or four days they can be completely removed. This process allows the tender
seedling to harden off a little bit rather than being completely exposed on a hot dry windy day,
which would likely kill them off immediately.

Water the SBG early in the day; this allows all the leaves to dry completely before the
sun sets. Especially during the warm sultry nights of summer, wet leaves can provide a breeding
ground for fungus spores and bacterial cultures. If watering by hand, try to apply the water
underneath the canopy of the plants, as this keeps the leaves dry and puts the water directly over
the root zone. A great way to water a SBG is to run a soaker-hose down the middle of the bales.
Use a handful of 20 pieces of wire, bend them in half to straddle the hose and use them to pin
the hose down in the middle of the bale. Two or three pins for each bale is plenty. Water
applied to the soil through a soaker hose will work its way to the edges of the bale, so there is no
need to worry or supplement what is applied via the soaker hose. Liquid fertilizer can also be
applied through the soaker hose simply by putting the applicator in between the end of the regular
garden hose and the soaker hose. With your soaker hose, you can use an automatic
programmable timer on the water faucet so that your water turns on automatically three or four
times a week for at least 20 minutes. This will allow you to leave for a vacation and not worry
that your garden will get too dry. It should be stressed that one great advantage of using straw
bales is that they cannot really be over watered, as any excess water will simply run through the
bale and out the bottom.


If a question arises as to whether the garden needs water or not, it is always suggested to
use the best resource for checking out the situation and in this case the best resource is the first
finger on either hand. Simply sticking a finger into the bales and feeling for moisture is the best
way to know for sure. If it does not feel damp, then watering is suggested. Another great tip is to
plant a couple of indicator plants, such as an impatiens flower. This plant will wilt easily if it
starts to get dry, but will perk right back up once watered. A quick look at the indicator plants in
a garden will help determine whether watering is required.

Chapter Six

Maintenance of the Straw Bale Garden

The goal of most gardeners is to use as few garden chemicals as possible, but to still stay
ahead of the insects, diseases and pesky critters that will certainly come for dinner, even when not
invited. While this rude behavior is unacceptable, it is to be expected from these garden pests;
however, with a straw bale garden many of these buggers will be disoriented. It may be due to
the way the wind actually blows up and under the leaves of the plants on top of the bales. This
wind dries out moisture and exposes those insects that are hiding inside the plant near the center
of the plant to more air and leaf movement that they may normally experience in a tradition
garden at ground level. It may also be that insects seeking a meal are familiar with the stem hairs
at the bottom of a cabbage plant, for example, so they trek along the soil and when they bump
into a hairy stem they are familiar with, they start climbing upward because they know there is
surely some tasty leaves on top of this stem. With a SBG, the same insect or caterpillar runs into
the side of a straw bale may turn and go the other way, not knowing what this unknown surface is
and therefore they dont bother to climb up and check it out. It is not suggested that no insect or
disease problems will occur with a SBG, however experience shows that the problems will be less.
If encountered, these problems will need to be treated using methods similar to those used by
traditional gardeners growing in the soil. Many homespun remedies do exist for treating common
garden pests, so give those a try first. Always use chemicals as directed on the labels, and
remember that even home remedies are like chemicals to plants, so be careful about overuse of
any treatment method. Sometimes a careful inspection will allow the chewing potato bugs or tent
caterpillars to be simply plucked from the leaves by hand, rather than resorting to any chemical
treatment at all.

Rabbits, raccoons, squirrels, large birds, deer and the neighbors dog are all pesky critters
that can do serious damage to a newly planted garden in a very short time. Over the years a
thousand homespun ideas and natural deterrents have been developed, many that may work
sometimes, but all of which never work all the time. A fence may be a deterrent, but a white tail
deer can clear an 8 fence without much difficulty, and a rabbit can dig under a fence in about 60
seconds, so that may not be an option. As the ultimate skeptic, it would not be my style to ever
suggest a new solution to all of these problems without first having tested it myself. I can attest
through my own experiences that the creation by some smart Canadian entrepreneur of the
motion-sensitive sprinkler is nothing less than genius. It is not inexpensive but it is extremely
simple to use. First hook it up to a garden hose, then put in a single 9-volt battery in the unit. All
thats left is to turn on the water and turn on the switch. Be sure to plant the sprinkler near your
garden where any movement by anything bigger than a very small bird in or near your garden
will trigger the sprinkler. It emits a three-second burst, resets in eight seconds and looks again for
more movement. This combination of sound and water will keep the garden free from pesky
critters of all kinds. I can personally attest to the fact that it works, since after forgetting it was
there a time or two, I received a few heart-pounding doses of water in my face much to my
wifes amusement!

Regardless of which farmer baled the straw bales being used in a SBG, the bales are
going to contain a few left over oats or wheat seeds that did not get harvested during the
combining process. These seeds will sprout and your bale will grow hair like a Chia Pet. It
takes only a few seconds to simply trim this hair with a sharp knife or pull it out by hand. By
trimming the sprouts a couple of times when they get big enough to cut, they will sort of give up
on their attempt. Pull out any sporadic weeds that may grow, which will be easier than in a
traditional garden as they are rooted in the straw and the roots should come out easily. Weeding
will not be an issue in your SBG; plan on about 30 seconds for weeding per bale per summer.

Put stakes or cages around any plants that are not being supported by the wire trellis
system (see Chapter Three for trellis information). Tomatoes, especially vine tomatoes, will need
to be staked well or caged. The greatest thing I have ever found for building the perfect tomato
cage is available at almost any home center and is called concrete reinforcing wire panel. This is
normally used to bury in cement when they build sidewalks or driveways, for strength. It is
inexpensive and measures approximately 4 by 6. Roll the panel up like a taco, and use some
plastic zip ties to secure the ends. This makes a 4 high by 2 diameter cage that works perfectly.
The holes in the wire are large, so harvesting tomatoes inside the cage is easy. When the season
is over, if you dont have room to store the cages rolled up, just cut the zip ties off and flatten out
the panels on top of your garden. They will get rusty, but so am I and I still get the job done!
They will last 10 years or more and did I mention they cost about $4 each?

I am not a lazy person, but one may think that if they looked at my gardening techniques.
But I can imagine ordering the perfect veggie garden: Make it easy, quick, cheap, and so I dont
have to spend all summer bending over. Give me better results than my friends who plant the
back-breaking soil gardens that are labor-intensive summer-long projects. Keep down my insect
and disease problems and make the garden look nice as well. And oh yeah, can it also somehow
create a pile of useful compost that I can use to improve the soil in many other problem areas of
my garden next year? Now thats a big order but the SBG can deliver!

Chapter Seven

Harvest Time

Pulling out fresh radishes picked at the end of J une, washed off in a sprinkler, and eating
them while standing in the garden is an experience nobody will ever forget doing as a child. It
was only the beginning for me soon it was carrots, beans and peas, strawberries, raspberries
and blueberries. It was something that I looked forward to every day as a kid, working in the
garden with my Grandma J osephine. Save some for dinner was an expression that resonates
from my memories of grandma.

The fruits of your labor are the reward for an entire summers efforts, but dont let any of
them go to waste. Learn how to put up canned goods it isnt hard or expensive, and only
takes a little advice or time online to learn how to pickle beats, make sweet or dill pickles, or
can almost anything you grow. This method of preservation has lost much of its appeal as we
have flash frozen bags of every fruit and vegetable crop known to man available 365 days a year
at your nearest grocery store. Dont be fooled by the idea that simply freezing what cannot be
used immediately is a good option, and then simply thawing it later for a great dinner in J anuary.
It will not work, and the vegetables or fruit will end up as mush. Why can frozen vegetables from
the store be so good, but frozen vegetables from home be so horrible? It all has to do with the
freezer used to freeze them. Flash-freezing at very cold temperatures like -40F allows the water
molecules inside and around the vegetables to be instantly frozen and are not given time to adhere
to one another. Using a home freezer causes the freezing process to happen slowly, giving the
water molecules time to adhere to one another and expand as they freeze. Once thawed, the cells
in the vegetables are blown apart and thus everything turns to mush, so avoid the temptation to
freeze your gardens produce. The only exceptions are those things that are okay to be mushy.
For instance, freezing a fresh tomato works well; peel it as it thaws and throw it into your chili
pot for fresh stewed tomato. However, you will need to freeze the tomatoes separately on a
cookie sheet and then bag them up once frozen, or else a huge chunk of frozen tomatoes will


Chapter Eight

After Harvest, What Remains Is Gold

Gold? Yes, gold but not the precious metal. Gardeners gold is exactly what remains
after the harvest is complete. It is important to remove any nylon strings, wood stakes, wire, and
hoses that made up the SBG. Pile up all the remaining straw/compost/planting media, throw a
few more cups of the ammonium nitrate on top, mix in some water and let it cook all winter. The
results will be pure compost that, when added to problem areas of the garden, will improve any
soil. Mix it into the soil in annual flower beds, use it to modify soils in perennial gardens, or use
with existing soils to backfill planting holes for newly planted trees and shrubs. It can also be
used simply as mulch around existing plantings in your landscape or garden. It could also be
used to create the seedbed on top of the next years SBG in place of the planting mix. Thus
begins the process all over again.

Gardening isnt just something youll do once as an experiment; it will get in your blood.
Nothing is more satisfying than planting seeds with ones own hands, and harvesting, cooking
and eating a plate of fresh green beans picked that morning. Many people get frustrated and
overwhelmed with the initial soil preparation of traditional gardening, and this tedious labor turns
them off. When standing on a shovel and jumping up and down makes an almost unnoticeable
mark in ones backyard soil, it can take the wind out of the sails of a new gardener very quickly.
Even the best of intentions can be squelched when a garden gets covered with grass and weeds.
Its seemingly impossible to stay ahead of them by pulling or hoeing them out, and then,
succumbing to the wrath of Mother Nature, its easy to give up and head to the Farmers Market.
I would encourage a newbie gardener to start with a ten- or fifteen-bale straw bale garden and let
the gardening bug bite hard the first year. Then, use the resulting compost to begin building up
the surrounding garden soil, and in a few years there will be plenty of room for the things that
dont thrive in a straw bale garden like sweet corn, rhubarb, strawberries, raspberries and

No more excuses for not getting that vegetable garden started this year, so put down this
guidebook, go get a few bales and some fertilizer, and get started today!