Sustanability: Straw Bale Gardening in The Thumb


In the movie Dr. Zhivago there is a memorable quote that goes something like, ”if you scratch a Russian a peasant can bestraw bale book found”. In our case the quote is “if you give a suburbanite a cool idea the frontierswoman come out.” Melissa got the idea of straw bale gardening from a book by Joel Karsten. Joel comes to us from Minnesota where the growing season is incredibly short and the soil tough to cultivate. The situation in northern Huron County Michigan is similar. With a large lot next to our cottage consisting of mostly of sand and a little acidic oak leaf loam the opportunity to put in a real successful garden was remote. So Melissa decided to experiment.

You Want Straw For What?

In farm country straw is used for animal bedding. In addition it’s typically cut and baled in the fall in huge rolls consisting of several hundred pounds. Finding baled straw in  smaller bales is proved tough. However we managed to find a supply near Bayport that delivered a dozen bales to our lot. After heaving them into place and placing a snow fence around the site to deter deer, (good luck with that said a friend), we had an impressive structure of straw in neat rows and surrounded by security. We looked like a Denver based horticulture operation.  Now what.

Time to experiment!

Straw Bale GardeningOur season has not started where someone can be full time up in the tip of the thumb. We still had to go to work. So we decided to get a couple of bales for the suburban back yard and start the 12 week “cooking” process required to break down the fibrous matter into lush soil-less material in which to plant. This offered us a chance to carefully hone skills required of our 12 bail garden up north. We spent about two weeks alternating between spreading organic fertilizer (pee-you) and watering. By the final days the bales are now decomposing with an internal temperature exceeding 90 degrees. I sacrificed my digital beer brewing thermometer for the cause.

Transferring this Experience into a Working Garden.

Over a Memorial  Weekend campfire and several bottles of “2 Buck Chuck” we convinced our friends and neighbors to at the cottage contribute the effort by IMG_1386hosing down our northern garden each day then spend alternate days of spreading cool smelling chicken poop 10-10-10 onto the top of the bales. With 12 bales cooking I hope that the wind is blowing off the beach. its ripe! This 2nd weekend of June is finally planting weekend. Stay tuned.

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