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straw bale gardening

This years lessons, plans, and things to think about

DIY, Family Life, Food Producing Animals, Gardening By October 12, 2015 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , 1 Comment

We had some major successes and major failures this year, and since I didn’t chronicle them in real time (I guess that counts as one of our failures) I’m going to list them all here. We also have some very specific plans coming up for the winter and next year you can expect to hear more about. Finally, there are some general ideas we’re tossing around that we still need to settle on and decide a timeline for.

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A look back on this years garden

Gardening, Uncategorized By October 28, 2014 Tags: , , , , , No Comments

Although my garden is still producing armfuls of kale, and a few tomatoes here and there, garden season is pretty much over. It was a pretty good run, the best I’ve ever had In this house, but it’s over now. All that’s left to do out there is spread compost and plant some bulbs. I need flowers in the spring. I need them.

This was, by far, our most successful year gardening in this home, but over all I’m still disappointed. For having planted 15 tomato plants, we got remarkably few tomatoes. I got a whopping 1 squash, a spaghetti squash, none of the rest of my plants (which included 4 zucchini, 4 summer squash, 3 spaghetti squash, and 2 pumpkins) ever even produced a female blossom. I only got a tiny bit of lettuce, one cabbage, a few cucumbers (although I consider that a victory given how late in the year I planted cucumbers), and no spinach – it bolted too quickly.

This yard is very hard to grow in. The sun exposure is just not very good. Everywhere we can put plants is either too shady or the sun is too intense. It’s hard to find balance.

Jeremy suggested building a couple of raised beds in the middle of our back yard, where we get the best sun, but since we are likely going to be selling our house in a year or two, I don’t want to do anything that’s going to mar up our lawn too badly. This is a white bread house in a white bread neighborhood and if we want to sell it, it’s going to need to appeal to white bread buyers, which means pretty lawn. That’s why most of our garden is currently in containers.

But I can’t deny that our garden is going to be severely hindered by current conditions, so after a little bit of research, I decided that a straw bale garden would be a good choice for us next year. It would kill the grass under it, but when the time comes to sell, it’s easy enough to reseed or lay down a few rolls of sod.

Generally, I’m a big believer that food should be grown in soil. Preferably soil in the ground. Things like containers and hydroponics systems are cool and do produce plants and harvests, obviously, but I’m not certain they really provide the plant with everything it needs to produce optimal food. There is so much we still don’t know about what’s going on in soil, and food, for that matter, that I don’t think we can really know with confidence that we are providing everything a plant needs in a liquid or bagged formula. Also, the set ups are expensive and complex, especially hydroponics, which makes it not super accessible.

Straw bale gardening has a lot of these issues. You aren’t growing in soil, and you’re relying to a large degree on store bought fertilizers. But, you are growing in composting straw right on top of the soil, which probably puts it pretty close to soil nutrition wise (microorganisms and whatnot from the soil can move up into it as it decomposes), and I can do much of the fertilization with my own compost, so I’m going to give it a try. It’s also cheap, so why not?

Now that it’s (essentially) winter, our homesteading doesn’t stop, it just shifts gears. The garden is no longer my focus, instead I’m focusing on fermentation, soap making, bread baking, sewing, quail care, and probably some winter gardening. We do have cold frames I’d like to try growing greens under again. Last winter I was not terribly successful because I forgot to water them. Jeremy will have home improvement projects of his own.

Winter is not really a slowed down time for us. It’s just different stuff we are doing. What kind of homesteading/self sufficiency stuff occupies your winters?

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