I've moved from a place with nicely worked soil to a place with a yard full of what looks like play sand. I'm thinking about doing a perimeter of straw bales with tomatoes and peppers in a square and planting inside the square those things that have in the past suffered during the miserable summers we have here in OK. I'm hoping that the taller plants on the bales will A.) shade the interior plants and B.) act as a barrier to deer. I suppose I could add fencing as well, and perhaps a gate to my little square garden haven. I've never straw baled before, but it fascinates me (because I hate stooping and I hate weeds). Tomatoes and peppers are my main loves, but I do grow okra, greens, root veggies, squash, etc. as well. I was also thinking I could have someone dump a truckload of compost and I could build the square around it so I could have decent interior soil to deal with. I just need some advice - the idea of not gardening this year is giving me an ulcer.
I have heard of people making a square of the bales and filling the space with manure. As you water, the manure decomposes into the bales and gives great food for the plants. On the other hand, I have noticed that after the initial cooking period, you don't really need to feed a lot with the bales. I guess you do need to add some fert at fruiting time.
I've been doing some reading and my main concern now is watering. I understand that bales require more water than an average dirt garden, and since we've had two summers of drought, I'm not sure it's going to be a water-effective method. :(
Actually my experience with them has been just the opposite. For me they seem to need less or equal water than soil. I've checked several times in the heat of summer by running my hand down inside the bales and they were always moist and slimy.
I set drip hoses on top of my bales, and they seem to need less than I'd anticipated. We had a couple of years of drought, and I didn't seem use much water with the bale system. The plants in ground fared much worse than the dripped bales.
My first year, I planted the center of a bale square with potatoes. Stripped the grass out, amended the soil a bit, and laid the potato sections on top. Then covered with the bales that had broken, and continued thru the summer to add more hay. Worked great. Then, I had to stop eating 'taters, and never tried using the center again.
p.s. the bales were planted with Squash, cucumbers, and green beans.
Late reply, because I haven't followed the straw bale gardening threads for 2-3 years now.
mevnmart, it's hard to think of shading interior plants by plants on the edges during the summer when the sun is 75º to the horizon during the hottest part of the day. You'd have to have extremely tall plants at the edges!