Straw bales placed directly onto the lawn?

Brisbane, Australia(Zone 10b)

Hi and thanks for all the wonderful information in this forum. I am really excited at the idea of experimenting with my first straw bale garden this spring! What a great way to increase my growing space without digging!

I am wondering though, should I lay the bales directly onto the grass?? Would placing a thick wet layer of newspaper underneath be a good idea? To keep weeds down I thought. But then I though some more, and wondered if it may hinder worms from getting in.
Do tomato plants grow roots right though the bales? Would placing the bales onto a layer of manure be a good idea?

Also, what would happen if I made my bale garden on the concrete paving? Is a earthy base best? How messy does it get? Does it make staking hard?

Sorry, lots of questions!!! Any shared experience with this would be greatly appreciated! Im really keen to get my bales and get started asap! My tomato, chilli, and basil seedlings are still indoors, but will be ready to venture out in 3 weeks or so. Perfect!



Mid-Michigan, MI(Zone 5b)

3 weeks? Oh yeah, you're on the other side of the Earth :). I'm waiting to hear any responses...I was wondering the same thing. I have access to as many hay bales as I need, but I don't want to mess up.

I'm pretty sure someone on here put them on a weed blanket (landscape fabric).

Michelle in Michigan

So.App.Mtns., United States(Zone 5b)

Mine went directly on the grass. No weeds grew up through the bales but I'm pretty sure the tomatoes and vining squash grew roots down through the bales into the soil. I'll know for sure in a couple weeks when my growing season will be over.

Pelzer, SC(Zone 7b)

Ooops. Darius, guess you already knew that....sorry :(.

Phoenix, AZ(Zone 9b)

I'll try your questions - one at a time:

don't see why you could not place bale directly on grass except you may kill the grass in that spot.

Can see no value in the newspaper underneath. Without light I don't think weeds will come up through the bale

Yes, tomato plants grow their roots right into the bale.

Not certain but I would think manure would be wasted under the bale. This is my first try at strawbale gardening and I don't know how deep the roots of tomato and chili plants go. I'll be watching for Darius' news, maybe Strawbaleman will show up soon.

Ditto for placing the bale on concrete. Should be ok. If the roots cannot continue to grow down, assuming they even do get that far, I'm thinking they will just wriggle around inside the bale.

I don't find mine particularly messy and staking should be easy. I stuffed a beach umbrella deeply into one bale for shade and it worked really well.

Good luck and keep us posted.

So.App.Mtns., United States(Zone 5b)

Knowing how deep in the ground the roots of my previous in-ground tomatoes went, plus how much my bales have settled as they decomposed, I'd almost bet the ranch the roots have penetrated through my bales and into the ground.

The base of the winter squash roots at the top of the bales are at least as large as a fifty cent piece, some larger. Those probably went to the ground also.

Northeast, WA(Zone 5a)

I don't know about that. Someone told me tomato roots grow 12 feet. However, this spring I moved my bales from last year and not one root in the ground. That is why I used the bales is because my ground is so hard. I don't know if the roots couldn't penetrate the ground, or what, but I had the biggest tomatoes last year that I have ever had. When I went to pull the plants out of the bales there wasn't much root, but then it had gone over the winter too.

Jeanette

Brisbane, Australia(Zone 10b)

Thankyou all for your responses! Ive been monitoring my yard for sun and wind exposure these last few days, still trying to decide where to locate. We have a very windy climate here in cold wet little Palmy.
Im in the process of working out which beds are suitable for which plants. My two main patches on the sunny exposed lawn are great for hardy brassicas and root crops, but chillis did very poorly there last season. I havent tried tomatoes there yet, but will put a few familiar varieties out there this year as a "test".
So there is plenty of space out there on the lawn, but Im concerned about the wind. Yesterday it blew so hard my 2 metre tall potted christmas tree got knocked over so many times I brought her inside a few months early!
I usually grow my tomatoes and chillis and other tender plants in the sheltered alcove of my L shaped house. But space is limited in there, and some areas are concreted, hence the question is it ok to grow on concrete. There are also a few smallish fruit trees in there, creating shade.
Ive gone a bit overboard with my seedlings this year, I have over a hundred tomatoes and only ground space for 60! I am trying to adopt a few out, but theres not many takers yet. This strawbale garden is sounding like a wonderful solution! And its exciting to experiment with new ideas.
Does anyone know how well tomato plants tolerate wind? Would a bit of wind or a bit of shade or a bit of concrete be worse?
Anna-Lena

Northeast, WA(Zone 5a)

Hi Anna-Lena the tomatoes would catch the wind and you would have a hard time keeping them upright I am afraid. Now, we have had the question of concrete before. Way back close to the beginning. I sure wonder how they did since you bring it up. It just reminded me of that person. You might do a search to find him/her and ask. But, I can't see anything wrong with it. And, actually, unless your area is extremely hot, I would think the concrete would add heat that would help the tomatoes. I personally would not go for the shade.

Let us know what you do? Jeanette

Brisbane, Australia(Zone 10b)

I have decided to take a mixed approch. I will cram as many bales as I can onto my sheltered sunny little courtyard without shading the existing beds. Can fit about 6 I hope. I will place a few more on the lawn up against the fence, and a few in the centre of the lawn.
I guess theres only one way to find out what works and what doesnt! Ill keep you posted.

A few people mentioned making shallow trays under the bales out of plastic sheet to preserve water. Does anyone know how successful that was? Im thinking about trying it for the bales on the concrete, which will be partially sheltered from rain by the roof overhang.

Im getting my bales tomorrow, about 15 or 20 depending on what we can fit on the trailer... exciting!

Northeast, WA(Zone 5a)

Somehow I wish we weren't heading into winter. lol, Listening to you just starting your garden sounds nice, however, I'm tired. We just have long winters.

Jeanette

Longview, WA(Zone 8b)

I use cardboard on the ground under the bales. I then break bales and spread them around the growing bales. This keeps grass and weeds down and makes good walking areas. I don't think it looks too bad either, although I'm a country boy living in the city.

Some areas I did use black plastic but the water would not run off. I did find that bales did re-absorb the water later in the day. This leads me to another idea. Why not get an old truck tire and cut the side wall off, cover it with black plastic inside and set the bale in the tire. As you water the bale the runoff will settle in the tire and be re-absorbed into the bale later in the day. What do you think?
God Bless you, Lonejack.

Northeast, WA(Zone 5a)

Well, now Lonejack you are combining strawbale gardening with something else, can't think what it is called that my sister does. She plants the tomatoes in the tire, puts the water tubing inside the tire. BUT, she also has unlimited sunshine too. So you are combining the two.

Brisbane, Australia(Zone 10b)

We are just ending our long grey winter, and thank god for that! Sorry to hear your summer is over Jeanette. I suppose you get snow in winter. We just miss out on snow in town, but the Ruahine and Tararua ranges right behind us get pretty white.

Thanks for the Idea Lonejack. I think Ill put cardboard underneath, and some of my spare mulching bale around the edges. Hope the lawnmower doesnt snare too much. The tires may take up a little more space than I have in my suburban backyard though. Am still unsure of what to do on the concrete. Maybe just stop fussing and put them straight down. Its a pretty wet climate here anyway. The truck tires covered in plastic reminds me of the paddling pool my Dad made for me when I was a little kid :)

My partner and I just spent the last few hours driving backwards and forwards transporting 2 bales at a time in our little hatchback car! Couldnt find a car with a tow bar on time, so no trailer. He lost patience with it at 10 bales, good effort though. Its a start, maybe get some more next week.
So I can go outside now and make a start! Into it!!!

Northeast, WA(Zone 5a)

Have fun Lena!!! Jeanette

Wake Forest, NC

Lena: I don't think anyone has actually put their bales on concrete, but it will work. The problem, as you mentioned, would be any vegetable that required staking.

You will have to anchor your stakes, or trellis, down in something. Stakes feel firm in a fresh bale in the beginning, but soon become lose and provide very little support.

Then you've got the run-off from watering. Where will that flow?

You may not have read this, but I mentioned about one fellow who put his bales in a wagon. He lived in a townhouse and his back yard was too shady. When his neighbors left for work each day, he wheeled his bale/veggies out into an empty parking space that got alot of sun. At the end of the day, he brought his wagon back around behind his townhouse.

Also, be sure to take some photos for us!

Kent

Northeast, WA(Zone 5a)

Lena, do you have anything overhead that you could stake something in the bale and then support from overhead? Kind of a long reach, but I have a good imagination. lol

That guy with the wagon and I would make a good pair Kent.

Jeanette

Brisbane, Australia(Zone 10b)

Yes... Ive been wandering about that! Thanks for the pointer. Yesterday I moved my bales around (again!) to find the most sheltered spots possible. 3 are against the fence undernearth the horizontal grapevine wires (grapevine now deceased, may it rest in peace) so I could tie sticks (and tomato vines) to them. Plus they are on the grass (with cardboard underneath).
The other 7 bales are in my crowded little concrete courtyard. Ill use most of those for cucumbers and peppers. Could secure some tomato stakes to the windowsill above? Ill get out there and take some pictures soon.
I want to get more bales now, those 10 disapeared way to fast! Im still keen to see just how well tomatoes would grow on the sunny but exposed lawn. Even if they flop, at least Ill know then.

OOOOHHH something I want to share with you all: Last night I met my friends cousin who is vistiting from Fiji. I talked to him about gardening (of course :) and he said that in Fiji the climate is so warm he can grow tomatoes and chillis and all the lovely summer veg ALL YEAR ROUND!!!!!
Why dont we all live in Fiji or somewhere equally warm??? Sounds like paradise... just imagine it...
Ahh one day :)

Northeast, WA(Zone 5a)

Wouldn't that be wonderful??? Altho, I think I like the winter to rest up from all the work the rest of the year. LOL

Jeanette

Brisbane, Australia(Zone 10b)

Ive taken some photos and posted them in my blog, for anyone whos interested. Pics of my bales, where Ive put them etc. And a few of my existing dirt beds. Didnt want to clutter up this forum with my pics! Now if I knew how to add a direct link I would...

Northeast, WA(Zone 5a)

I would like to look but I don't know how to find you blog???

Jeanette

Brisbane, Australia(Zone 10b)

Jeanette: I have viewed some peoples blog/ journal by clicking on their name in a discussion forum, (its a link to their page) and finding it that way. Ill see if I can work out how to add a hyperink.

http://davesgarden.com/tools/blog/

That was just a copy and paste of the address on the tool bar when in my blog. Did that work? Sorry Im not very computerable but Im learning!

Lena

Phoenix, AZ(Zone 9b)

LenaBean - that link takes me to *my* garden blog. It's early in the morning yet, still on my first cuppa and I'm reading along thinking, wow, she has the same stuff as me......then I get to the pics and your garden looks *just like mine*!!!

To see someone else's blog, click on their name in a post they have written, then select Garden Journal or Garden Diary. It looks like LenaBeanNZ has her details in her diary, not the journal.

Good luck and thanks for the laugh - that was great.

Wake Forest, NC

Here's the link to Lena's Diary: http://davesgarden.com/community/blogs/t/LenaBeanNZ/7374/

Great job, Lena!

Kent

This message was edited Oct 20, 2007 10:20 AM

Hornick, IA(Zone 4b)

LenaBean; I have a friend that had his tiny bale garden on concrete. They didn't have but maybe 4 hrs. sun. All the afternoon sun was blocked. He planted late, but the tomatoes still done well for where he had them. The cucumbers, weren't quite as cooperative, but he still got some.
The runoff did stain the concrete. But I think it could be cleaned.
You might be able to use plastic under the bales, and use some of those bamboo poles, to form a dam of sorts . By rolling the edge of the plastic over the bamboo poles, on both sides of the bales. " just a thought" . Now his bales are all done producing. Mine are still going great guns, but they will not make many more tomatoes as the days are getting shorter and cooler. We have had a bunch of rainy days in Sept. and Oct. so far which is giving more than enough moisture.
Good luck on your garden. Russ

Northeast, WA(Zone 5a)

Lena, I had to take off right after I looked at your pictures so didn't have time to comment. They are great. Your garden really produces a lot for the size doesn't it. It will be fun to see how the bales do along the fence. You say your ground back there is bad. That is why I use the bales. Mine is like cement.

Please keep us satisfied with pictures of your garden this winter while we just look out at snow. And, what you decide about putting them on the concrete. Russ had a good idea.

Jeanette

Brisbane, Australia(Zone 10b)

Thankyou all for your comments :) and thanks Kent for fixing the link.

Mary: Thats so funny!!! Sorry for sending you to your own diary!!! Haha silly me.

All: If anybody can tell me how to correctly add links, Id be very grateful!

Yes, although a little empty still from winter, my garden does produce rather well considering its size. It has taken a fair bit of work, correcting my clay soil with compost and river sand... and digging all the garden beds! Every year I add to them wherever I can. Im so envious of all you fortunate folk who have loads of space to spread out and garden in!

Encouraging to hear Russ, that your friend had success on conrete. Im hoping I will too. You are so lucky to still have tomatoes. I just ate the 2nd to last jar of my own canned tomatoes (Green Zebra, so tangy and juicy!) so now I wait. The first blossoms are just starting to show on some plants.

Using the big bamboo poles to make "trays" what a good idea! Would need to go out and buy some big sheets of plastic. And lift the bales up again. Im up to day 4 already. Will let you know If I do get around to it. Might just do it to the lonely bale for comparison, and see how well the others do straight on the concrete. Im not too concerned about staining the concrete either, and there is a drainage hole full of pebbles that I dug just behind where the two cucumber bales are. We shall find out.

Im already getting some interest from friends, gardeners and non-gardeners alike, about what I hope to achieve with a bale of straw. Im encouraging them to try for themselves.

Heres my favourite summer picture from last year to warm you up. A bumble bee with my 3m tall sunflower forrest. This years "forrest" has just been sown, and is now 5cm tall :) Im currently fighting a fierce battle to protect it from the local birds and snails.

Has anyone grown sunflowers in bales?

Lena



Thumbnail by LenaBeanNZ
Northeast, WA(Zone 5a)

No, not in the bales but I grew them in buckets this year. BTW, the squirrels are much better farmers with sunflowers than I am.

Jeanette

Hornick, IA(Zone 4b)

Being on day 4 , might not be such a good idea to try lift the bales. just a little chuckle, I'm a little down in the back, right now. Been that way into the 4th week now. Felt good yesterday, so I mowed the lawn. NOT good.
I have given away most of the tomatoes this year as I had a really good year before this. I still have a couple dozen quarts of maters left. But still have to have fresh tomatoes in the summer. I had all the tomatoes I thought I wanted. but when we went to the round up of Iowa DGers, this spring I got talked into taking more tomatoes. A little more work, but not sorry, as it made me feel good to give fresh produce to a few older people who couldn't garden for themselves.
I will include a pic of one of the ladies I gave some of the tomatoes. will also apologize for the pic being upside down. but you get the idea.
I'm thinking to my self strange here I am starting to get my garden ready for the winter and you are just getting a good start on the growing season. You might find me a little envious but as Jeanette said we can use a rest . Well happy gardening. and maybe you too will drool for the taste of a good fresh vine ripened mater. LOL Russ

Thumbnail by randbponder
Wake Forest, NC

let's get that photo right side up, even though the copyright image bleeds through. That's some tomato!

well, it looks like you can't enlarge the "fixed" photo. Sorry

Kent


This message was edited Oct 22, 2007 7:28 PM

Thumbnail by KentNC
Northeast, WA(Zone 5a)

What tomato is that Russ? One of the ones you sent me the seed for? How is the flavor on these? Here I am wishing I had a fresh tomato already and next August is a long way off. But that tomato sure does look good.

Jeanette

Hornick, IA(Zone 4b)

Kent

I can probably turn it over here and send it again but when I saw it that way, I thought I would just send it, as it was for the tomato in front of the other tomato LOL. Her birthday was a couple weeks ago, an I put that picture on a birthday card. Yup I wrote, Happy Birthday to one hot Tomato. Gave it to her when Barb and I went to the Barn for supper that night. She got the biggest kick out of it.
That was the biggest tomato Tomato I have seen, We gave it to her.
She always appriciates any fresh produce we give her. She has quite a few health problems, and we like to help keep track of how she is doing. and of course she loves to visit.
That tomato was a giant beefsteak. I found a few others after wards that came close to that but not quite as big. one of the later ones weighed 3lb 3oz.. so that one had to be close to 4lb. I knew I should have weighed it but I had already given it to her.
Haven't heard from you for a while. Kind of missed you.
Russ

Hornick, IA(Zone 4b)

I'm sure I did Jeanette. But just to be sure you might check the little packets, for giant beef. I was assured that they should reproduce the same from seed as long as they didn't cross pollinate. I won't gurantee that they didn't. However that plant was next to a big beef and a Box car willie. all large tomatoes.
Russ

Northeast, WA(Zone 5a)

Now Russ, you don't mean to tell me that you think maybe a bee would try one tomato blossom and then go to the next plant and see if that one wasn't a little sweeter? LOL I'm sure they will all be wonderful.

Jeanette

Brisbane, Australia(Zone 10b)

Another 8 bales! I put some onto newspaper on the lawn, the others onto plastic. And kept one for mulching. Tried Russ' idea, using the bamboo to make plastic trays. New pics in my diary.

Russ: Love the picture of tomato(es)!

Hornick, IA(Zone 4b)

Jeanette; After reading your post and shareing the last few posts with Barb, I was reminded that I hadn't mentioned anything about the flavor. It is very much like the beefsteak and the big beef. I am trying to remember if it is like the rutger but I haven't had any rutgers for a long time.
Lena; LOL I deserved that. Didn't I??
Let us know how that worked using the poles and plastic. I don't have access to any bamboo but I'm sure I could come up with something.
I had just put my bales directly on the ground. I did notice that if I watered a little much that the blood meal would run out of the bales and on the ground and would fertilize grass and weeds instead of the bale.
Well we droped down to 32 F( Freezing) Lets see I think that is 0 c??
I don't that hurt my tomatoes yet as they are really bushy, some of the outer leaves may show a little Friday is suposed to get lower yet, so that will be the end of my garden.
I ran a bunch of Sweetpotato vines through the schredder, as well as some of the pepper plants. Shure reduced the size of that pile.

I dug up 2 of my ornamental S/Ps, one had one tuber and the other had none. I may have to try growing it inside all winter so I can keep some slips going for spring.

Evansville, IN(Zone 6b)

I'm sure my question has been covered somewhere in the many treads about straw bale gardening, but here goes ...

Do you lay the bales so the straw is cut-end vertical or so the stalks in the bale are horizontal with the ground? Does it make any difference?

Do you just cap the bale with a soil mix or do you auger some holes into the bale and fill them with a bit of growing medium?

Looks like a great alternative to building more raised beds! And especially suited for dwarf tomatoes or bush varieties of squash, etc.

pr

Northeast, WA(Zone 5a)

Lena, I think Kent and I both agree that the straw should be horizontal. We both think it does make a difference in how they hold the water etc.

If I am planting seedlings I make a hole (if tomatoes, I make it as deep as I can just to leave the top couple of leaves out) and then fill the hole with soil mix like you would if it were in the ground.

Very good alternative 'cause they are up high enough you don't have to crawl around the ground looking for the fruit. Also, no weeds, no hoeing, and no tilling.

The only drawback is that you have to replace the bales each year.

Jeanette

Wake Forest, NC

pr: no need for an augur. You can easily pull the bales apart and make a crack to drop the plants down in. It's not necessary, but I now like to add a couple handfulls of potting mix in the crack, then push it back together.

Kent

Evansville, IN(Zone 6b)

Thanks Kent. I'm gonna give your methods a shot next summer. I'd seen this method described in a fact sheet at Mississippi State University's hort site, but your forum really provides much more detail and the authenticity of experience.

pr

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