Try straw bale gardening, they said. It’s easy, a great way way to overcome poor soils, and anyone can do it, they said. It’s the next wave of gardening, they said.
Really? Sounds like it could be a good solution for our mountain gardeners. Let’s give it a shot! Since we like to use Extension as a resource whenever possible, we were happy to find several fact sheets on the subject, such as this one from Washington State: cru.cahe.wsu.edu/CEPublications/FS109E/FS109E.pdf
First we bought some bright, shiny bales of straw (this was last year, in 2013).
Then it was time to condition the bales. We watered the heck out of them and applied nitrogen on days 4-10 as recommended to begin the composting process. We also wrapped the bales in plastic to help keep in the moisture.
We used a soil thermometer to take the temperature daily, waiting for the spike that indicates the beginning of the compost process. Nothing happened. So, we added more water, and more nitrogen. And kept doing so all summer. That thermometer didn’t budge. No composting happened at all. Huh. Is that even possible? Apparently, it is.
We left the bales outside, where we thought the torrential rains of last fall and the winter snows surely would cause some composting. And this spring, the bales definitely looked more weathered. Maybe the bales were finally conditioned?
We decided to go ahead and plant, first adding a layer of compost and potting soil to the bale. We tucked in seeds of nasturtium and swiss chard, envisioning the burst of color and lovely greens. We watered regularly, and Mother Nature helped us with quite a lot of rain. We also made sure to fertilize.
How did we do? Well, here is the sum total of what grew:
We’re giving up on straw bale gardening. It seems not *everyone* can do it. Maybe it's our climate. Maybe it was me. Has anyone else had success?