Fleur-de-HayBale

There is a certain danger in having a laptop when negotiating mid-life divorce insomnia.
The other night I woke abruptly with a solution—hay bale garden. I’m still not sure where it came from but it melded a series of unrelated items on my to-do list into one project.
1.    Need to get rid of the stack of two-year-old dusty hay bales taking up room in my mother’s barn.
2.    Decide what to do about two grassy patches inside my newly fenced-in vegetable garden. The grass would be a hassle to mow and could have been turned into garden space had I the foresight to smother the grass with cardboard last fall, readying it for spring tilling.
3.    Figure out what to write on my next blog.
If I were still relying on my old clunky computer, I would have gotten out of bed, put on thick socks and a robe, and headed down to the basement to the dank depths of the “office”.  Instead, I switched on the light, reached for my laptop, propped up my pillows, fluffed up the comforter, and Googled “hay bale garden”.
I clicked and tapped through a bunch of straw bale gardens then I hit pay dirt, so to speak. There was a video of Suzy Bartels speaking on Hay Bale Gardening to a group at the Plumsteadville (PA) Grange. And that’s where this story started taking twists and turns.
Future Fingerling Potato Patch
Bale gardening is an elevated form of raised-bed gardening. (A brief pause for an agricultural teachable moment. Straw is dry stalks of wheat or oats, often yellow in color, has no nutritional value. and is used for bedding; hay is dry grasses or legumes, such as alfalfa or clover, with a greenish color, nutritional value, and therefore used for feed.)  
With bale gardening, there is no weeding, no tilling, and not a whole lot of bending. If your soil is poor or poorly drained, bale gardening solves those problems too. For me, lining my two grassy areas with bales (on their sides, bristle-side up, so the twine is not touching the ground) and then filling the interior with loose hay would help smother the grass while providing planting room this season. And, it cleared a space in my mother’s barn.
Nonna: “What’s she doing now?”
With my trusty wheelbarrow and 15 trips from the barn to the garden, I created two pocket gardens between my dad’s original raised-beds with 30 bales of hay. In the larger garden, about 12’x14’, I’ll plant pumpkins, squash, and cucumbers to tumble down into the inner hay-covered courtyard. In the second narrower bed, 6’x14’, I’ll plant peppers and eggplant up above in the hay bales and in the lower section, I’ll line the bottom with soil and plant my fingerling potatoes, covering them with more soil, and adding soil as they grow.
With May Day approaching, you too can design a bale garden and plant by Memorial Day. After arranging your bales, you soak them daily with water for two weeks. The third week you apply a cup of high nitrogen fertilizer on each bale to get composing action going, repeat two days later, and two days after that. Each time, you water the fertilizer in, but you don’t water it through.  By the end of the third week, if you put your finger in the bale, it should feel hot, which means it is composting. On the fourth week, keep bales moist and let them cool. By then, your bales are prepped and ready for planting. Use your hands to make two holes in each bale and fill with a little compost or soil, and insert your seedling. Water in.
If we don’t get enough help with rain from Mother Nature, you will have to water plants occasionally, as you would for any garden plant, but hay helps retain moisture better than straw does.
That’s it for today’s simple bale garden lesson. Tomorrow’s blog, the twists and turns of frank farming. Laurie Lynch
May Day Special: Robyn Jasko, Kuztown resident and co-founder (with husband Paul David) of websites Dine Indie and Grow Indie, has written Homesweet Homegrown: How to Grow, Make and Store Food, No Matter Where You Live. The book is available at bookstores and on Amazon.com May 1 for $9.95.
An Apology: Yesterday I attended another writing conference and learned that as a blogger I’m supposed to respond to all blog comments. I promise to do so in the future.

2 thoughts on “Fleur-de-HayBale

  1. Laurie,
    Thank you for another entertaining, intriguing article. The hay gardening sounds really great but I bet you still need sun to make things grow so I guess this leaves me out here in my lovely but not-exactly sun filled Fountain Hill garden.
    Take care.
    Carolee Gifford

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