Straw Bales - The Experiment That Was Not
Ok, so let me say right off the bat that this year I cheated when it came to the straw bales & now I'm paying the price. I made all of these extensive notes and was going to follow a particular conditioning method. And then it all went out the window when I got bogged down with other gardening tasks.
What I was doing was “choosing” to go with a statement that I found on a website that I can't for the life of me find now. I'm fairly certain it was an extension services site & it stated that if you leave the straw bales out all winter – which I did – they would be automatically conditioned and ready to go come planting time in the spring.
I did do a couple of things before planting the seedings – I topped the bales with some compost and I added some granulated organic fertilizer. Then I tried to keep the bales constantly moist - I would stick my finger into a bale & if it felt dry, I watered. I also fed them once per week with fish emulsion.
I had planned on having 5 straw bales, 4 from last year and I was going to purchase another one. Then I realized that the recommended number of plants per bale was 3 for summer squash and 2 for winter squash. Seemed a bit much, considering how large squash are supposed to grow, but since it would make my life easier as I wouldn't need to purchase any more bales, I decided to follow the recommendation.
And these are the bales today:
|Straw Bales Planted with Squash|
I planted alyssum & lemon bee balm in the corners of the bales & the squash plants ran down the middle. When one of the alyssums was on the edge of death about a week after planting it, I knew there was a problem. I really started to question the whole “the bales will be automatically conditioned if you leave them out all winter” statement. So I upped the fish emulsion to a double concentration, 2x per week and I also sprinkled the bales with organic fertilizer granules a few times. That was about 3 weeks ago and although the plants are looking a bit better, they are still miniatures.
Let's do a bit of a comparison, shall we?
The Sweet Mama squash in the bales:
|This is the nicest of the straw bale squash plants|
|Butternut squash in corn bed|
|The largest of the bale Alyssums|
|Single alyssum plant in a raised bed|
|Largest of the lemon bee balm in the bales|
I did half-heartedly cover three of the bales with netting to avoid the squash vine borer, but I didn't have enough netting for the last bale, so those went without. Neither the covered or uncovered plants show signs of infestation, so at least that's one good thing. I have a feeling that even the borer moths turned their noses up at these sorry plants.
In an effort to get some squash this year, I decided to sow some of the Romanesco squash seeds in one of the raised beds, in the spot that was recently occupied by the shelling peas. I haven’t done the calculations, but last year I removed the netting from the squash beds in mid-July. I think it’s late enough in the season that I won’t have to worry about the squash vine borer at this stage so I’m not netting the newly emerged seedlings.
|Romanesco Seeding - 1 week after sowing|
I’m not giving up on the bale method quite yet and plan to try it again next year, this time doing the pre-conditioning of the bales. In the meantime, I’ll continue to water & feed the bales, just in case – there’s still a good couple of months until the season really starts to wind down and a lot can happen in that time.
Till next time…