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Monday, April 1, 2013

Hay Bale Gardening

Raised Bed Gardening Revisited...

Being the skeptic I am, I really tried, but can't come up with a single disadvantage to Hay Bed Gardening.  All I saw were benefits, and so I am inspired to share.

No building required.  My father could have been a master carpenter and I grew up watching him build amazing things from raw wood.  I learned much, and could probably create a few simple things, if not kitchen cabinets.  However, I do not have the tools, or the space to store them, and I'd probably lose my hand trying to use a saw.  The idea of raised bed gardening is highly appealing to me, but a daunting option.  Plus, the cost of wood has greatly increased.

No digging or tilling necessary.  I won't lie.  Preparing a garden is WORK!  Back-breaking work like you've never know unless you've personally created a garden.  To begin with the sod or weeds need to be dug up and removed.  Then the soil has to be tilled.  Remember when I said I had limited space?  Well, I don't have a place to store a tiller anymore than I have space to store a table saw.  For most urban gardeners, this means sharpening that shovel behind piles of junk in the back of the shed that has long been forgotten.  Turning soil is not an easy task.

No composting required.  Let's face it.  Here in Florida, our soil is awful.  Your lawn either looks terrible, or is a struggle to maintain because few plants other than palm trees grow in sand.  I love the idea of making my own compost.  What I don't love is the idea of having to turn that smelly pile.  Plus we're back to that limited space subject.  You could buy a composter that is sealed so you don't have to hold your nose while it's breaking down into useable soil, but that's just one more expense that I highly doubt is at the top of anyone's budget.

No bending or kneeling.  It's a good thing that solarizing the soil is beneficial to kill the grubs that have been feeding on the roots of your lawn and other pests and nematodes just waiting to feast on your new plants.  Those few months allow my back injuries time to heal from all the work I did turning fallow land into fertile soil.  When the bugs are dead I sigh while removing the soil cover to do a quick final till, digging holes and planting seedlings.

No need for mulch.  So, I've done all that work and it would be a shame to have the weeds take back over.  At that point I've got two choices.  I can hoe and pull weeds to keep them at bay, or I can add a ridiculous amount of mulch.  I've learned from experience that the work of adding mulch is nothing compared to endlessly pulling weeds. 

Easy crop rotation.  I have one vegetable bed, and two garden beds that I tuck vegetables into during the growing season, and no desire or space left to go digging up any more of my tiny backyard.  I'd love to someday have ten acres with outbuildings for storing tractors, tillers and tablesaws.  However, I do not and the benefits of growing my own produce outweigh the disadvantages of waiting for my dreams to come true.  Crop rotation is necessary to keep soil-borne diseases and pests under control.  This is a difficult to overcome challenge with such limited space.  While I've got plenty of fairly simple organic recipes to control such problems, I'd rather not have to deal with it in the first place.  Don't misunderstand; I'm not saying Hay Bale Gardening is going to eliminate the problems altogether, but it sure makes crop rotation much more feasible.

Time savings.  I've got three children.  Even as a housewife, I don't have any more time on my hands than those of you who go to work every day.  In fact, I think I had more time when I had a regular job.  You don't have to believe this to be true; the point is, time is valuable and there are only so many hours in a day. 

Time to create a garden: 20 hours
4 hours to mark out an area for a garden and dig up the grass and weeds
6 hours to till it
2 hours to mix in soil amendments and cover it
2 hours to remove the cover and loosen the soil a final time
6 hours for planting, putting trellises in place, and adding mulch

For a raised bed: 14 hours
4 hours to put the frame together
2 hours to fill it with soil
2 hours to add soil amendments
6 hours for planting, adding trellises, and mulching

Time to make a Hay Bale Garden: 9
2 hours to lay out the bales
1 hour total for adding and watering in fertilizer
6 hours for planting
0 no mulching required

Cost savings.  The amount of money saved for Hay Bale Gardening will vary depending on several factors.  You'll have to do the math based on your desired garden size, soil depth, fertilizer and soil amendments, mulch type, trellises needed, and/or number of straw bales used.  However, a bail of hay costs $11.50 at Park Feed Store and Pet Supply, Pinellas Park, FL, and will last for about two years. 

I'm working on the How-To Article and will publish it soon!







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