Friday, June 12, 2015

Gardening Experiment

I have been working to terrace a bank in the back area of my yard. However, I chose to use limestone stones to create the walls to hold the terraces in place and it is definitely taking me longer than I anticipated to move all those stones. Just imagine 8 pallets of stone weighing from 5 lb. to 100 lb. Needless to say, I am unable to move some of them and am thankful every day for my son and nephew for their help with these larger stones.

I was so excited to have this area of my garden ready for spring planting when I started this project last fall, mostly because it gets sufficient sun for veggies that other parts of my gardens don't get. While the first level of stone work for the top terrace is almost finished, it still remained to back fill with dirt and I knew this wasn't going to happen in time for late spring planting.

I then began to do some reading on alternative gardening methods. Reading on planting in straw bales which was very interesting to me as I could place the bales on the soil between the walls and still grow my veggies. As I continued to read, I saw information about using hay bales and how similar to straw bale gardening yet a little different. Mostly because of the nutrients the hay provide that the straw don't.

The big difference is that you must prepare the hay bales, helping them start to break down as well as killing all the seeds that are laying there waiting to sprout so you don't have a weed problem taking away the nutrients from your plants. This process takes about two weeks before you can plant.

As I had decided to try this new method of gardening, one of my friends from high school mentioned on FB that she was baling hay that day. So I reached out to see if what she was baling were actually bales and not the large round things the farmers around me are all using today. And sure enough, she still did the bales that I remember from childhood - and they were just the exact size that I could manage on my own. So I went and picked up six bales of fresh hay. Thanks Sharon!!! Placed them in the space between the first two stone walls of my terraced bank and began the process of preparing the bales.

The preparation process was very simple actually, just took time. The first day, you spread a nitrogen fertilizer over the bales, about 1/2 cup per bale, then water the bale until it is soaked thru. Everything I read said to use a fertilizer that was 45-0-0; however I could not find any fertilizers with that strong of a nitrogen base. So I used what I could find and it is 13-0-0. The first day, I did the watering with my watering wand, and let me tell you - to get the hay bale totally wet took quite some time - I was out there with the watering wand for hours. The next day, you just water. Again I used my manual watering wand, but decided I had to go and pick up a soaker hose as this watering was just to time consuming.

From the third day forward, I would spread 1/2 cup nitrogen fertilizer on each bale and turn on the soaker hose. The next day (day 4) I just turned on the soaker hose until the hay bale was wet through and through.

After two weeks of this daily process, I decided it was time to check out the hay bales and begin my planting process. I was truly surprised by how much the hay bales had begun to break down. They were still working deep in the center of the bale and as such were still rather warm. I'm only hoping this heat from the hay bale will not impact my plants, but only time will tell.

So after two week of watering, fertilizing and watering and watering again, I decided it was time to plant.

Here you can see my six hay bales fully planted. For most of the bales, I only planted two plants each. Pumpkin and squash in one. Cantaloupe and squash in another. Squash and zucchini in a third. Peppers in a fourth. Tomatoes and herbs in the remaining two. Now I wait to see how they grow and how they produce. Trust me, I'll keep you informed on my process and any things I will change for the future.

If you look closely at the photos, you can see my walls in the process as well as the soaker hose as it snakes along the hay bales. And of course the tomato cages at the far end. Keeping my fingers crossed for a success harvest in this gardening experiment!!!


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