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Zoe M. McCarthy is guesting on today’s A Writer’s Garden. I just love the post she’s got, too. I saw this gardening method at Disney World last summer at their Flower and Garden Expo and was intrigued by it. It’s great to get the low down from someone’s who’s actually used it.

Straw Bale Gardens are Just Right for Us City Folks

 John and I are retired city folks transplanted to the Virginia Blue Ridge Mountains. In this rural area, people have tractors to get their gardens ready for planting. We don’t have farm equipment, so we were attracted to the idea of straw bale gardening—no dirt, no plowing, and no squatting to harvest vegetables. This is the third year we’ve planted a straw bale garden following advice from Joel Karsten’s book, Straw Bale Gardens.

In straw bale gardens, the bales become ovens to germinate and grow fruits and vegetables. It’s important to use straw bales, not hay bales.

We knew our daily visitors would be problems, so we built an eight-foot fence that deer can’t jump and reinforced the lower fencing with smaller-holed chicken wire that bunnies can’t wiggle through. We laid landscaping fabric to discourage voles and moles.

Before we could complete the fencing, seven deer stopped by to sniff our bales and discuss among themselves what in the world we were doing. They seemed indignant at the chicken wire going up.

We performed a 10-day process to turn the bales into growing ovens. Fertilizing and watering. Again and again. Warm water only. On day five, we poked our fingers into the straw and felt the heat inside.

We ran soaker hoses on top of the bales. Timers attached to the hoses water the plants daily from our well. We can’t over water bales. It was nice to be able to travel and know that our plants would have plenty of water.

Then we planted seeds for cucumbers, radishes, lettuce, carrots, beans, edible sugar pumpkins, strawberries, and watermelons in a thin cover of potting mix (not soil—no dirt touches the roots) into thirty straw bales. We wrenched apart the straw a bit and inserted seedlings for some vegetables, such as peppers and tomatoes. We planted impatiens in the sides of the bales. All done.

Cabbages attracted worms, so we didn’t plant them again. Not a favorite anyway. This year slugs feasted on tender shoots, but they now drown in baby food jars filled with beer. Potatoes go in the sides of bales, but as yummy as they were, we only reaped a few. We harvested a few strawberries the first year so we didn’t plant them again, but they returned in washed down bale humps, and this year they came up again in those old humps and flourished!

We novices have been proud of our bountiful harvests. We make pumpkin soup, bread, and pies. The carrot cakes are to die for. I have fresh lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, radishes, and carrots for my salads every day. We’ve learned how to freeze and can. The most popular for us is the jars of hot salsa.

Straw bale gardens are great for city dwellers. A few bales installed on a patio and they have a garden.

Is planting in straw bales something you’d consider? Why or why not?

 About the Gardener/Writer:

A full-time writer and speaker, Zoe M. McCarthy, author of Gift of the Magpie and Calculated Risk, writes contemporary Christian romances involving tenderness and humor. Believing that opposites distract, Zoe creates heroes and heroines who learn to embrace their differences. When she’s not writing, Zoe enjoys her five grandchildren, teaching Bible studies, leading workshops on writing, knitting and crocheting shawls for a prayer shawl ministry, gardening, and canoeing. She lives with her husband in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Zoe blogs regularly at http://www.zoemmccarthy.com/ .

 Gift of the Magpie

Amanda Larrowe’s lack of trust sabotages her relationships. The English teacher and award-winning author of middle-grade adventure books for boys has shut off communication with friends and family to meet her January 2 book deadline. Now, in the deepest snow accumulation Richmond, Virginia has experienced in years, Camden Lancaster moves in across the street. After ten years, her heart still smarts from the humiliating aftermath of their perfect high school Valentine’s Day date. He may have transformed into a handsome, amiable man, but his likeability doesn’t instill trust in Amanda’s heart. When Cam doesn’t recognize her on their first two encounters, she thinks it’s safe to be his fair-weather neighbor. Boy is she wrong.

Gift of the Magpie is a contemporary inspirational romance; it’s romantic with kisses.

Gift of the Magpie Buy Link