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November Gardening Tips. (Part - 1) Gardening the easy way

Nov 06, 2019
As we move into the winter season, in the northern hemisphere, we can now take a breather and give some serious thought as to where we want to take this gardening thing and what our goals might be.  As I have mentioned in past discussions, I am not presenting ideas here that are just wild theories.  Each and every idea or so-called theory have been time tested and applied. They are all proven ideas and therefore not theories. I am taking some of these fantastic ideas and helping you to apply them to your gardening ideas. I have presented several different practices that will help you a great deal in producing better and higher quality gardens.  One of the greatest drawbacks to most any gardening project is that to get started it takes a lot of work and at times a lot of money. The joke out there is it ends up costing a person 5 dollars for a small tomato. A single carrot might end up costing 5 dollars as well.  Some people work so hard as they come out of the winter season all motivated to make their garden work, this year, for sure.  But as the sore muscles wear on and the cabin fever subsides, the garden becomes less than it could have been. At this point, the person has taken a second job to pay for the failed gardening project and to buy from the store, what didn't grow in their garden.  Then the season ends, cabin fever sets in and then the cycle renews itself once again.  So in order to break this cycle, let us look at a different way to do things that will with a lack of sore muscles, the need to get a second job to cover the costs of gardening, and will carry over to the next year. In this first part, I will just talk about the overall idea and introduce you to some new concepts. In subsequence parts, I will get into the technicalities of how to do it. So let's go onto new ideas.
I am sure many of you are working with container gardening or maybe even raised beds. The container gardening works well for people in situations where that is the only option available to those. It is rewarding, yet it is still a lot of work, but worth it.  Costs are not too bad, but the workload can be a challenge.  One of the tough parts of doing the raised beds is the start-up work, and the costs involved. Oh yeah, did I mention the start-up work that is required? Still, the raised bed offers a lot of advantages and is productive.  OK, OK I will get to the point, I am betting that many of you have heard of straw bale gardening. We will be talking about straw bale gardening and some alternative ideas with the concept of straw bales at the core of these ideas.
Something like 30+ years ago I read about stacking tires and filling them with straw and planting potatoes in the straw.  So I tried it.  Massive failure.  I mean I had vines, I thought I did everything right, but all I had was a few small potatoes in rock solid clay. I had thrown in some "dirt" from the yard. This dirt was our famous high pH, alkaline "soil" that sets up rock solid, much like cement. So I told myself, man this is a joke. So I went back to doing the bulk of my gardening in the farm fields. After all, I had a good history of making that work. For example, when I was a teenager, one summer I grew about an acre of Turnips. Things were tough from a financial point of view and if we didn't have those Turnips that summer,  life would not have been very nice, as in sort of hungry. This is part of my construct during the farm crisis of the '70s. Been there done it and I just roll my eyes when these well to do pukes try to lecture me on the perils of urban poverty, food deserts, and such. Well, life in the rural areas can be rough too.  Anyway, enough of my editorializing. I only wish that I knew then what I know now. So I am trying to pass on some of this stuff to all of you. If you can use it, then great. Anyway...
The advantages of doing the straw bale techniques will make up a long list and the drawback list is really quite small.  In making what I said in the previous paragraph about the straw thing being a joke, well, yes it was a joke because I wasn't given the full story.  It was also before I understood the whole idea of mycelium and the requirement to have nitrogen and a lot of nitrogen to power the composting process.  These 2 parts/aspects are vital to making this idea work.
This idea is so cool and easy to do. What the best part is that the gardener won't end up with garden fatigue by the time the first seed is planted.  So this is what the typical straw bale garden would look like. BTW, you can go to Youtube and find a number of videos on the subject and there are a number of books on the subject as well. Many of these will vary in approaches, ideas, and applications, but overall all of these ideas will work and work they do.  But in simple terms; you have a bale of straw, you lay it on its side, you water it down, I mean soak it all the way. Then over a period of about 2 weeks, you will apply a rich source of nitrogen.  You can apply conventional nitrogen, organic/biological types of nitrogen and nitrogen sources in-between the two. I have even seen some people use vegan-based sources of nitrogen being used. You can use solid or liquid sources of nitrogen. So you can find and use any nitrogen source that will fit your desires and conscience.  The only real work involved during this 2 week period as you condition the straw before planting is to dump the amount of nitrogen that is suggested for the type of nitrogen being used. The area of a typical bale of straw will be about 14 inches wide by 4 feet long. A typical bale of straw that is played on its side will be about 18 inches high. You can set bales end to end, and as much distance between the rows that you desire. Once you get this process going the bale will heat up, it can get as hot as 160 degrees F. but most typically it will be down in the 120 degrees F. range.  This really ramps up the decomposing process and the mycelium will naturally start working its magic.  Once the 2-week conditioning process is complete, you can then plant your seeds.  Then all you have to do is water and harvest. You will have very few if any weeds. Plus it helps to keep the critters from causing you issues.  Perhaps the biggest advantage will be that you can get started much earlier in the spring. Since the straw will still be decomposing, it will be generating heat. This provides for a nice warm environment for the seeds to germinate and take advantage of to grow.  Under this process, it is generally believed that you can start the growing process in your garden around 3 weeks sooner than by planting directly in the ground. This can be even further pushed back by doing a makeshift greenhouse of sorts over the bales. This would be to simply drape plastic over the plants. During the day you would want to make sure you have it ventilated. Or you could even just cover the plants in the evening with blankets, much like you do in the fall to protect against frost. Most people doing this concept claim that that 3 weeks or so in the spring will be equivalent to having an extra 2 months of the growing season extending into the fall.  The advantage to you here is that you will be enjoying the rewards of your efforts by at least a month sooner than your friends.
In the next parts of this discussion, later on, this month we will discuss what to do with the leftovers of your garden, such as the decomposed straw.  In some settings the straw bale will last 2 or even 3 years, while in other places, maybe only that one season. A cool thing about this is that if you plan accordingly, which I will explain how to do it, you can evolve the bales into a raised bed situation. I mean this is really neat, cool, and other verbs, adjectives and maybe even nouns along this line. This whole idea is a situation that will work for many people, perhaps the best option for most of you.
So for right now, start giving some thought to locating some straw bales. Other types of bales will work but for right now, let's try to focus on straw.  Grass bales will work, even hay will work. But those 2 will present some minor challenges but still will work out great if those challenges are controlled for.  I will be using Annual Rye Grass bales. My son has a whole shed full of the Annual Rye Grass, but it is in round bales. So I am going to have to break open the bales and feed them into a small square baler, but it will work, for my situation.  Straw is very hard to find in our area as most people have quit raising small grains and have gone to raising grain corn.  Corn fodder can be used, but it doesn't decompose very good for this application.  A lot fo what you will be able to get really depends on your location on this spinning 3rd. rock from the sun.  In some places, they will use rice straw to accomplish this idea. So start looking for some kind of straw in small bales.  Most small square bales will be 14 inches tall, 18 inches wide and about 3 1/2 feet to 4 feet long.  Most of them will weigh around 50 to 60 pounds. Some small square bales will be 16 inches by 18 inches by 4 feet long. There are even the bigger 3 string or wire bales. I don't remember for sure but they are something like 18 inches tall by 23 inches wide by 4 feet long. They would be a little harder to work with because of their weight, but would work good.  You really should not go any bigger than those, sort of overkill and expensive. Twenty years ago it was tough to sell straw, most of the time you had to work to give it away. But now it is almost as expensive as hay. So if you have to pay something like 5 or 6 dollars for a bale of straw, feel lucky. But even at that, it is much less of an overall price to pay for your garden costs for the year.
In the next discussion(s) I will talk about more details. I hope you will give serious consideration to this idea. This idea might not work for every plant that you might be growing, but it will work for many of them. It will also work for many of you that have physical challenges and attention span issues. LOL> As always, thank you for your time and interest. If you have questions you are free to ask me and I will do my best to give or get you the answers you need.  Oh, BTW, this is a good way for you to grow the plants that essential oils come from. Just throwing that out there. Take care. KK

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