A couple of years ago, I initiated a demonstration on growing vegetables in bales of straw using organic fertilizer and chemical. My test consisted of preparing the bales in two ways. On one, I applied three pounds of 4-3-4 Holy Tone Organic. On another, 2.5 cups of 10-10-10 fertilizer. I kept both bales wet until their internal temperatures were equal to those of ambient air.
Temperatures in the bales treated with 4-3-4 organic fertilizer reached 120 degrees within days. Temperatures in the bales treated with 10-10-10 fertilizer required at least a week before reaching 110 degrees. All of the bales appeared to show signs of decay, with and inky cap and shaggy mushrooms growing on all.
After the temperatures within the bales dropped to ambient air temperatures, I seeded the bales with kale, as I conducted my test in autumn. All of the bales produced an abundance of kale; there did not appear to be any differences with regards to yield. However, the kale growing in the bales of straw were not as vigorous as those growing in the nearby garden.
Soon after minimum temperatures dropped to below 28 degrees. All of the plants growing in straw died. Those growing in the garden continued to produce eddible leaves of kale, which we continued to harvest most of the winter. Come spring of 2015, the kale in the garden resumed growth while the kale grown in the bales of straw was dead.
Last June, I amended the straw bales treated with Holytone organic 4-3-4 with another pound and a half. I amended each straw bale, initially treated with 10-10-10, with another 1.75 cups. After watering the fertilizers thoroughly, I transplanted one Roma tomato and one Accent Sweet pepper into each bale. The plants were irrigated daily until they appeared to be well established as evident by the rapid growth. From that point on the plants were irrigated twice weekly in the absence of rain.
The tomato plants quickly outgrew the pepper plants, resulting in only one pepper plant surviving. It did not produce any peppers. The Roma tomato plants produced an abundance of tomatoes in all straw bales regardless of the fertilizer treatment. The editor of Bay Weekly will verify the results because she was invited to harvest the tomatoes for canning.
By September, all of the bales had shrunk to only a few inches thick with many of the roots of the tomato plants penetrating the landscape fabric placed beneath them at the beginning of the demonstration. The remaining residues of straw went to the compost pile.
Yes, you can grow tomatoes and peppers as well as kale in bales of straw — providing you plant only one species per bale and not try to grow a variety of plants in such a confined space. The most vigorous species will dominate and crowd out the less vigorous species. Each bale will give you two crops.
Grass and Clover
–Dean Castle, via email
Send your gardening questions to The Bay Gardener at [email protected] Please include your name and address.