Monday, March 23, 2015

Straw Bale Gardening ~ Survival of the Fittest!

Part Five of the Straw Bale Garden journey.  The planting progresses...
It has been several weeks now since I first learned about planting a garden on straw bales.  You can read my previous posts about this adventure by clicking on the home button on this blog and looking back at the last four blog posts.  It is a learning process and a fun one at that!
Most of the bales have now been planted.  Everything is doing well in spite of our recent weather - we had a hail storm last week that pelted my garden for about fifteen minutes with pea-size hail and buckets of rain!  Of course, I did not have my plastic in place to protect my little plantlings, so I was quite worried as I watched the yard turn white with the hail and the rain pound my straw bales and my raised bed.
The squash, peppers and tomato have holes in the leaves and look slightly battered (who wouldn't, after all!) but are doing nicely.  What a blessing!  I was expecting the worst, just because a lot of my gardening efforts have been futile in the past.  So happy to be surprised with strong survivors this time!

The strawberries seem to be loving the straw and already have grown since I planted them here.  According to posts in the facebook group Straw Bale Miracle Garden, strawberries often produce fruit in the first year when grown in straw bales.  I am hoping mine listened when I read the book and the posts to them!  William and the gang are very helpful to all of us newbies.  We'd be lost without their willingness to share their knowledge and experience with us.

This adventure is so much fun and I am so enthusiastic about this garden, that I am seriously thinking of getting a few more bales!  I am planting herbs and veggies that I have never tried before and looking forward to freezing and canning whatever I can.  I'll post more as it happens.  I want to record (for myself, mostly) the growth of my veggies and herbs and make note of my successes and failures for future gardens.  I hope you'll come back for more on this...I just love sharing my journey with each of you!

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Huge Green Hugs,

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Straw Bale Gardening - I Dig Planting!

Part 4 of my Straw Bale Gardening adventure...

I have reached the planting stage...finally.  It really wasn't that long ago that this idea struck me, to experiment with gardening on straw, but in my excitement it seems like months!  If you missed the first three installments, you can catch up here, here, and here!

A trip to the local garden center and I was ready!  I bought some plants and potting soil and headed home plan my garden.  I loaded up my little wagon and carried it all to the backyard...the adventure was about to get real!

Digging a hole in the tightly packed straw was a bit of a struggle, but I managed to make enough room to plant a cherry tomato plant, two yellow squash, four sweet peppers, three strawberries, and some marigolds.
There are several places online to learn about companion planting (which plants like to grow next to which other plants) and how to make those pesky pests go elsewhere by planting things they don't like.  So far, I am using marigolds and onions to discourage pests, and placing plants that like each other together.

As the outdoor gardening was happening, there was also some seed sowing going on indoors.  It was my first time planting seeds in tiny pots to give them an indoor start before moving them to the straw bales.  I seem to be doing something right, as I have tomato and pepper sprouts coming up.  Don't tell anyone, but I didn't want to spend a bunch of money to buy the proper equipment, so I put them in old cake pans under a neon light fixture - and...get this...on top of one of our heating pads. that you that I hear chuckling?  Isn't ingenuity a good thing?  As long as I don't start a house fire, that is!  You'll tell me if you smell something smokey, right?
As they say...Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither is a garden.  I'll post more once I have planted and sowed more veggies and flowers, and I'll be happy to tell you all about it!  Watch for more about my Straw Bale Gardening journey soon! 

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Huge Green Hugs,

Friday, March 6, 2015

Straw Bale Gardening ~ Conditioning the Bales

This is part three of my journey into Straw Bale Gardening.  You can read parts one and two here and here.  It is now day 4 of the conditioning process.  Days one and three the bales are sprinkled with a high nitrogen lawn fertilizer, and everyday the bales are watered well.  This jump-starts the composting process that goes on inside of the bales, which in turn creates the warmth and nutrients that cause the garden to flourish.  Since my last blog I have placed the soaker hose on top and pinned it in place down the middle and along the length of the bales. 


Gazillions of tiny drops of water gently slip off of the hose and onto the straw, giving it a complete soaking in about 30 minutes.  I know this, because I also installed a hose end timer so I never forget to water when I am supposed to and for the right amount of time!  Watering has always been my downfall, causing some of my plantings to commit suicide before growing to adulthood...or veggiehood.  I see this timer as my garden saver, and my path to a green thumb - finally!

 Just in case, though, I have taken drastic measures (for me, anyway!) and painted my thumb green...well, at least the nail is green. 

It pains me to admit it, but I goofed.  I know, hard to believe - or is it?  This is ME, after all.  Yep, I can be clutzy, forgetful, too rushed, and so on.  In my excitement to begin conditioning the straw, I zipped over to our local garden center and purchased some lawn fertilizer, concentrating only on the nitrogen content.  Now, here it is, day four and I finally read the fine print.  Much to my horror (okay, that may be a bit of an exaggeration) I discovered it is the timed release kind, which still works, but takes longer.  So, today I skipped on over to another big box store and bought what I really needed...just plain ol' lawn food with high nitrogen.  It wasn't too late, as I found out from my friends on facebook at Straw Bale Miracle Garden.  Whew!

So, here we are so far....four days of conditioning, soaker hose is in place, posts and 2 by 4's installed and awaiting wire for the trellis system.  I am on my way!  Next week the bales should be nice and warm and smelling sweet like composting stuff should smell. Uh...perhaps sweet isn't the correct word to use.  They will be smelling and I will know it is time to plant!  Yippee!  Just when the garden centers are getting in their Spring shipments!  I should have a good selection to choose from for my Straw Bale Kitchen garden!  Retail therapy - I can't wait!

Stay tuned!  I'll post more of my progress soon!

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Huge Green Hugs,

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Baby Steps to Straw Bale Gardening

For the last two years, this raised bed has been my main garden space, with three smaller raised beds off to the side.   My garden skills were forty plus years rusty, but much of what I planted grew in spite of myself.  I have this bed refreshed and ready to plant again once the last frost is past, along with my new experiment in straw bale gardening.

You can read about the beginnings of this adventure here.  Today I'll blog about my baby steps in getting started on my journey.  After reading about this idea on William Fleming's facebook page, Straw Bale Miracle Garden, I ordered a book on the subject - one that he recommended and I do as well.  It was very helpful, (as is William!) easy to understand, and it seems to cover all of the steps and reasons why that one could ask for.  If you find yourself as excited as I am about these miracle straw bales, I suggest you may want to order it for yourself.  The book is Straw Bale Gardens by Joel Karsten.  It is available at his website, also on Amazon, or at your local Walmart and Lowes stores.

After reading the book, I couldn't wait to take a good long look at my backyard to determine the best place for such a garden, and then to decide how adventurous I felt.  How many bales of straw should I get?  That might depend on availability and price, so I did what every modern gardener does nowadays ~ I began asking my facebook friends and posting on local facebook group sites related to farm and garden issues. Well...I mean, doesn't everybody resort to facebook?  I got some good suggestions and began my search.  I found helpful folks at one of the local feed stores and purchased eight bales.  Yikes!  Did I just say eight bales?  I sure hope my brown thumbs will turn green and make this project a huge success!

Our trusty (and lazy) old dog, Jacob supervised the laying out of the landscape fabric which goes under the bales.  HoneyBunny (my hubby) helped by unloading the four bales from the first trip to the feed store.  A second trip was necessary as four bales filled the back of our truck.  So, now I had the very beginnings of my straw bale garden.

Once the rest of the bales were in place, I began the 10 day seasoning process.  Three days of watering the bales, then some days of watering and adding nitrogen to kick-start the decomposing process of the bales.  That's the secret ~ I knew there had to be one!  The plants love the nutrients that the decomposing middle of the bales provide as well as the heat it creates.  That and there are no or few weeds that creep up through those bales, and little to no dirt is needed...and bending over to garden - not so much!

Today the posts for the trellis system were pounded into the ground.  Next week we will have 2x4s put across the top of the posts to stabilize them, and string wire between the posts, creating a trellis along each of the two rows of bales for tomatoes, beans, cucumbers and whatever else likes to climb.

While the bales go through the 10 days of fertilizing and watering, I will be planning what to plant and where to plant each veggie.  I'll continue to journal my progress and I hope you will be inspired to try something new, too.  I love the saying "Grow food, not grass!"  It may become my new motto!
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Huge Green Hugs,

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Straw Bale Gardening ~ The Start of My Journey

Gosh, it has been such a long time since I have blogged here that I feel like a total stranger to the blog universe.  I hope you will be kind and help me work my way back into the blogosphere where I once felt so welcomed.

This last week I saw a post on Facebook about Straw Bale Gardening.  I had heard of it before, but I had never investigated the whole idea.  My first step into this journey was to join a group on Facebook just for people who love or want to try Straw Bale Gardening.  Next, I ordered a book on the subject, visited a couple of websites...and poof!  I am a believer!  I can't wait to try this!  Best part??  No weeds, raised beds, very little dirt, easy to set up, composted straw at the end of the season!

I am still reading the book, and at the same time I am making a mental list (soon to be a printed list since I am really, really good at forgetting things lately!) of the things I will need in order to create this magical garden.  I'll post my own photos as I travel this road I am on so you can see just how I am doing and progressing.  There are some great photos online, but those were the results of someone else's hard work and I don't want to infringe on their efforts.

Here's a little snag, or maybe not.  I live in the high desert of Southeastern Arizona.  Do we even grow cereal grain around here?  I doubt it.  But folks do raise farm animals who probably love the feel of a straw bed, so I am sure someone sells bales of straw.  My research tells me I need wheat or oat straw, preferably organic.  That may be a problem.  How do I know if pesticide was ever used on the particular crop that a particular bale came from?  Trust must be an important factor in this search.
So, I am on the prowl for straw...good straw.

Tomorrow I am off to the Sierra Vista Farmer's Market to talk with some of the local growers who may be able to steer me in the right direction.  Another good resource are the locals who know where to find the straw around these parts.  I already have a few good suggestions.

Stay tuned as I document my adventure in Straw Bale Gardening in my backyard garden.

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Huge Green Hugs,

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

No Knead Crusty Bread ~ So Easy!

This bread experiment was everything I had hoped it would be and more!  I wanted to share my test run with you so you can give it a try if you like.  I found the recipe on Pinterest.  The pin originated from a great blog that you should take a peek at...Simply So Good.  The original post for her Crusty Bread can be found here.  I tell you this not only to give her credit, but so you can go to the post and read all of the comments which are chock full of tips and hints as well as variations of this bread which seem to be never-ending!  My little post is just the beginning ~ hers gives you so much more information and ideas! 

You will need a cast iron dutch oven or lidded pot.  Enameled cast iron will also work, as will any oven ready pan with a tight lid.  I used a black cast iron dutch oven that I found at our local Fry's grocery store for $39.99.  There are others that cost much more if you want to give them a try.  I do recommend reading reviews of each brand, as some of the enameled ones have had problems with cracking and peeling...not all, but some.

Then get ready for the easy peasy we go!


  • 3 cups          white unbleached flour (you can experiment with other flours)
  • 1 3/4 t          salt (kosher is suggested, but I used sea salt and it tasted great)
  • 1/2 t             yeast (I used dry active)
  • 1 1/2 cups    water
      If you use yeast that calls for disolving in water, be sure to count that water towards your total.


In large bowl, add your flour and salt.  Add yeast if you are using instant, otherwise add it with the water. 


Whisk the dry ingredients to mix. 


Next, add water (and yeast with water) and mix.

The dough will be sticky and look funky, but that's what it is supposed to do.


Cover the dough with saran wrap or press n seal and let sit on the kitchen counter for 12 - 18 hours.  DON'T PUT IT IN THE REFRIGERATOR!  It needs to proof for all those hours.  It will rise, so be sure your bowl is large enough.

After it rises (mine didn't double in size, but did come up some), it will look sticky but that's normal. 

Place your empty pan or dutch oven in a preheated oven at 450 degrees and let it heat up for 30 minutes.   While it is heating, move the dough to a well-floured board or mat and shape it into a round mound.  Mine was too moist and didn't shape well, but have will still turn out okay!

After 30 minutes, take your pan out of the oven and carefully place the dough in the very hot your hands!  Flouring your hands before you do this will help since it is so sticky.  Mine was actually like the blob, and kept sliding off my hands, but I a managed to sneak it into the pot anyway!

Place pan back in oven with lid on and bake for 30 minutes.  Take lid off and bake for another 15 minutes.  Even with my flat dough and wrestling to get the blob into the pan, this is what I ended up with...

Remove from pan - it doesn't stick, just comes out clean - and cool on a rack.  Mine tasted yummy, tho' it was a bit course looking.  I may need to add a bit more flour and stir and handle less to get a finer look.  But, as Janet says, this is a very forgiving bread!   My Hubby loved it, too!  I took some to my neighbor and she also loved it!

Success!  Now to experiment with some of the variations mentioned on Janet's post!  I can't wait to bake it again! 

Happy baking!

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Huge Green Hugs,Pat

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Tips to Attract & Feed Wild Birds in the Winter

Do you like to feed wild birds and/or watch them flit around your yard and garden?  I do.  I have several bird feeders in our yard and near windows so I can have a front row seat for nature.  Their antics and pecking order (pun intended) are fascinating to me.  I came across these tips and want to share them with you.
Here are some things to keep in mind if you decide to feed wild birds this winter when their food becomes scarce.
1. You are making a commitment
You accept a responsibility when you decide to take on wild bird feeding.  Keep in mind that you will need to purchase bird feed often, and make trips out to your bird feeder at least several times a week (daily in our neighborhood) to refill  the feeders or clean up the area.  (Birds can be very messy!)  And once you begin, the birds will learn to depend on your offerings.  They will return hungry and often!
2. The right food
Certain birds like certain foods.  The secret to attracting birds to your backyard is to feed specific to find out what kinds of birds are in your area and which ones you want to attract. Then buy the feed accordingly.  
Here are the preferred diets of some of the more common backyard birds.
- Sunflower seeds: black-capped chickadees, blue jays, dark-eyed juncos, mourning doves, gold finches, evening grosbeaks
- White millet: mourning doves, house finch, gold finch
- Cracked corn: cardinals, mourning doves, pigeons, blue jays, starlings
- Peanuts: tufted titmice, black-capped chickadees, red and white-breasted nuthatches, hairy and downy woodpeckers
- Suet: black-capped chickadees, evening grosbeaks, house and gold finches
Sparrows will eat all of the above except peanuts.
3. The right feeder
Some birds, such as mourning doves and black-eyed juncos, prefer feeding on the ground. If you want to attract ground-feeders, be sure you have some sort of covering in the form of shrubbery or fencing, as ground-feeding tends to attract predators. If you have a hanging feeder, it's still a good idea to provide protection for ground-feeders because some of the seed will fall to the ground, attracting ground-feeding birds. For hanging feeders, get one that is sturdy and has a guard against squirrels and raccoons.  You may also want one or two feeders that are built just for the smaller birds so the larger ones don’t dominate them.  Give the larger birds a different one or two. 
4. Plant trees and shrubs that produce winter berries
Another way to attract birds to your back yard is to have plants that bear fruit in the winter.  Examples include dogwood, American holly, wax myrtle, and firethorn. These are also lovely landscape plants, and they provide protection for their feathered munchers in the form of thorns or dense growth.  I wonder if any of these grow well in our high desert climate.  Looks like a little research is in order!
5. Water
A water source such as a birdbath also attracts birds. In the winter, you will need to keep the water from freezing either by hand (such as pouring warm water into it periodically) or by purchasing a commercial birdbath that uses electricity to heat the water.  Gosh…who knew there was such a thing?  Guess I need to wander the garden centers more often!
6. Be patient
It often takes a few days for the birds to discover your buffet.  If you are willing to wait, however, some feathered friends will eventually show up.  As word gets around, more and more birds will come to your feeder and you will be blessed with many bird watching opportunities.
Have fun with your new-found feathered friends and let us know how it goes!  What birds visit your feeders?

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Huge Green Hugs,Pat

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