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Thursday, November 16, 2017

Thermal compost in Midwest video

One of the most helpful videos I found on youtube for Midwest, arid climates on thermal compost/hot compost.

There several points in the field part of this video from agro university students and post graduates that do explain why in Midwest in spring or summer people who trry to compost straw bales by Joel Karston's book with 12 days nitrogen induced method do experience part composting at best or the composting never does start in the mountains. Please see the 3 day prep of the materials before the compost pile is formed. Please see where this method is and compare with the composting of the straw in more humid climates. This is how thermal compost is done in Midwest.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Straw bale gardening: take away from presentations N6, trellises, pests, look

and fixing solutions play list
Now the pests... 
Mice will use dry straw bales, he recommends to leave these on site over winter, so ay mice moved in, now he recommends to start watering in spring, by that time mice would make couple generations (mine would :)) , then we water, mice do not like wet straw so they move out, if feral cats do not get them where would mice to go? House? Garage? That;s where neighbors mice went when they cleaned the hay in barn redoing the barn :), ridding of mice. Ok, a side effect. We are in semi-country on large lots with barn, and folk have cats and we have hawks and owls and coyotes... They at mice... I'm catching mice in my chicken coops in traps for 2 weeks because the buggers went into the wall behind nesting boxes where chickens do no catch them...
So Joel recommends to put hardware cloth under the bale as voles barrier. Well, the voles I would be more worried about (not mice) because those eat my roots...
Let's research voles barriers and is hardware cloth under is enough... Maybe ask some nurseries that had voles problems with them eating roots... they do travel above the dirt level and plastic and get into arrays of plastic pots... Should I wrap the bales in the hardware cloth or put corrugated raised beds and wrap bottom of that in hardware cloth in hardware cloth (galvanized, otherwise voles will get in). Now that will be very expensive.

Now the looks...
I'm in the country, well semi-country and to be honest people here can afford to make things look nice, several neighbors are very handy and resourceful about making things look nice
Hals decomposed straw bales look gray and falling apart. In the country ... meah... that's ok. He recommends to put flowers in sides, and because straw bales are an annual setting thing. Hoping that flowers will fill in (that would be more plants concentration than in square foot gardening) they will look blooming when the garden is in a full swing, then when the annuals are done we are back to half decomposed uneven rows of falling apart straw bales. Unless they already had raised beds walls.
In suburbia a nosy neighbor may complain about that and hoa is not likely to approve that type of a raised bed...
Not like I'm going to get that but I'm not the main customer for that method either, it appears from the podcasts it's marketed to suburban and urban gardeners as a fort of container gardening. That is supposed to be cheaper than soil and containers.

Now the trellises
Straw bales need to be stabilized, they decompose, meaning fall apart, that means one needs to anchor into the dirt through the straw bale at least foot to 2 feet plus the high of the bales. That means get the tallest t-post from the farm store (I pulled tractor supply, home depot will cost more)  8-10 feet. 8 footers are $8 a piece, 10 footers are $10 a piece, post driver $25 (you want one for $39) the cheapest and you do not want that one that much... but that's the cheapest, t-post puller s $20 the cheapest and you do not want that one either you want $60 red one (trust me on that :) ).
Then the wire or panels, top boars over the trellis... It does add up...
Tomato cages will fall off the bale, so those will not work.
We have 10 foot $10 post on each row end, tension wire roll, all that must go 2 feet into the ground, and also have posts in between depending how log the row are. My trellis and cattle panels are every 6-8 feet I have the post. Nothing else does hold my tomato weeds in my soil. For someone who is just starting... Its not the post cost, you will get it as soon as you will try to put that post into clay without post driver and try to get that post out without the pot puller (that's $100 in tools for you right there)... unless someone like to dig 2 feet holes and do a lot of hand yanking (those posts are designed to be pulled by the tool and not by your hands,,, use very good $20 glows when you do... of just go rent the post puller to get it out).
One can not make 5 bales t-post trellis for $15, costs of the posts do not add up unless he uses not tools and buys these posts at bulk price as deer fences (they come in 250-360- range, I needed to do 1200 feet of fence, so I did price that and I did not need 8 footers because I did go into the ground and not bale high above it).

And also when you drive t-posts give me a favor that Joel never is mentioning anywhere in his podcasts : use call before you dig services if you are going to drive t-posts into the ground couple of feet deep. Just trust me on that... you may find many lines do not run below couple of feet. Especially for the warmer climates where they do not freeze and do not have to run certain utilities below the frost level. Because you do not want to find some line by t-post dead center. Just saying.
O found one of my water lines like that with a t-post on multiple acres, and that was a good thing after we got in another zone into the garden. It was just our inherited irrigation water line.
When I found where my gas line is in the proximity of my blackberry bushes... I'm moving my blackberries and not driving no t-posts in there period... Neither should you without calling your local locate services.

Now I'm thinking those free straw bales come with a lot of additional costs for straw bale gardening method.

He talks about getting rid of the straw bales. He recommends using it in post and as mulch... Why do not use it to improve the soil under the bails? Did not get that unless he want folk to buy more and more bales. He does talk about little pile of compost and he moves it or makes new bales from the old ones... What strikes me he never talks about improving the soil on site. He wants people to stick with straw bales and wants people most importantly  to convince themselves to try it and they will commit themselves. Now that's the sales man! I'm impressed. However I'm not convinced and not about to convince myself that it's an easy fool proof cheap method. So far my podcasts listening, forums reading, feedback reading ... it did not add up to that self convincing thing. The main thing is after 24 years he still is doing straw bales and dealing with weeds outside straw bales. That's the main reason for him not using garden soil. So far that was interesting. What will I do with my free straw bales. So far my chickens are playing with some of them and pooping on some of them as under the roost bedding, my worms will take over that after chickens are done with it :).

I also asked questions in his forums, about pre-conditioning in high mountain deserts. Answers - like from the admin, and nothing. Must have asked wrong questions. Asked is anyone did try to pre-condition in autumn, our autumn is like Alaska spring, we have stings and warmer in summer, but very much drier 10% humidity. He said a lot of love in Alaska coastal areas... why not a lot of love in high mountain desert? Is our not humid cold the method killer? It supposed to be the universal one according to the marketing.

The original location of the straw bale promoter garden remarks
O did look at his troubleshooting presentations. Where is his garden located? Under very much established pine trees.
In 20 years over there in the soil he should be having high fungal very much alive soil unless he was pooing lots of fertilizers salts on it leaching that from his bales..
He should be having very rich pure compost soil in there...
I did not get it why he does not and still doing straw bales year after year with the fertilizers.
That one is the major disconnect for me, how did he manage with all these organic materials introduced on top of his soil still do and prefer high bacterial young compost for tomatoes and other vegetables, most importantly why? He should not be needing that by now in that location...
I'm in high mountain desert and I have high fungal compost already in my terraces made out of free logs, wood chips and horse poop. He has there on his site way better start. Why is he still doing straw bales...
in this video in particular, his wooden stake was pushed by hands then pounded a little. In our bad clay that does not happen unless in spring. He should not be needing straw bales by now, he should be sitting on couple feet of good compost, if he does not I wonder what has happen...

Straw bale gardening: take away from presentations N5, costs

Next thing is the cost. $5-10$ per bale is not free. Then the fertilizer is not free either, the water is not free, there are states where water is the commodity. 3 cups per bale per application of blood meal is a lot of blood meal that cost will add up. And the straw bales are the temporary garden structure. They do collapse because they do compost.
Folk can get free bails after Halloween. Those are sold for decoration. Are they clean or not? Would store overpay for organic ones unless the poor farmer is selling of overstock at a dump prices? About these risks see More of straw bale gardening: listening to podcasts and presentations 2#N

Planting a tomato into a bale that is 85-100F (forbid you a hundred) is the transplant shock esp if rge outside temperatures just did hit 50-th and may dip into 40-th at nigh... That is an odd thing to suggest. In Siberia folk do not do that kind of a thing either... it not elevated like straw bale, it's a trench...
By 12 days... it's not yet compost, that does not happen that fast.
I really would like to see life forms data on day 12. If that bale is compost already why the method is calling for by-weekly fertilizing. In every forum about that method. 

Also there is one thing I do not get ... the author does it for 20 years on one spot, bales last 2 years or so... they decompose and that's a lot of compost. If his straw bales are so good and clean how come he is not planting in pure compost by now and still doing beginning of the succession path bacterial compost start every year with 24 bales or so... His system should become self sustainable a long time ago, so why it did not... why is he still buying straw bales and fertilizers? On 20 years say 24 bales each year $5 a piece that's 2400... what kind of garden can I make with that...
Mine cost me 340 for cattle panels, 60 for t-posts because I have rabbits for the fence... garden itself cost 250 to hire the guy with tractor and bed of manure to till first 5 cm of pasture because it did not go ant deeper (and that was good). My garden is way bigger than 24 bales so. It became self sustainable by the end of my first season, now I do add leaves and free wood chips to it. And I yet to pay for any fertilizers...
Makes me wonder is that straw bale thing really economical.
I've got mine free except truck gas (was less than 1 mile trip twice).
Now I wonder do I want to pay for all that fertilizer thing or do I want to let my chickens to tear up bales or poop on them real good and see where that would go just for giggles.

Then there is the cost of the trellises and pests control (rodents and bugs)

Straw bale gardening: take away from presentations N4, marketing

Next thing that is marketing "oh we love it and it was so easy and we are expanding", whoever found that method did not work - that's their own fault they did not read the book they did not follow this that and the other. Basically there are happy first timers (usually from more humid climates with longer than 3 month growing seasons above 45F), folk who keep their troubles and successes to themselves, ones who are vocally unhappy. The thing is to try to convince people to try it as a weed free cheaper version of container gardening. They split into very happy, somewhat happy and really unhappy and blamed for their own failures.
And that is marketed as easy follow these 12 days steps and then plant then fertilize water and harvest.
What about the bales structure, climate, commercial fertilizer versus organic? Is that clear why organic based fertilizer takes another week longer when it supposed to have same nitrogen amount applied per bale? Why is that?
In the forums supported by gurus the answer is simple - go buy the book and read it all the answers are there. Not really. That's correct buy the correct edition, the last one,so those who have being reading at the library the previous edition of the method and have followed and still are not successful for some reason got blamed for their own not success because they did not buy the latest book edition. 
Here is the contradiction in the primary marketing that seems to have place:
 the author likes to talk how does the mother nature manage the system and about bacteria (after all he does start with high bacterial young composting medium), but when it comes to growing he does not operate in terms of the same life forms and sustainability of the systems, he operates in NPP (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium), if that is the virgin soil and a good compost then whey does that require routine fertilizing to support the plants? What does happen with the life forms? Are we just looking at semi-jump started high lasagna beds with limited  into container gardening scale volumes?
If all that is the brand new soil created by mother nature and "brand new soil created by this process contains all of the micro nutrients and trace elements as well as the Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium that were contained in the stalks" then why does this method calls for a lot of fertilizer?
Does he sell the book and fertilizers adds?
And after 24 years of making compost and inoculating soil under (I mean I hope he does not toss spent straw bales to buy new ones) why is he still buying bales and his garden is still not 100% self sustainable (or maybe not because his book sales he would have a deal with one straw vendor...what about someone who does not have that deal with the straw vendor.. they would pay, right?)...
If he relies on the mother 20-24 years he should have extremely well conditioned garden because he has introduced a lot of organic materials and with the right biology in the soil he should not be growing weeds by now, he should be on high fungal compost. He is in relatively humid climate (Roseville, MN according to his contact web site form). 
At the book price 24.99 several books marketed buy him straw bales for the season. That does make perfect commercial sense. However it seems that his goal is not soil building (he would already have it after 24 years). Would that mean that his system with the barrier between the bales and his soil still leaves his plot in the state of dirt versus soil and does not make his land to work for him and the land still remains the liability and not the self sustainable asset after 24 years by 2017?  
That kind of a data does make me wonder... Because here I see my own neighbor on solid clay with 1 inch of sandy top soil 25 years after in her garden, fully self sustainable and having soil as the asset. In high mountain desert. Makes me wonder why he is still doing temporary raised straw bale beds after 24 years ... unless his goal is to stay with straw and not with soil improvement. That would make sense.

Another marketing thing is how straw-bales are sold is by ability to plant the tomatoes earlier into the warm straw bale because the straw bale is hot (high bacterial) and there foe that's genius. What is genius is that home depot, lowes and other stores when they stock garden plants stock a lot more tomatoes. Suburban gardeners like to buy tomatoes, first tomatoes on the block are cool because that gardener must know something special.
Now where did the tomato come from? Did it come from bacteria dominated early succession environment? It turns out it did not, they are higher on biological succession where bacterial and fungal activity in the soils are balanced, they grow where more developed perennial plants grow and where soils can support them and also near shrubs. And people who are not successful planting tomatoes and getting stunted plants ... they get to listen how many things did they do wrong and did not follow the book. 
hold on a second, the method supposed to be very easy and cheap and grow early tomatoes first gardener on the block. That kind of talk makes me wonder do I want to mess with straw bales when I already grow tomato trees in my soil anyways

Are the straw bales going to be asset or a fertilizer sucking liability I have to babysit to get them compost just right.

Straw bale gardening: take away from presentations N3, watering

Joel Karsten podcasts references
Next thing is watering, 
In his method marketing presentations I see him talking about 2 easy things regarding watering the bales  during conditioning, run water over the bale till it comes from the bottom or water like a minute per bale (that's from these presentation from podcast with master gardener). So that's the recommendation for the garden hose (average garden hose in the suburbia will produce a lot more water than 1 gallon per minute). In the other presentations he uses 1 gallon per bale for the conditioning.
On the other hand the man himself has blamed the straw vendor (and pretty decent size vendor 60k bales a season) in comments that he had to water a lot because he has over watered. The straw vendor here has mentioned that the straw bale garden used a lot more water compared to raised beds mulched with the straw and he has pointed exactly to the area of evaporation. He did straw bale test garden for the season and shared what has worked and what has not. According to what one will see on his videos (in his area near Arkansas river) he did cook the straw indeed, he also picked nice tight top quality bales because his father is the straw vendor for free. He did 2016 season, video is published in the beginning of May 2017 (right before the straw sales season... so why would a vendor of straw do that to not to sell straw bales :) ). With soaker hose 15 min a day increased when his tomatoes started experiencing heat strikes and blight (which should not be happening on straw bales according to Joel as a disease).
Quote. (that was about September 2017 at the end of the nearest season)
"The key to success is to water no more than one gallon of water per application. Then increase the frequency of watering as the plants grow and summer heat comes. IF you water a lot and water runs out the bottom, then you will leach nitrogen out as well. It is THE most common mistake new straw bale gardeners make. Once you start overwatering, the excess water leaches nitrogen and pulls the newly forming bacteria and fungi inside the bales right out the bottom, and the result is wilting plants that look like they need more water. The next day you water longer and the problem is exacerbated and you water more, etc. simply stated at no time ever should you add more than one gallon to a bale,  the results will change dramatically. Last summer we had pretty regular rain and after the conditioning process many people never needed to irrigate at all, Mother Nature provided enough water. In addition, you are missing several of the most important advantages of straw bale gardening over traditional soil gardening. I'm 48 and the first half of my life I grew a garden in soil but the past 24 years I've only grown in bales, so trust me I know both methods very well. One of the biggest advantages is that when the bales are being conditioned they get hot inside, and in the spring when the soil is still cold the bales are much warmer, and this give a huge jump start to all of your warm season crops like tomatoes and cucumbers. In addition soil harbors many diseases and insect larva from year to year over winter, while the bales allow you to start each season with virgin soil which forms inside the bales as they condition for planting. The other huge advantage is that a straw bale garden won't get flooded out like soil gardens often do with heavy spring rains. Training vegetation and vines to climb Vertically on trellises above the bales also changes the culture of most gardens, with better air circulation and lower humidity the foliage stays drier which translates to fewer bacterial and fungal disease issues. Having the foliage up off the ground also allows earlier detection of insects or disease issues, and when using a spray treatment it is much easier to get coverage of leaves from multiple angles because the vines are hanging on trellises above your bales. The cost of the bales is irrelevant when compared with the incredible labor savings of this method. I'd suggest you try it again Preacher and get a copy of "Straw Bale Gardens Complete " and read it! Use it as your guide to success this time. I watched your videos and your biggest mistake which appeared very early was overwatering on a major scale. One minute per bale is more than enough."

Here is the thing, the farmer is on well water, the book author never asked about well speed or amount of water per bale. The farmer got blamed for overwatering and here the author came to comment because it's indeed the straw vendor having the good point if the straw bale garden was such a bomb he would not be there in a barn with so many not sold straw bales. 
Here is what the son of the straw vendor has answered
Joel, I appreciate your comment and I encourage people to give their opinions. I did a lot of research on this before I started the garden. To be perfectly honest after the bales were conditioned the opinions went in every direction as to watering, feeding, planting and so on. Our problem was not lack of nitrogen, bacteria, or fungi. We fertilized periodically and captured the run off water and added it back to the bales (returning what was leached out.) The bales grew mushrooms off and on all summer. We had lots of veggies. I have said that I am not expert, but raised beds are easier for me to maintain straw bales. I hate having to haul bales in and out every year and I live 200 yards from the barn and they're free for me. If they work good for you and you like them, I say plant them for 24 more years. Thanks for your input I hope it helps some one contemplating straw bales to hear from a successful straw gardener

It is an honest answer. and indeed he did return the water in because he has collected it. Some did evaporate but if you see where is his round leaning good bit of his water is absorbed back into the bales... at least if they were a spurge and he did give the timing 15 min on a soaker hose auto set up on timer. That's what is a good set up.

Another comment

Robert Fallin I've watered my garden only three times all summer. All three times were in June when we had no rain for three weeks. Otherwise I haven't watered at all. The reason your garden is using so much water is because you overwatered. Once you start that cycle you cannot stop. Read my first post or my blog post on this exact subject. Try again and never use more than a single gallon per application per bale and after conditioning, don't water unless the bales are dry inside. You'll see a 
HUGE difference.

Here is one gallon per minute contradicting with his own podcasts recommendations. That's for every climate. And very size of the bale. But anyways he wants the customer to go ahead and buy his book. He's the book promoter so that's a natural behavior for that type of a sales situation.

So we have 1 gallon per minute, water till bale is saturated, water 15 min a day, water 3 times per day 5 min each from the same person in different presentations.
Now I'm getting confused on the easiness of the method because it does become that pretty clear to be successful with that one has to have automated drip system with that set up outputting 1 gallon per day per bale of water (otherwise it is not going to work and do the right bacteria thing). Now the plants feeding with that system should be... can not use granules because you will overwater, that would mean one has to have fertilizer coming into the dip system and buy more parts for that.
And I was thinking of using my weeds brew I make on site for my garden from my bindweed and thistles I've inherited (they were not in my garden the first 2 years, some did blow in, some are still on the property having the amount of those and alkaline clay soil... that's their habitat and they try to raise me water table) . It looks like with this method I have to have drip system with the particular output. Now will that work in high mountain desert? Or do I need to pay for the man's consultation himself? I did scan his forums and did read posts from folk who did it in my area. I see one successful growing something and no one came to the same method for the next season. I see one garden club that tried it and several people were successful, all of them has straw uncased raised beds style. That is still an expense for the raised beds using corrugated sheets of metal. None did free pallets walls. So I wonder... is that method as universal as it's marketed...
This blog would have lots of 'you have overwatered' and therefore that's you own fault thrown at her things. What I'm saying if people do apply it by the book in every climate it does not mean they will compost any bale uniformly. If that was so easy his following would be much much bigger in 24 years compared to what he has now. The method does not produce uniform results everywhere. It seems to work in more humid climates better.
People who are unsuccessful with  this method are told by avid followers and the man himself they are trolls, what they did wrong with more than one thing and as a conclusion ' to buy my latest book' because all the answers supposed to be all in there.
It is a garden popular book. For me it's very much lucking the biology data and makes me wonder was that ever observed and used to reduce the wide variety of the field tests results and levels of the frustration of the folk who tried that and came to conclusion not to do that again for the various reasons. From the marketing point of view it seems he has main customer base that are first time buyers. He also has a small set of avid followers bases in several types climates, and his happy customer base is more of a coastal closer to water sources. 
Lots of mountain folk know it's not as easy to compost that straw as some try to say it is :)

Take a look at this video on Joels's site, it has his drip system going. that drip is going pretty high I wonder how much is that outputting, his bales are pretty wet looking

Straw bale gardening: take away from presentations N2, sprouting bales, contamination

Joel Karsten podcasts references
Next thing that is often mentioned is that the bales do not sprout and there is no diseases in that bale. That one begs the question how hot the inside of the bale was, because disease causing bacteria and fungi will be killed in the hot compost, but does the straw bale really get there? Most of the pictures show the sides of the bales not really decomposing at all... So if those sides did not get hot the life forms (disease causing and not) would be still there, right? Same thing will happen with whatever insects eggs were there on outside of the bales, the eggs will hatch, why not, nothing was there to kill them like hot compost would. Same with the weed seeds, why would they be killed on outside of the bale, esp if one tops those bales with nice 2-3 inches of garden mix... that weed seed will sprout, why not. Here is from the authors blog
Then that would mean under-cooked compost that never has gotten hot enough to kill diseases and weed seeds if there were any. That type of warm temperatures do happen in cold composting lasagna beds, but they take way longer than 12 days to get ready. 
Bottom line here I found blog, book, podcasts of the same person who is the main method promoter contradicting. It does not answer my 'why' questions. He's clearly going for hot compost in the center but at the same time the amount of the results variations he has in the field is blamed on the gardener.

One type of the bale will not sprout broad leaf weeds - the treated bale aka certified weed free straw... The sides of that bale never got hot enough to kill the seeds and force them to lose vitality... Plenty of the pictures of sprouting bales, they sprout what does not react on particular class of herbicides and are grasses like. That's not what a gardener does grow... If that kills thistle, clovers and mustard that kills the tomato and beans and cabbages...
Most pesticides, including herbicides, break down quickly in the composting process. 

Picloram, Clopyralid and Aminopyralid do not. Theseare

    Easily absorbed by plants.
    Remain chemically stable and intact in both live and dead plants.
    Do not breakdown substantially in animal digestive tracts so contaminate manure, urine and bedding with residues.
    Breakdown very slowly in composts and soils with an estimated half life of 1 - 2 years.
    Affect sensitive crops at very low concentrations - 1-3 ppb. 

    Picloram - sold as Tordon, Access, Surmount, Grazon, and Pathway.

    Clopyralid - sold as Curtail, Confront, Clopyr AG, Lontrel, Stinger, Millennium Ultra, Millenium Ultra Plus, Reclaim, Redeem, Transline.
    Aminopyralid - sold as Milestone, Forefront, Pharaoh, Banish. 
All these will require a license to apply. 

So barley and wheat will sprout, everything else will result in stringy plants.
There is a statement that farmers do not use these days a lot of chemicals on wheat and barley so there is not much of it in straw... I beg the pardon but that is not true. Wheat treated by the end with roundup to dry it is... very much a common thing in conventional crops (see Monsanto and how much of that do they sell)... The method promoter should have stared with USDA organic straw that had no over-spray including dicamba.
The statements that straw now days is coming in pretty much organic condition is simply not true.
If that was true usda organic and not organic feed grains would cost the same and that's not about to happen any time soon at all...

Is the average gardener going to test on say beans with 3 controls and 3 test ones pear each bale in the garden (say of 20 bales, or even 5...) with straw tea for a month is the bail clean or not?
Guess what, the method is marketed as simple to sell the book. My guess is an average gardener would not do that... it's too complicated.

Straw bale gardening: take away from presentations N1, bales prep

Found some of Joel Karsten podcasts 

I did my listening I spent my time. And it was interesting. It does tell me a lot regarding how inexpensive that straw bale method is going to be. Or will it?

There are some interesting points regarding the science of this method according to him. And he does sell his book about it.
He started about 20-24 years ago, by 2017 it's 24 (look at the date of the podcast and I pulled latest several years to get his latest opinions) years ago in a new house with 1 inch of top soil, looks like was familiar with Ruth Stout work, decided to do straw bales experiments. 
Could have built those raised beds out of free-cycle materials and layer all the neighborhood waste in them like leaves and what else over cardboard or newspaper top it with some compost and mulch. Bit he did write book on straw bales and is making marketing effort towards that.

He does compare straw bale with planting in virgin soil after the bales were conditioned.

That one is not particularly true per say... on day 12 what do we have in the straw bale if it was conditioned? It's basically not turned compost that was high carbon medium (does not compost on it's own in that time, it would take several years to full year if the climate is very humid... basically the time for the bacteria to colonize that medium and then the successor species to come feed on the bacteria, where is the food in the food web there is the consumer of the food) that was jump started with nitrogen so the dormant species of bacteria present in the straw would multiply and colonize the medium.
Virgin soil depending on where in the succession it is would have different species living in it and will support different life. From lowest level of complexity where only bacterial life is present and does support simplest vegetation (weeds) to forests. The question is what does live in that soil. What does live on that straw if all that was added was high nitrogen synthetic fertilizer? Species that were in the field where the straw was taken from, blown by wind into it, species that got into the bales on site which ever way. Not all of them will make it. The biodiversity of it... will it be same or different depending on the area? Will be there same bacteria on east coast of USA in the straw in Midwest, on the West coast? What about Northers states versus South? Does that matter? I do not see that covered in any of the podcasts.
If it's the virgin soil then from where? To what type of soil is that compared? Different soils will have different mechanisms of carbon cycling. 
Is that compared to forest virgin soil and what kind of forest broad leaf or pine forests or mixed, or to parries or to meadows and shrubs or to dirt and annual weeds. forests are fungal dominated when dirt with annual weeds is bacteria dominated. It is not clear which one. 
Straw bales start growing mushrooms with time. Do they become high bacterial, high fungal, in between or it depends?
By day 12 that bale start to decompose and become like heated and started to cool down compost would look like at the beginning stages of it, only no one has turned that compost and it is aerobic mostly so hopefully does not breed right bacteria. Hot compost takes about 21 days according to most of the methods, straw bale would be about half way and only inside.
The author talks about planting into that decomposing straw and states that plants will love that bacterial environment. Is that correct from soil biology and plants succession?
I wonder why a strawberry would love high bacterial environment cycling nitrate (that's what that high carbon medium was jump started with) when strawberry is a forest under story plant where the soil is high fungal and bacteria there are oxidizing ammonium. It's like moving strawberry down to succession path more towards mustard...
Is that in the reality about fertilizer fixing everything? I wonder is that does explain why field applications do report failures. 

He references that he has observed thistles growing out of the straw bales.
That one is interesting... and clear cut from modern soil scientists. Thistle is the first stage of the weed plants, first stage of the succession thriving in high bacterial dominated soils, that's what the weeds use and call for.
Related image

So where is he in the ecological succession and soil biological succession?
Thistles are early succession perennial weeds that come after the annual weeds, grasses and lichens on bare rock/eroded rock. The method is recommended as soil alternative for abused weeds growing sold aka dirt.

Image result for elaine ingram soil succession

Straw will grow fungi, however 12 days is not enough for that, that puts us right there in the beginning of the succession. And that fact would explain why this method relying of fertilizers heavily after. Strawberry, tomatoes, cucumbers and many other annuals (strawberry is a perennial in my climate) are higher on the biological succession, they do call for the different sets of nutrients and the biology in the soils compared to weeds and brassica (think radish, kale, cabbages) and amaranthaceae (thing chard, beats...).
Do tomatoes like high bacterial young compost? I found mine like older compost better. But zucchini do love young compost piles rather well.

About his original site... Pines, if not all was killed there then he should not be needing straw bales

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Straw bales

Straw acquired, these are bottom layer bales used as mulch to cover Jerusalem artichokes (for the luck of leaves that were used elsewhere whole 30 something bags of it...)
2 known origin bales are used here.

Nice bales are already on newer pallet and covered with the tarp. So that's 'before' , now it's all cleaned up, all the leaves and stems are recycled and cut into that bed and if any seed comes up, ok, that's my chickens hide out and dedicated sunchokes wicker bed. It did not have a drop of irrigation water, had occasional chicken water bucket dumped in there (like 2 gallons which is nothing for a bed of that size)

Behold chicken play ground :)
These are bottom layer straw bales, granted these gone bunkers digging and scratching (yep, kill that remaining bindweed, rip it all good, not going to complain at all)

These are not set into anything particular, only into a U like shape of sorts because there was part busted bale in there, really there was one in the middle when one of the strings became loose... my mini velasoraptors broke that down and had good fun with it in no time... so it was good I put it into that shape... do not like the idea of flying straw in my dry creek... nope, not happening.

So, folk do straw bale gardens.
Physics and agro techniques of that are very simple. Straw is low nitrogen but very porous material, and it will readily compost granted. What folk do is inoculate these bales with nitrogen and jump start composting activity in there.

Important: placing bales on the ground the way so the straw is up-down not side to side and those ties are tying the bale on sides holding it in shape.

Steps to start straw bale garden are:

  Step 0)  select the location. shapes differ, many cases are row based

  •       single straw bales row, solid of with spaces between bales. these often have t-posts at the ends as trellises. Depending on types of vegetables and space in many cases bales rows have  about 1 meter in between them so wheel barrow passes and they are oriented north to south. 
  • double row of bales (2 bales side by side form wider row, dual trellises, sometimes cattle panels are bent into tunnels 
  • Single row U-W shape aka empty keyholes or joined keyholes shape
  • Double row U or W shapes with access on both sides
  • Reinforced raised bed style straw bales clusters, kind of looks like raised bed with straw inside
  • Square shapes (kind of like raised bed made of straw bales, usually 4 of them with empty or Filled with garden soil space in the middle
  • Straw-bales-walled raised beds with soil in the middle
Some shapes I did not come across yet 
 triangles... not impossible but not practical
 true keyhole with composting center hole where actual compost is working in the middle
 spirals... I guess that would be interesting but not sure how that would work

Step 1) Jump start composting process 
about 2 weeks before planned planting using urea or about 3 week before using organic fertilizer.
  1. By adding water (it's a very dry material , so will need to be soaked for some days depending on the climate). It's very similar to sheet composting when one waters the layers (if can) or waters the whole lasagna pushing tea into the layers for several days in a row (I did 3 times 3 days in a row on all my new layered composting beds and terraces)
  2. Straw is low nitrogen (aka it's browns in composting terms) in composting, so one needs nitrogen (aka greens) to start bacterial activity. Straw does not have that. So folk would add high nitrogen tea (aka cow poop tea, manure tea, greens tea, but there are not many in spring...) or god old urea or even high nitrogen fertilizer (common is lawn fertilizer, but one does not want weed suppress or any of those additives because they will kill your broad leaves garden plants for good or at least damage them enough, and you do not want to eat that anyways).
References say regarding fertilizer ~2-3 cups per bale total using application formula for granules.
With organic fertilizer the formula seems to be 1/2 or urea= 3 cups or organic fertilizer.
Hm... that's a lot of blood meal... It seems urea is most economical jump start. At least it was for me in my composting...

The jump starting process of the bacterial activity is called bales conditioning.

One of typical formulas is about 2 weeks doing 3 days x 4 series of activities:

  • day 1,2,3: soak the bales (water a lot)
  • day 4,5,6: spread 1/2 cup of urea or (20,0,0) fertilizer on the bale and water in that (urea is a fast release fertilizer, so do not get one of those lawn slow release fertilizers...), some books do suggest applying a solution, most go for dry method
  • day 7,8,9: cut down nitrogen fertilizer to half amount 1/4 cup per bale and water in 
  • day 10, 11, 12: water bales
Temperature inside should be warm, About 90F... not too hot because if it is that is not really good. And one needs to wait till bacterial activity drops (do not want to burn starts)
I'd wait till it drops into 65-70 range.

There is a similar formula in some other sources that alternates fertilize-water
Sources say 1-5 gallons per bale... Am I going to count... possibly no :) the water coming out the bottom of the bale, it has enough water :).

Day 0 - pre-water your bale, aka soak. Or soak in morning and fertilize and water in evening on day 1.

  • days: 1 - 3 - 5: Add, 1/2 cup of fertilizer per bale, water in well. 
  • days: 2 - 4 - 6: Water the bales, no fertilizer. 
  • days: 7 -8 -9: Add; 1⁄4 cup of fertilizer per bale, water bale. 
  • day 10: Use 10-10-10 fertilizer 1 cup per bale water in good. 
  • day 11, 12: Leave them alone
  • day 12: Check temperatures in different places of each bale. If the temp is not down to 105° that's too hot, wait. Water each day after day 12 till ready to plant or sow seeds. 

What if one does not want bagged granulated fertilizer... There are high nitrogen organics (blood, bones, feathers...), there is manure. Here is the activation times for all these, cause I'm a geek
From that chart one wants 2 things: lots of nitrogen, fast release (yeah, go have your man pee on bales, by the way healthy pee is stero...)
Blood meal would take longer than 2 weeks... and cost lots more.
Manure - nay for most animals, only dry chicken or turkey poop would have enough (meaning no bedding and that's not my case) and hot composted, fresh does not work :).
Most USA sources do not like manure because of ecoli risks. I use manure only in long composting beds (meaning a year of cooking).
To jump start the bale one needs 5% nitrogen minimum, others are mostly slow release.
I'd go for horse bedding manure tea if one has horses and has to clean it anyways... if one can stomach it per say...
For me personally... nay... urea... because I've tested that on straw already (that's where I found my initial wild worms colony).

About that urea... at farm stores that's not uncommon to see more that 34%, most of the formulas use 30% nitrogen 1/2 cup per bale (or 3 cups of 5% organic nitrogen fertilizer... ). Some suggest to cut urea over 34% in half... I wonder if there are 2-3 books circulating and there is edition 1 and edition 2... of a guru book. On my count after day 16-18 that bale would be high in nitrogen in urea is used. that should be good to plant if temperatures are 90F inside or lover (like lover... but for seeds I do not mind 90F that bad at all... free bacterial heat mat as ordered :) ).

How would I water those bales... I do not like 5 gal buckets, I like 2 gal and that's what my chickens drink from :). So mark the buckets, dissolve urea 2 times per bucket, water 2 bales.
That should do it... And will not wash the bacteria. I think I'll go for pre-soaking method in my dry climate... May need more water on sides of the bale so... hose those buggers on the sides a bit, that water should not go deep enough to bother bacterial activity...

Now some sources suggest plastic under the bale an reuse of water... That one... Because I have worm colonies I'd rather water with worm castings tea after jump star every week... I would not do plastic because why would I limit the roots to just straw bale height... My soil s alkaline, where I put straw bales that's 2 feet of wood chips composted already to 1 foot, not too bad and changed the soil a bit
I want the roots to go down, ones that are more acid loving will stay on the surface and stay away from alkaline soil.

I can see 2-3 layers of card board under bales (for that bindweed...)

Also important to mention all these 2-3 weeks methods are listed for 45F average temperatures.
If it's colder it will cook a lot longer.
Ideal composting outside temperature is 65-85F (and at 85 I do not like it outside but bacteria does...)

Water once a day I believe is reasonable. Why water more, in dry climate... possible, outer layer will dry, but one does not want that to compost fast anyways. When one waters with nitrogen lots of water will get all that into the ground and that's not what one wants. Cold water does stop bacteria and slow it down... because that's what water does.

Slow release commercial fertilizers... Everyone knows nitrogen will be released first, so those slow release do create some coating of the granules... Think marketing and those lawn pro people that one calls 1-2 times a season to apply that. about is the most expensive in that business and insurance, fast release nitrogen will burn the lawn... customer complains, company has more trips to property... market wants slow release because in USA labor and come to site fees cost the most, not that fertilizer...
So find yourself in agro coop cheap fertilizer, that's right :) go shop where farmers shop by 50 pound bags. Ammonium nitrate or ammonium sulfate, but these are usually sold at the farmers coop. That's the one, white or brown bags :). Not unusual to find 36-0-0 or even 41-0-0. Those are your conditioning fertilizers.

Organics... from what I have found will cost more. will it be test worthy on couple of bales... why not...
  • Day one soak bale with water. Sprinkle organic product on top of the bale, it looks like 3 cups per bale and water lightly.
  • Day 1, 3 & 5 add 3 cups organic product in water (most sources say 1 gallon per bale which goes with by 2 gal bucket method) and water. 
  • Day 7, 8 & 9 add 1.5 cups organic product in water and water. 
  • Day 10 add 1.5 cups pot ash (wood ash) or kelp meal for potassium and 1.5 cups fish meal or bone meal for phosphorus. We  are looking for 50/50 of P & K on day 10. 
  • Days 2, 4, 6, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17 water only. 
  • Test on day 18 if bale is 105F or less. 

That counts to 3 weeks range...
I think in dry climates like mine side watering bales would be needed... But spring is mo humid so will see.

Here is another organics prep, UK based
I like that one because it does describe how to use what I already use in my garden and surprisently in same 1/10 diluted solution.

  •  Organic home-brew is simple to make and apply. Preparation should be done a few days before you are ready for the bale. Add a few good handfuls of grass, stinging nettles, or borage which has been cut into pieces, to a pail of water. Weigh it down with a heavy stone or brick, then leave for 7 days to infuse. The resulting liquid can be diluted at roughly 1 part feed to 10 parts water, then applied to the bale. The remaining liquid can be topped-up over the season with more plant material and water, and applied as necessary.
That's my bindweed, thistles and salsafy brew right there, Mine cooks longer for 'bloom' fertilizer and only several days to a week for 'green grow' fertilizer.
  • Compost feed can be produced by taking a few handfuls of compost and adding to water and left to infuse as previously described.
That's my compost tea
  • Manure feed is especially rich in nitrogen which your veggies will love, however it is the ‘stinky’ option! To make this tea place a shovel of manure (horse, sheep, rabbit chicken, or goat is ideal) into a hessian sack and put inside a deep pail of water for 5-7 days. Squish the sack up and down a bit before removing from the pail (you can add it to the compost heap). The resulting tea should be watered down about 15 parts water to 1 part tea. Be aware however that using fresh manure does carry an element of risk with regard to E.coli and other harmful bacteria and worm larvae that may be present.
That's my manure tea, I use 1/10 and also do not use fresh manure, I leave it in buckets overwinter or in pile to overwinter. Fresh manure I cook in composting bed for 9 month to a year+ in layered lasagna beds.
  • With that in mind do take precautions when handling fresh manure, or alternatively (and safer) use well composted manure that has been composting for at least 1 year. Also, do not use manure compost on any low-ground vegetables that may come into direct contact with it such as cucumber or courgettes for instance.
I do not do that either, my manure is under 6 inches of wood chips or entire foot of material like wood chips, hay grass, green weeds, last layer is wood chips.
  • Fish meal, bone meal and seaweed also are great sources of  nitrogen, potassium and other nutrients that will benefit your vegetables.
Priming The Straw Bale:
  • Day 1: Soak the bale completely with water infused with nutrients, or prepare the bale by scattering some store-bought fertilizer over it before soaking.
  • Day’s 2-5: Continue with the soaking and feeding process. Monitor the internal temperature with a thermometer (a compost or meat temperature probe is ideal), and watch for the rise in temperature as the ‘cooking’ process begins.
  • Day’s 6-14: Water every alternate day, checking to see that the bale does not dry out. As the process of cooking out comes to an end, the bale will cool down to reflect a temperature just a little higher or equivalent to, the ambient external temperature. If the reading is still high then wait till it drops before attempting to plant, otherwise it will be too hot for the roots and the plant will likely suffer a premature death!
I like that method... it uses what I have on site already and what I used in my kitchen garden for years.

Step 3). After 2-3 prep weeks folk are ready to plant.
One can use both top and sides (unless it's reinforced by not straw sides raised bed style construction) of the bales.
Soil is used to start plants. Starts are put on top of the bales into holes made with a garden knife (make hole, put that plant in there, water).
In some applications entire top of bales is covered by compost and in some plus wood chips or some kind of mulch on top of the compost.
When one plants seeds they plant it into compost on top (some applications talk about garden soil)
2 inches about.
Water, wait to grow...

Step 4). The method does requite routine fertilizing 
Often books tale about 10,10,10 is needed.
Most sources rely on every 2 weeks schedule. Or 1/4 cup per bale monthly.
One would have to deal with deficiencies. Multiple sources mention luck of magnesium and use of epsom salt to fix  it: l  tea spoon per gallon, 1/4 gallon per plant (keep it at least 2-3 inches from pant, do not poor right at the base it's not soil after all.
I'd say that's a good method to sell some starter plants in containers and some fertilizers.
I look at straw bales as a form of container gardening.

All that does rely on routine watering and fertilizing of the bales. Bales after 2 weeks of nitrogen drenching would start fast release of nitrogen, but not any other nutrients to make them plant available. 
Straw bales often produce fungal activity, usually just a typical composting mushrooms (they are not edible per say). Depending on straw type fungal activity can be lower can be higher. It seem to depend.

Mice, yes have mice... hopefully feral cats find that hide out, mice also have to come out.
Not doing mice barrier, not happening :), too expensive I can use that fine galvanized mesh for my chickens...
And bakes for garden are outside... If mice have idea of making hotel in there I have just the right cement and plaster of paris treats for them... (because I have chickens and wild birds of prey I do not use mice poisons), water bucket traps do freeze in winter so...

Now about hay. Hay... I do not see why not do that after killing the sprouts. Alfalfa our grass hay is much higher in nitrogen that straw, so that one will compost hotter...
And my chickens would literally eat that bale...
Turn out straw bale guru also said hay can be used, I do not see a big need for it, hay is a lot more $ compared to straw.

Step 5). Plants management.
Now because all that sits over actively composting medium some plants need to be tied up (like tomato, peppers, beans) on trellises. Some can tolerate being hanging (some blight and mold tolerant herbs), zucchini, pumpkins and some other types of summer and winter squash.
Second year straw bales would do potatoes and some other root crops. Folk plant carrots first year.
Different brasacas would do well with adequate fertilizing.

Straw bakes are narrow, so t-post trellis, cattle panels, Florida weave... For tomato, pepper, beans one goes up, means trellis, here go things like mini melons, spaghetti squash, acorns and plants of that nature.
Pumpkins, banana squash and other wide monsters - not straw bales unless I place 4 in the middle of nowhere :). I have plenty dirt mulched I can use these as ground covers so no need to use bales for that, does not mean one can not... Mini pumpkins can do ok, I can even see small banana squash in that setting... nay that's a big maybe... but one did get stuck in my sunchokes that were 8 feet ...
I'll stick to smaller plants :).

And chicken fence, that's me because my birds know garden means FOOOOOODDDDDD...

Step 6). Bugs.
Bugs and things that would follow moist straw would be... among myriads of others
slugs (because they like wet, copper for them), roly-poly (composters), earth worms and flies (at the bottom of the bale feeding on bacteria), different composting mites (through the bale), fungus gnats (just because it' the type of the medium they love), flies (because it's composting), there will be wondering bees in spring (for mucky water and for composting smell of it, they wonder about composting wood chips just the same).

Step 7). Mineral deficiencies.
One thing not to forget... this set up will need mineral powder just the same, in straw that is not plant available. 
At end of season straw can be reused as bales or composted.

Step 8). About sourcing straw bales. and the ugly 
Now the ugly parts... just like any other contaminated compost that straw can be so called weed free kind. That would mean long lasting herbicides 

  • Picloram - sold as Tordon, Access, Surmount, Grazon, and Pathway.
  • Clopyralid - sold as Curtail, Confront, Clopyr AG, Lontrel, Stinger, Millennium Ultra, Millenium Ultra Plus, Reclaim, Redeem, Transline.
  • Aminopyralid - sold as Milestone, Forefront, Pharaoh, Banish
All these are sold in agro and farm stores to a contractor with a license. The same deal will happen if animals were fed certified weed free not organic hay, that stuff caries over into manure and when composted into compost itself.

Cases of failure of these types of gardens due to herbicides and pesticides contamination contribute to problems. Contaminated bales and compost will damage crops.
When folk talk about straw bales destroyed my garden, that's no straw that was what was sprayed on the plants in the first place. And that one was not just glyphosate  aka monsanto roundup. That one is nasty, but the ones referenced above are worse, they stick around much longer, meaning for several years they will keep damaging.

So source straw with caution... really do.

Step 9). Mold, mushrooms. Normal natural but ugly looking
That's perfectly normal, spores are there and when environment is provided they will grow.
Will that harm your seedlings... Toxic molds are way less common, most likely one sees just normal composting activity. Molds will be gray, green. White - that's mushrooms. One will come across normal composting mushrooms, knock those over they will contribute to soil and that's it...

Step 10). Troubleshooting. Bales are not getting hot. 
It means bacterial activity did not kick in yet, they breed, they feed, they heat. Can add some extra helping of urea, can jump start week or 2 earlier... They will heat.
If the air outside is 40 degrees and the temperature inside bales is 45 degrees, this is a sign of bacteria development.  If the air temperature is 75 then the inside of bales may be 130 degrees or hotter, that's hot compost at 160... means turn... and with straw bales one does not want that.
so... spring for me...
If bales not getting hot enough ... row covers and plastic can be use to drape over and get green house going.

Step 11). Row covers.
If there is t-post and tension wire trellis that plastic can be tied to t-posts, draped over the wire and
cover bales and have some drape (rocks, logs etc... to hold to the ground).
My main wind is North and West.
I have winter row covers low to the ground both directions. North wind is stronger, so bales will go 'follow the wind' North-to-South.
Will be an easy hoop. Too bad I have only 6 feet row covers on hand, 10 feet are more expensive, will see if I want to go that route...

Summary and other...
Do I want to mess with straw bale garden... Why not as a small experiment with free seeds for nothing major and see how that goes.
I'm not a big fan of constant fertilizing... I like my worms do that job for me with occasional bindweed killing in my good old barrel in water...
Did not decide yet. Straw bales turns out can be used as weather break...
Maybe I'll do that instead and test bales as they were sourced from 2 places (with free peas... those will react on nasty stuff and fast... and they are cheap... one can use organic whole peas from local ethnic store (go to Indian market or Russian market, Russian market may have both whole and split peas, buy green whole peas ) and if I find something like that at the very back down wind that straw goes for several years till bacteria break down and clean all that mess... into high bio activity area... Many a things can be cleaned up from soil, that contamination too, takes about 5 years so, that's why usda puts that many years as transitional period in the first place (3 to be exact, but they have 5...)

With all the straw bales ides I kind of feel like it's more like when I started my lasagna garden and had to deal with deficiencies in plants first year (lots of attracted worms and lots of coffee grounds sis fix that by August)...
I had to fertilize, not every 2 weeks, but I had to correct issues and things like zucchini were fine because they do grow on compost piles where our family is from, they are soil building plants after all
Here is how I've built my first year kitchen garden over bone dry pasture... had to water that lot 2 days straight to break pasture and till in some manure to build some mounds, tiller would not go more than 5 cm (2 inches) and that was good because most of my worms were intact this way and were deeper and were not chopped so there was the reason in the madness...
I did go up and then in several years that soil was transformed by worms and humic acid deeper.
That's mid June update from that first year and tomatoes are clearly stunted and do have some purple wines (that's luck of phosphorus and potassium) and some beans also were stunted and taken by iron clorosis, later I've corrected that with chelated iron.
That's when deficiencies and transplant shock were corrected, urea was also added to speed up the things, not whole lot and granulated kind... No I did not have my own teas set up in enough quantities, and good bindweed brew does need 2 month... So unless I have very warm autumn that fertilizer sort of does not exactly time and I need me plants that go deed and can extract from clay soil aka weeds with tap roots that are still alive, they only evil ones I can use are thistles :) they sort of do not brew that fast...
I did get some comfrey plants so, that one should help if they produce :) and it does smell... gotta say ... love gardening love gardening...really love gardening where is that respirator :).
So I do not blame folk who use granulated fertilizers on straw bales.
Maybe I will as well, I had leftover somewhere from my pasture application I've bought one tear to jump start wood chips pile...

Do I expect lots from straw bales? Not really whole lot, I'll test it and see how does that go.
Will I use that as main method? Probably no... it does need micro management.
Will see... Step one decide on the shape and location. Because no one here moves wet straw bales, those are HEAVY.
So may as well try. Worst that can happen I
ll use these bales for my chickens pens bedding to poop on and they will turn that into compost. Granted all that will be tested for residue...
In fact I'll start one sacrificial bale and see what can germinate.

Now social media and forums... Some forums do have clear evidence of being particular authors and books marketing forums even if they do not say so. They way that cane observed... say someone does ask specific question about bale conditioning (that's very common according to the data scans I did) and the answers from particular folk that monitor these groups will be see book so and so or plaid state buy the book so and so. I've observed very similar marketing-sales behavior in some permaculture forums just the same where some members extended their understanding of permaculture to particular financial points... aka you can not say permaculture or heavens forbid teach permaculture till you pay us 1200-1600 and more for a permaculture class... Or some landscapers that come with pretty high labor and materials fees because they use so and so term the customer is interested in.

I get it, folk who paid high fees and do not have generations of land owners land stewads and not so much of a free funds (except of those who make their permaculture course a special vacation trip) try to make return on the investment and fast.
I look at it a bit differently... Say what are the folk who turn to these methods? Do they have $ to hire build raised beds or skill and tools to DIY those? Straw-bales are temp and cheap (free in season, $2 for bottoms, $5 for top more for organic). That's a lot cheaper than compost, planting mix and raised beds. Permaculture will use on site resources and/or as much free resources as possible.
These folk do not have whole lot of funds. Anyone can use 1k +:).
Book is not much. When forums say buy book buy book, that's for selling the book.
 Did I buy straw bale gurus book. No I did not. I pulled available on internet data. In USA many scientists in many states do research sustainable farming. There are many articles and references.
There are forums with members notes about what worked what did not.
I pulled here method I believe would work in arid USA Midwest. finding a local who did something or a student project would be a good thing.
Look at this post as a method summary. I pulled probably in range of 50 different sources which is not whole lot for a research, but for a blog post that's good enough and gives me reasonable starting point to decide do I want to give this method a test run.
I guess doing y research being a geek with doctorate degree I never base my work on one and only book or source. There is plenty sources and improvement of the methods is always there, there always the old and the new

Addition regarding bales and compost testing: this link is about all things composting, quote below s how to test bales.

To screen grass clippings, hay and straw you are thinking of using as a compost or mulch material

    Fill 6 clean pots with commercial potting mix. Three will be for your tests and three will be controls.
    Place each of the pots in a separate saucer to prevent water from on pot reaching another.
    Water the pots and leave to stand for 24 hours.
    Plant each pot with three pea or bean seeds.
    Soak the clippings, hay or straw in a clean bucket making a tea colored brew. Use this brew to water your three test pots and regular water for your control pots.
    Observe subsequent growth for four-week period and note any ill effects in the pots containing the possibly contaminated mix, such as cupped leaves, fern like growth on new shoots or twisted stems. These symptoms may indicate picloram, clopyralid or aminopyralid residue in the hay, grass or straw. Signs of other kinds of damage will most likely indicate other issues such as damping off or bacteria-infected soil, etc.
Here are pictures of affected plants

Friday, November 10, 2017


One day I cane across of a post in one of forums that was quoted from some other unknown place.
I wish I could credit the author of that story. It's in English and very funny.

I do get rid on thistles, these cover everything if allowed to and extremely invasive. they do not allow any native prairie plants to grow, they even out-compete aggressive prairie grass.
I planter plenty of native seeds like echinacea (purple cone flowers), many prairie cone flower seeds  added little bit of some clovers and alfalfa  form several volunteer plants I had, prairie flowers native mix... Hopefully I do not feed all the field mice and owls do the job.
I do not get rid of dandelions, that's true, and I'm a hobo grass recycle-r, I cut that into the grasses.
I also harvest suburban leaves and grass clippings and grow my things in soil my hired insects, bacteria, protosoa, worms. I do have lawn, it came with the house and it is most unused area, kids sometimes come play but that's about it... And we mow it, it grows grass for my mulching... it does have thistles in it that were blown from neighboring way way not maintained pasture... things happen, if these allowed to multiply they cover everything and create mono-culture of thriftless and nothing else.
I do not get rid of field salsafey and dandelion for same reasons I plant daycon radish - they dig for me and do loosen the clay and let the organic from top to go deeper. They aerate the dirt and help me to make it soil.

Quote: To you unknown author, salute, this is really something, that hit the spot.

I heard this years ago, and I ran across it recently. This will give you a chuckle!

God On Lawns

Imagine the conversation The Creator might have had with St. Francis on the subject of lawns:

God: Hey St. Francis, you know all about gardens and nature. What in the world is going on down there in the Midwest? What happened to the dandelions, violets, thistle and stuff I started eons ago? I had a perfect "no maintenance" garden plan. Those plants grow in any type of soil, withstand drought and multiply with abandon. The nectar from the long lasting blossoms attracts butterflies, honey bees and flocks of songbirds. I expected to see a vast garden of colors by now. But all I see are these green rectangles.
St. Francis: It's the tribes that settled there, Lord. The Suburbanites. They started calling your flowers "weeds" and went to great lengths to kill them and replace them with grass.
God: Grass? But it's so boring. It's not colorful. It doesn't attract butterflies, birds and bees, only grubs and sod worms. It's temperamental with temperatures. Do these Suburbanites really want all that grass growing there?
St. Francis: Apparently so, Lord. They go to great pains to grow it and keep it green. The begin each spring by fertilizing grass and poisoning any other plant that crops up in the lawn.
God: The spring rains and warm weather probably make grass grow really fast. That must make the Suburbanites happy.
St. Francis: Apparently not, Lord. As soon as it grows a little, they cut it... sometimes twice a week.
God: They cut it? Do they then bail it like hay?
St. Francis: Not exactly, Lord. Most of them rake it up and put it in bags.
God: They bag it? Why? Is it a cash crop? Do they sell it?
St. Francis: No Sir. Just the opposite. They pay to throw it away.
God: Now let me get this straight. They fertilize grass so when it does grow, they cut it off and pay to throw it away?
St. Francis: Yes, Sir.
God: These Suburbanites must be relieved in the summer when we cut back on the rain and turn up the heat. That surely slows the growth and saves them a lot of work.
St. Francis: You are not going to believe this Lord. When the grass stops growing so fast, they drag out hoses and pay more money to water it so they can continue to mow it and pay to get rid of it.
God: What nonsense. At least they kept some of the trees. That was a sheer stroke of genius, if I do say so myself. The trees grow leaves in the spring to provide beauty and shade in the summer. In the autumn they fall to the ground and form a natural blanket to keep moisture in the soil and protect the trees and bushes. Plus, as they rot, the leaves form compost to enhance the soil. It's a natural circle of life.
St. Francis: You better sit down, Lord. The Suburbanites have drawn a new circle. As soon as the leaves fall, they rake them into great piles and pay to have them hauled away.
God: No. What do they do to protect the shrub and tree roots in the winter and to keep the soil moist and loose?
St. Francis: After throwing away the leaves, they go out and buy something which they call mulch. The haul it home and spread it around in place of the leaves.
God: And where do they get this mulch?
St. Francis: They cut down trees and grind them up to make the mulch.
God: Enough. I don't want to think about this anymore. Sister Catherine, you're in charge of the arts. What movie have you scheduled for us tonight?
Sister Catherine: "Dumb and Dumber", Lord. It's a real stupid movie about.....
God: Never mind, I think I just heard the whole story from St. Francis.

So there. I just picked plenty of those bagged leaves to spread on my new planted raspberries I had to move in summer because there was community water maintenance and the folk had to dig out large holes to replace main irrigation lines. I've got fee straw bales too. happy dance. finally I'll put some more straw to cover my troubled berm where it's too clay too dry (sigh about pro landscaper, still puzzled... who on earth would plant like that and... pay for that job of maintenance... I guess I feel it... that's the story above... it cost the tribal members... meaning tribal mentality... 250$ a month on top of water and $75 per tree for iron injections... I'm not doing that nonsense clearly, I do not have money tree).
More fall-winter work for me making my ditch and completing stage 3 irrigation-water management drains that go to my orchard... Sadly I have to do it around that lawn and boy do I hate that lawn... honestly, that grass in there spreads like no one's business, but it does want water. I do not have water to irrigate acres of lawn grass, it does want to go where water is, into my flower beds. I like flowers and I do not like lawn grass that does make a mess in there...
Feeling vicious... one day I'll get rid of that inherited lawn grass and replace it with less water consuming grasses, and not that aggressive ones, but not this season... it's one of later to-do's on my list. That grass I've got in that lawn whatever that is is like Bermuda grass of parries, that one spreads by rhizomes... whatever that is... want is far far away from my flowers...

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Winter is here, row cover, active

Winter is here, hard freezes. Outside water faucet is frozen all right.
Testing 18F difference under cover, and sorrel indeed is holding it just fine.
Here it is, good and not frozen
 Here is the bed, and covered for winter carrots, one more week and they are very sweet and ready for Thanksgiving 


More materials for winter, straw
composting wood chips, one can tell which pile is working :) , road is frozen and works well so far

Here are sheet mulch-composting beds set up last season, there is no composting activity in them, just a little in the last layer of wood chips cover for the winter

 And here is the new bed with active composting materials, freshly watered over the weekend (during the day it did thaw out enough to water, but not long enough to roll the hoses....that's not good...)
 hoping for tomorrow, should thaw some... maybe...