Straw bale garden keeps growing

06/21/2014 12:00 AM

06/19/2014 5:40 PM

Sacramento Bee readers share their gardening adventures.

After initial success in 2013, Tom and Karen Sellers expanded their straw-bale vegetable garden from five to eight bales. Taking up space that used to be lawn, this raised bed vegetable garden continues to astound. Here’s an update:

“The expansion of our straw bale garden from five bales to eight has produced like crazy,” Tom said. “Between starting seeds in the sun room in February (plus a couple of store-bought plants) and planting a lot earlier than last year, we’ve had lots of vegetables and, in a battle with birds, some fruit.

“Lettuce – what a joy it is to walk out and pick some for a salad – has been prolific, as have kale and chard. …

“Tomatoes started coming in around May 20,” he added. “It’s still a trickle, mostly cherry tomatoes so far; but there are very many on the vines, of all sizes, ready to turn red (and yellow). It’s the only reason I can stand hot weather.

“Our only real challenge, and possible looming disappointment, has been strawberries,” Tom noted. “Not because they’re not growing, but because birds and insects haven’t been shy. Once a bird has a tiny bit, tiny insects invade. We’re about to put wire over them to keep the birds out, and then maybe the little bugs will stay clear.”

Added Karen, “I agree with Tom on the strawberries; the plants are really healthy and big, but it’s a challenge to get to the berries before the birds and slugs do. I have to say that the ones we get are the best I’ve ever eaten, though.”

The Sellers have had pleasant surprises, too.

“A tiny mint plant that Karen planted in the side of a bale has grown all the way through the bale – about a foot and a half – and is growing well on the other side now, too,” Tom said.

Adding plants, even to the sides of bales, is easy. “Just take a trowel and carve a notch, put a couple spoonfuls of garden soil in, and you’re off,” Tom said.

“The harvest from the straw bales so far has been really spectacular,” Karen noted. “As of June 11, we’ve harvested 23 turnips, about 10 or 12 small tomatoes, two large tomatoes, five zucchini, five bell peppers, four beets, one yellow squash and just over two pounds of green beans. Note that I only have four bush-bean plants. We harvest as needed green onions, lettuce, kale and chard almost every day for salads.

“The one thing that seems to be failing this year is the cucumbers. I went with a different variety and the flowers aren’t developing fruits.”

Turnips have been prolific, which leads to this “sort-of recipe” for mashed turnip-potatoes: “Instead of mashing five potatoes, substitute turnips for three of them,” Tom suggested. “The flavor has a tiny horseradish-y kick, and apparently turnips have more vitamins and less bad stuff than potatoes. Wow, tasty and good for you.”

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