Straw Bale Gardening, Part II

So I got those bales back at the beginning of May and set them up in my little yard, which is mostly concrete and boasts soil laden with lead.

They looked kind of charmingly urban-farmstead and I was pretty self-congratulatory about the prospect of such a cheap alternative to raised beds. So like the crazed obsessive I am, I went to a different place (Sunset Farm down on 108 in Point Judith – they rock) the next weekend and bought more – this time rye bales for the bargain price of $5 a bale.

My boyfriend was not impressed by the increased acreage, but I set to work “conditioning” them by adding yucky organic nitrogen sources like bone meal and watering them until they smelled kinda nice and sweetly musty and attracted enough flies that I was afraid my boyfriend was going to dump them in the pizza place dumpster in the middle of the night.

Luckily, he was a wimp and the fly stage passed. Next came an even yuckier phallic-black-fungus stage, with some intermediary grass sprouting. Then my dad’s wife reminded me not to handle bone meal without gloves on lest I catch CJD, the deadly human variant of mad cow disease. That was after I’d sprinkled it around on windy days at least a couple of times, inhaling merrily. So when I slobber and forget words, at least I have an excuse now.

Finally it was Memorial Day weekend and I could put into the ground all the leggy little seedlings I’d grown from seed packets under an inadequate light. Or rather, I put them into the straw, with a handful of soil thrown in for good measure. I gave them some good waterings and that’s pretty much it. They look happy so far, especially the tomatoes; the eggplant and hot peppers haven’t done much. My friend didn’t start conditioning hers until a week before planting, and the bales swiftly cooked her plants, including a much lamented musk melon from Southside Community Land Trust’s rare plant sale. Moral is you really need to let those puppies compost a while before you try to plant them.

Meanwhile my two raised beds are already out of control. Why do I think I can fit so many plants into such a small space? I’ve got too much lettuce and it keeps bolting, while the peas and green beans are lost in the chaos, and a mystery volunteer that looks like a giant squash has taken over about half one bed. It exerts a triffid-like fascination on me and I can’t bring myself to pull it. Plus, I don’t want it to bite me.

At least the straw bales forced me to use some planting discipline on that side of the garden. So far, so orderly. I’ll let you know if I’m ever able to eat anything from them, if the prions don’t have me in a coma by then.