I purchased a couple books on straw bale gardening and I am intrigued but I have a question about a possible use for the technique. I own a property in Oregon that has really bad soil – a few inches of volcanic fluff on hardpan. The area I would like to work on is about 2 acres and I want to improve the quality of the soil. It seems to me that I could use the straw bale technique by layering the whole area with straw bales , conditioning them and growing a green manure cover crop with a focus on a deep tap root to break up the hardpan. Perhaps all well and good and even if that seems like a good approach I still wonder how to approach the second season. Most seem to compost the bales after the season but I don’t want to move them. How about cutting down the cover crop growth in place and grow another cover crop to continue the soil improvement and composting in place for the straw bales? Does anyone have any experience with this that can help?
I am also thinking about using the technique in my stand alone greenhouse but once again I’d like not to move the bales after use for the season. I’d like to treat them so I could use them for the next growth cycle.
We too have thin, poor, acidic soil. I have improved many acres of it over the years so they are now rich, soils that produce wonderful gardens. I find the most effective way to add organic matter is to process it through animals. I buy in winter hay to the tune of about 100 tons a year. This brings in not just food for keeping our livestock over the winter but nutrients for feeding our soils. About 80% of what is fed to the animals passes through them and is turned into a rich soil amendment. Selling the meat pays our bills and I improve our soil in the process.
I have also planted a lot of legumes and other things in our pastures. The legumes in particular are valuable because not only are they high in protein and easily digestible for the livestock but they suck free fertilizer down out of the sky.
In nature animals and plants work together along with bacteria, fungi, the soil, the sun... That's permaculture.
I have done something like this. A few years ago I made a lasagna (layered sheet mulch) garden using straw balls for the sides and layering compostable stuff in the middle. The straw breaks down and shrinks. I left it there.
In my case I just pushed it all in a bit, put wood chips around for a path and kept using it. I like leaving my soil undisturbed most of the time because my pet pesky weed, bindweed, thrives in disturbed soil. Also, the fungal hyphae under the soil are hurt by disturbance and I am fond of the good work fungus does for me. If I were you I'd just keep piling up all the organic matter I could get my hands on.
Also, urine on the straw will help add nutrients and help it turn into soil more quickly.
Good luck, and keep us posted. Pictures if you've got em!
Location: Southern New England, seaside, avg yearly rainfall 41.91 in, zone 6b
Two acres of straw bales is a lot! Are you thinking of building some raised bed gardens or are you thinking of layering the whole place? If you have neighbors with cattle maybe you could get both manure and spoiled hay from them.