New garden idea, has anyone else tried this?

kennyp2339

Minister of Fire
Feb 16, 2014
4,916
07462
I've always had small mediocre vegetable gardens, this year I did a last minute re-grade of my yard to expand, flatten out and re-pitch for better drainage, unfortunately the garden area was also worked over. As usual I got carried away and took soil that was once a 25 year old leaf pile and re-distributed it everywhere as I regraded, I'm now left a 5/8 clay mix to organics, I sent a request for a truck load of woodchips to be dropped off, hopefully to mix more organics into the soil to break up the clay, that was 2 weeks ago, still waiting for the tree pirates to drop off the woodchips.
I started surfing around online (dangerous for me with ideas that come my way) and I see people in many northern area's have been using a method called straw hay bale gardening, basically they condition a row of hay bales with light fertilizers and water regularly for 2 weeks, then simply remove some hay from the center of the bales and insert a vegetable plant of choice, add a little potting soil to the top and water some more.
Apparently the benefits to using hay bales is moisture & weed control, moisture holds longer in the hay, but wont ever flood the plant, weeds dont grow well in the bales.
I have a friend on the fire dept that owns a farm and does hay, I can get bales for next to nothing and will to give it a shot, I know I'm running late in the game but with our extended fall seasons here I'm not to worried, the garden area is 3/4 full sun then shade after 4 pm so extra heat / burning might not be as challenging as someone planting in full day sun.
Just curious if anyone else has tried this method here.
 

Sawset

Minister of Fire
Feb 14, 2015
898
Palmyra, WI
I was given a book on this, with step by step howtos. I ended up setting it aside.
1) have soils here with high clay content. Composted organic matter mixed in loosens and enriches (leaves grasses etc composted 4yrs). Add some wood ash, other fertilizer, mulch for weed control, rye as cover crop. Crops are productive.
2) working with straw bales
Hay bales would have more nitrogen, but also weed seeds.
Straw bales, less weed seeds, but almost all carbon. The c/n ration is high on C. The remedy is to add piles of N. If I remember, the N needed was a lot. Lots and lots. It would work in a pinch, but couldn't justify it here. Usually raw organics need to be watched closely for their tendency to tie up nitrogen. With the straw, thats very much a given, so the need to compensate is already a known.
 

begreen

Mooderator
Staff member
Nov 18, 2005
82,990
South Puget Sound, WA
Spot on about the effect of compost on clay. I would get several yards of compost delivered and till it in. It has an almost immediate effect. I would not use woodchips. They will deplete nitrogen from the soil and the area may not be good for growing without a lot of manure or other nitrogen source added. Compost works. I did this on some clay soil, along with testing every year and the difference was impressive. The area was a fallow field that had had a lot of construction fill dirt dumped over it a few decades earlier. It was clay and would not support a decent vegetable growth at all only tough weeds and field grass survived there. For the 40 x 60 garden plot I added 5 cu yds compost to the whole area the first year and 3 cu yds on the planted rows only the second year. Although my first year expectations for the first year were low, the productivity of this garden ended up being impressive.
This is a comparison between the composted and uncomposted soil. I
soils_compare_web.jpg
FYI - the first year I mulched the pathways with straw. I was lazy and didn't put down a barrier like newspaper first. Big mistake. It looked beautiful until about a month later. Then all the beautifully mulched rows sprouted at once. I am guessing it was oat straw. I had to weed-eat those paths once a week for the rest of the summer and hand pull the oats out of the beds too. It was a nightmare, so don't assume straw is seed free.

Looks pretty when new
IMAG1920web.jpg
There were 3 rows of potatoes planted, which normally don't like to grow in clay soil. Here was the harvest. Also planted were 3 rows of green bean and 3 rows of onion. All did surprisingly well for the first year.
20160828_134116web.jpg
 
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Sawset

Minister of Fire
Feb 14, 2015
898
Palmyra, WI
+1 on the compost.
Poor soils, high in clay, with poor survival rates and/or productivity, can gain by rich organic matter added. These beds also had many yards added. That was 7yrs ago. The soils are still much darker than surrounding areas. (The tall stuff if broom corn - 12 + ft)
I would also avoid the wood chips. Those are also high in carbon, and would require large amounts of N to compensate. Compost has already been through the microbial action and N tie up period, leaving N available for plant use. Our flower beds around the house also get the compost treatment, except those simply had the existing dirt removed and replaced. All flowers, shrubs, trees, thrive with a lot less care and help to nurture them along.
 

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begreen

Mooderator
Staff member
Nov 18, 2005
82,990
South Puget Sound, WA
Here's a good article on techniques and caveats for strawbale gardening. Pay attention to the caveats with hay bales, especially if the local farmers use a persistent herbicide like clopyralid in their hayfields. That will poison the garden for several years.
 
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semipro

Minister of Fire
Jan 12, 2009
3,834
SW Virginia
Pay attention to the caveats with hay bales, especially if the local farmers use a persistent herbicide like clopyralid in their hayfields. That will poison the garden for several years.
I've experienced this first-hand in our garden. The herbicides persist even in the manure from animals fed the tainted hay. Grazon is a common herbicide used on pastures in our area.
 

Sawset

Minister of Fire
Feb 14, 2015
898
Palmyra, WI
Pay attention to the caveats with hay bales, especially if the local farmers use a persistent herbicide like clopyralid in their hayfields. That will poison the garden for several years.
I've experienced this first-hand in our garden. The herbicides persist even in the manure from animals fed the tainted hay. Grazon is a common herbicide used on pastures in our area.
Clopyralid is in the picolinic acid family of herbicides, which also includes aminopyralid, picloram, triclopyr.
Interesting to note. I've been looking at triclopyr as a way to eliminate black locust from several areas. One thing it mentions is that it's systemic, and persistent. One more pc to the puzzle.
 

RockCastile

Member
Nov 9, 2015
35
VA
Agree generally with favoring compost, but I wouldn't necessarily turn those wood chips away if they bring them to you, esp. if they're free and the going rate for compost in your area is in the neighborhood of $50 a yard or higher. They will tie up nitrogen when they're fresh, but that effect diminishes as they break down toward a black color. They do have to be used carefully, but people do create some amazing soil primarily with wood chips. In 11 years of semiprofessional vegetable farming and landcsaping, the darkest and loamiest soil I've ever seen (to a depth of easily 7 inches) was in perennial beds (over rather poor native soil) that had had wood mulch added to them consistently for many years.
 

peakbagger

Minister of Fire
Jul 11, 2008
5,352
Northern NH
Partially pyrolyze those woodchips and then you have a winner. At one point in my career I was looking at the feasibility of pyrolyzing wood waste and capturing the syn gas then hooking up with a chicken manure operation to blend in the char with the chicken manure. The various incentives never came to be so it was non starter but would have made a heck of a soil amendment.
 

begreen

Mooderator
Staff member
Nov 18, 2005
82,990
South Puget Sound, WA
Yes the wood chips will work well as a mulch, over the compost amended soil, just don't stir in. You could make biochar with them, but there are some techniques, caveats and timing issues to make this an effective soil amendment. The garden plots I showed above were a biochar test garden.
 

kennyp2339

Minister of Fire
Feb 16, 2014
4,916
07462
Lots to think about here, I do have a 55gal metal drum with locking lid to make some bio char, but honestly idk how far I really want to go here, thanks for the tips about the straw and pesticides, I believe my friend (89 yrs old) doesn't spray his fields, I'll double check though.
The wood chips are free and usually a mix of ash and maple (from work)
 

Montanalocal

Feeling the Heat
Dec 22, 2014
382
Helena MT
What I have been using for years is composted tree bark. The sawmills around here blast all the bark off the logs before they run them through the saws to get rid of dirt and stones. They wind up with huge mountains of bark. They let it sit for some years and sell it for compost. Most all the nurseries locally have dump truck piles of it. I till in about two inches every fall and have had great luck with it for years. This is mainly pine and fir bark, so you folks back east with hardwoods may have different results, but your local nurseries should know.
 

DBoon

Minister of Fire
Jan 14, 2009
1,176
Central NY
If you use wood chips on your garden, try to get wood chips from small branches (2" or so diameter and less). They have more nitrogen and less carbon than larger log wood chips, and more nutrients that are associated with new growth bark and wood matter. Do a google search for "ramial wood chips" for more details.

For biochar, I just burn my wood stove in the spring and fall to optimize creation of coals, which I empty out before reloading. It is pretty easy to get a 30 to 55 gallon (galvanized) trash can full of them in a year. You have to sift them out of the ashes (I built a sifter to do this), and then add them to your garden soil. If you are going to till, you would put them on top before tilling. I trench my garden and add them to the trench when I refill it, using about 10-20 gallons of biochar per cubic yard of soil.