I’ve written about my Straw Bale Garden system several times over the past couple of years, and I swear by this method of gardening. I’m telling you, if you have the blackest thumb out there, the worst soil, the smallest space, you should give straw-bale gardening a try. You can read more about my gardening successes and methods here, here, and here.
We don’t actually do much to the garden in the winter. Come September, the growing season is usually over (though this year we were harvesting tomatoes on Halloween), and we just let the plant run their course. There are a few easy steps we do before shutting completely down for the season though, and I thought it might be fun to share those with you. Below are our 5 easy steps to winterizing a straw bale garden.
1. Trim, Cut Back, Pull Out
Remove dead foliage, prune perennials as needed, and make room for a new crop in the Spring. Clean up and clear out.
2. Fill In
Straw bales shrink drastically as the season progresses, and you’re likely to find some big gaps in your beds come Fall. Take a moment to fill those gaps with additional straw or potting soil – if you’ll fill at the end of the season, the new straw/soil can compost all winter and continue to create nutrients for your spring planting. This is also the time to add new bales if you want to expand your garden, or your old bales have completely fallen apart (which can happen – before we boxed our bales in, we were buying new bales each season.)
3. Water Down
Give your new and old bales a good soak. You’re at the end of summer, it’s likely been dry and hot and now the growing season is over – this watering will give the winter composting cycle a bit of a jump start and help the bales in their decomposition and nutrient building.
4. Let Set
Walk away. Seriously – walk away from the bales. Leave them alone the rest of the winter. Let them compost and absorb the winter – let the snow but nitrogen into your spring garden, let the rain soak in the sponge-like bales, and just let them set. When you come back in a few months, ready to plant a new crop, your bales will be primed and ready (I do recommend you give them an initial fertilizing boost prior to planting – read more here)
Last but not least, reevaluate your garden. What worked? What didn’t? What do you want to change for next year? Take notes and then put the notes away for a few weeks. Rest. Let yourself enjoy the winter. Then, a few weeks before you need to prep the next growing season, pull out your notes and revisit your thoughts. Make any last minute changes to the plan, and let your green thumb loose.
That’s it! Easy huh? That’s what we’ve found to best work for us and while I’m sure there are many other things we could be doing to the garden in the cold months, we’d just rather not. These 5 steps really are all we need each year in order to have a good start for the next crop – and why mess with what works?