Food Column: Scarecrows and straw bales
She makes a pretty picture with her flowery, fluttering shirt and beguiling black hat. And amazingly the other day, I actually witnessed her scare the living daylights out of a couple of deer that wandered in my yard. Once they spied this beguiling figure, heads went up in alarm and white-flagged tails could be seen wagging hastily through the woods.
My new scarecrow is of the feminine persuasion this year; a dainty maid who will preside over a garden that is quickly filling up with straw bales.
I love getting excited about a project and that’s exactly the way I felt when I attended a straw bale gardening class recently. It was held during the Alive to Life program sponsored by the Oneida County Department on Aging a week or so ago.
I was glad to see at least 60 like minded individuals attend this class, which was taught by Gary Hacker of Harshaw, who grew his first straw bale garden last year. My mouth dropped open in amazement when he showed slides of the vegetables, and flower plants, he grew from straw bales.
You might be wondering how this is possible; how plants can actually grow from a bale of straw, with no soil or nutrients. So was I, but I like the premise of this type of gardening which purports minimal weeding and less bending over. Frankly, my kind of farming.
Of course, there is some preparation involved before planting. There has to be a period of “conditioning” before anything can be grown from a bale of straw, but so far for me that’s merely been after-work stints holding a hose in one hand and a cool beverage in the other watering or fertilizing my bales.
Bone meal can be sprinkled on or Gary suggested a fertilizer with a 20-0-10 ratio also works well. This conditioning should take place over a 10 day to two week period, watering then fertilizing at strategic times. The way you determine if the bale is ready for planting is to insert your hand into it checking for heat. The microbes within actually produce warmth but once that has dissipated it’s time to plant.
I learned at the class that there are certain vegetables not suited for bale gardening. For instance, corn is not worth growing in a bale because it gets too tall and production is low due to space. Perennials should also not be planted in a straw bale because once the harvest is done the straw is used as a mulch or compost.
However, just about everything else can be planted in a bale. Gary showed a slide where six beautiful cabbage plants were flourishing; there were bean plants; peas, tomatoes and vine crops like cucumbers and pumpkins. I have decided to grow some tomatoes in my bales, in addition to cucumbers, peas and beans. I love Brussels sprouts so some of those will be included as well as a couple of broccoli plants. Maybe some herbs too.
For seeds, a layer of fertile soil or compost is spread a couple inches thick over the bale (which, by the way, should be turned on its side for the best success) and then the seeds can be planted in that. Gary placed his bales end to end, staking a metal fence post at the end of each row. Between these posts he strung wires where not only could plants like tomatoes be propped up, but peas and beans could entwine. In addition, he used a piece of plastic to make a little tent over the lowest wire which served to protect the plants if the temperature dropped too low, a good precaution especially this year.
For this week I’ve included two recipes. I tried the Asparagus Walnut Salad recently at a friend’s house and it is delicious. The other recipe is for an environmentally friendly weed killer a Facebook friend posted appropriate with the gardening season starting up.
I’m really looking forward to trying the straw bale technique this year. With my beautiful lady scarecrow keeping watch over the entire operation I’m counting on success.
Asparagus Walnut Salad
8 oz. Corkscrew pasta, preferably tri-colored
½ lb. asparagus, trimmed into 2-inch pieces
8 oz. Mozzarella cheese, cut into small cubes
2 medium tomatoes, seeded and diced
½ pound mushrooms, sliced thinly
1 cup walnut pieces
¼ cup olive oil
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1 oz. envelope Italian salad dressing mix
Cook pasta al-tende, drain well and place in a large bowl. Cook asparagus until just tender about 3 minutes, then drain and add to pasta. To this add the cheese, tomatoes, mushrooms and walnut pieces. In a small bowl mix together the olive oil, vinegar and dressing mix then pour over the pasta mixture. Toss to coat evenly. Chill before serving.
Homemade Weed Killer Spray
1 gallon white vinegar
1 cup Epsom or table salt
1/8 cup Dawn Dish Soap (the blue kind)
Mix together in a spray bottle or weed sprayer. Apply after dew is off the plants on a sunny day.