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Straw Bale Planting

There are many reasons why you would want to go down the route of planting on straw bales. My reasons are as follows:

  • I don’t have to bend down to reach the plants. (also very helpful idea for elderly/disabled/bad backs)
  • I don’t have to do any digging in that area (my plot is full of brambles and tree roots so this is a bit of a relief to cut down on as much digging required as possible)
  • The plants I am choosing for the straw bales are Squash and Pumpkins. These large heavy fruit will be easily kept away from the ground, supported by the bales,  and stay dry and in good condition in whatever weather.
  • At just £3 per bale of straw, it’s cheaper than compost and as it breaks down natural goodness is still released!

Make sure you get your straw bales put into your chosen position in advance of plating out. You don’t want to plant your seedling directly into the straw bale as soon as you set it on the ground. I recommend a minimum of 15 days with the straw bales “out in the elements” and to make sure you visit them regularly and soak them in water whenever you can.

You do not need to add extra compost and nitrogen fluid but it does help if you can do so. I intend to use chicken manure saturated water on the bales to soak them in extra nutrients before planting.

11057339_10153208050226774_3212869578303713884_nIn addition to this, think about what plants you are going to have near it. I chose a row of Borage right next to the straw bales. I waited for them to get big enough to not be bothered about the shade, this is a big hardy plant that is useful in many ways. In addition, Borage is reported to be a good companion plant for almost anything but in particular squash and strawberries. The straw bales on my plot are destined to have squash and pumpkins on them and in addition I have strawberries filling my fruit bush and raspberry bush area which is right next to the bales. This therefore seems like a match made in heaven!

Why is Borage Useful?

 

  • Companion plant for most plants. Strawberries – increases yield and improves flavour
  • Deters tomato hornworms and cabbage worms
  • One of the best bee and wasp attracting plant
  • Adds trace minerals to the soil and improves compost
  • Increases resistance to pests and disease for any plants next to it
  • Perrenial – plant once and never worry about it again
  • Flowers are edible!

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To plant the borage, I dug a long trench alongside the straw bales, and then placed the borage evenly along it.

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Remember the Pop Bottles?

On Day 3 of going over the allotment to prepare it for cultivation, we made a small handy pop bottle structure for planting along the fence by the pathway. This is known by many as vertical growing.

We didn’t plant anything at this time – it was totally out of season, but now I have a bunch of Spinach seedlings with no home and I decided this would be a great spot for them.

It’s important to note that I do not know if spinach really will be okay in these bottles. It’s shallow, its warm and it’s dense. However, I gave a handful of seedlings to my partner Alan for his standard allotment so I know either way I will still have Spinach on the table.

 

I added a handful of fresh compost to each of the bottles and planted a spinach seedling in each one. Then I watered it heavily and stood back to admire my handiwork. I will keep you updated how well this goes.. Just check out our sustainable life facebook page for allotment updates.

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Erecting a Polytunnel

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Make sure you set aside a full day or two for some really hard work and back breaking labour. Don’t make the mistake we did and assume your polytunnel will be okay weighed down for a day while you get your breath back, it won’t!

Separate the work across two days. Make sure you only put the cover on when you have time to dig it in all at one go.

Day One

Get the Polytunnel erected (frame only). Make sure you have all your tools and equipment necessary and an extra person to help out. You will need someone to help carry and lift the arches if nothing else and to hold bars in place while they are fixed in.

Dig a trench where the polytunnel will fit in all around it, even if it has no base frame – you will need the trench for the cover. You can use the frame of the polytunnel itself as a guideline so you don’t need to mark it out. You will need to move the frame while you do so.

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Day Two

Get the cover on the polytunnel as per your instructions, you will need an extra helper for this too. Align up the sheeting and tie it down. Then move the frame into the trench if not already and ensure the cover lays down into the trench. We lined our cover with a few bricks and rocks to help weigh it down but we are not yet sure if this was wise. Next, move the soil from the trench back into the trench on top of the cover. Do the same on the inside of the polytunnel too to seal in the cover and ensure there are no gaps. Press the ground in firmly.

 

10940995_10153022779756774_831437722297401246_nTry to get the cover as tight as possible, but with this type of polytunnel it will be difficult.

 

You will notice how warm and cosy your new polytunnel is (just like ours, mmm!) Remember to seal the doorway properly before you leave or it will serve as an entryway for the wind.

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Polytunnel Plan

This section of my new allotment will not be much permaculture this year. The polytunnel will house a mixture of perennials and annuals. The greater plan for next year is to convert the base of the polytunnel into a pond/self irrigation system which requires the entire polytunnel plot to be dug out. This pond will then be converted into an aquaponics fish farm eventually completing the project.

In the meantime, It;s the middle of winter and I am several muscles short of digging out the polytunnel section in time for my first plantings in february. Therefore to ensure I don’t miss out on this year’s harvests I am postponing the pond until next year and building my new polytunnel somewhere else on my plot. This will give me the year to casually dig out the pond section where I eventually want the polytunnel to end up.

10298757_10152731960451774_2342701344785688399_nMy rough plan for the finished plot shows the polytunnel and pond system on the right hand side. I will move the polytunnel to the middle section while i dig out the pond on the right hand side where i want ti to be. This means for the first year my polytunnel will have to be regularly maintained and watered manually.

Plants planned for polytunnel:
Tomatoes, chillis, Peppers, Melons, Aubergines, Avocado tree (currently on windowsill), cucumber, sweet pepper, cape gooseberries, coffee plant.

I will be putting up the new 6m x 3m x 2m polytunnel this week so if you’d like to come along and help please do get in touch.