Turning hey and straw into compost garden beds for our self sufficient living

Building long compost piles to serve as vegetable beds on rubble for spring planting.
Expanding our thriving vegetable garden on rubble for more self sufficiency.

We strive to become mostly self sufficient when it comes to our food. We established a lot of garden beds on rubble last spring. We made raised beds and filled them with normal soil we had bought. Buying the soil was needed to have a decent start in growing our own food and planting the fruit trees we had purchased. We just are not very fond of it, since there is no life in the sifted soil and the nutritional value is also very low. Although, after a growing season, these beds are getting better and are filling with life, we prefer to try out new ways of creating soil to expand our garden area. After seeing a video about the “Ruth Stout no work gardening method“ I suggested to just roll out a straw bale in the fall and sow in there next spring. Well rolling out a big round straw bale is not that easy and we do not really have soil (mainly rubble) underneath for the plants to grow in, so we decided to give it a little different approach. Mulching is not enough we need to build up soil for the plants to grow in and this is how we started.

Building compost beds

We are starting of with a bunch of round bales which have been sitting on the round site of the bale. Normally you do not store round bales like that, but we actually pressed these bales to compost for soil for growing vegetables and had used these bales as a “fence” and windbreaker around the children’s playground last winter. Here’s the post about that. We where hoping that if the bales sit like that, moisture goes in and in the bales the decomposing process will start. This did not happen and the bales did not really start to decompose, so we decided to use the straw as it is and see if the straw decomposes better if we spread the bales out.

We have 3 beds we want to build with these straw bales. We used our wheel loader to pick them up and divide them on the 3 rows we want to build up new garden beds.

After removing the netting we used the wheel loader with grabble to loosen the bales and make a row with the straw.

This was done last July and after a bigger saw project we divided the sawdust that came together over the 3 rows as well.

After a while the dogs had flattened and compacted the straw by playing over it and we found that the new garden beds had too little material, so we rolled one hay bale per bed out over the beds. This we just let sit over winter and hoped the material would decompose in time to plant in the spring.

Meanwhile we know this was not sufficient and we give the beds a different working to get the soil we need in time for spring planting. With time we will see what works better. I will document this in a separate post. So if this interests you, stay tuned for what’s next.

If you want to see what we did, here’s a video for you.

Trying something new: A Straw Bed

Since we have no usable soil on our property and I have seen and read about building up soil and mulching with straw or hay we have decided to try something new.

Place for straw bed. Rubble with blown in sediment

Our hay is reserved for feeding the animals, since we have a limited amount of it. Straw on the other hand we have plenty, so we have build up our bed with straw.

First layer of straw

We have spread a thick layer of straw on the ground which should keep the moisture from draining into the ground. We are building this straw bed on old rubble.

Straw layer, compost soil layer and the start of the top straw layer

On the straw comes a layer of compost soil and on top comes another thick layer of straw.

Half way building up the straw bed with the 3 layers

Unfortunately we did not get the compost soil until May. In the best case such a bed is build in the fall, so the bed has time to get thoroughly wet and the straw below has the chance to start decompose.

Tomatoes and squash plantings

I planted tomatoes, squash, cucumber and peppers. For weeks I was very disappointed that nothing happened. The plants did not die, but they did not grow either.

Tomatoes and squash plants. Cucumbers and chillies are in the back

After about 2 months all of a sudden the plants started to grow and they grew well. Of course it being already mid summer we had very little harvest from this bed. A few cucumbers and some chillies is all.

Cucumber and the beginning of a squash

The squash and tomatoes did not have the time to cure. Here are some pictures from the beginning of October just before the first night frost came.

Beautiful flower of a squash
Beginning of a squash
Squash and tomato plants

All in all it was a shame we did not build this bed in the fall, but I have high expectations for next year.

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