Here’s what the farm next door looks like today. From left-to-right in the panorama: chicken coop, sunflowers, strawbale squash, strawbale tomatoes, sunflowers, dwarf dogwood, and our tiny weed problem.

Our first squash from the straw bale garden! They’re working!

Our first squash from the straw bale garden! They’re working!

Sunflowers coming up next door. (The crows didn’t get them!)

Sunflowers coming up next door. (The crows didn’t get them!)

N started the cherry harvest today. He’s trying to get them before the birds do. The bowl on the right is riper and ready to eat, on the left we’re going to try ripening on the counter for a while. And this is just what he could get with a 6-foot ladder!

N started the cherry harvest today. He’s trying to get them before the birds do. The bowl on the right is riper and ready to eat, on the left we’re going to try ripening on the counter for a while. And this is just what he could get with a 6-foot ladder!

Strawberries, black raspberries, red raspberries, alpine strawberries, tayberries, & cherries, oh my!

Strawberries, black raspberries, red raspberries, alpine strawberries, tayberries, & cherries, oh my!

The Gravenstein apple tree actually has fruit from all those flowers! This will be our first year to harvest apples!

The Gravenstein apple tree actually has fruit from all those flowers! This will be our first year to harvest apples!

A friend posted a recipe to Facebook for a safe and simple DIY alternative to RoundUp, so I thought I’d give it a whirl on our mess of buttercups, dandelions, and morning glory in the new yard. There seem to be a few variations online. Here’s what I used:
1 gallon white vinegar
1 cup Epsom salts (some say table salt, Epsom seemed deadlier and I have a bunch)
1 tablespoon dish soap (some say Dawn, I say anything blue is freaky and went with Biokleen)

I put it in a spray bottle, strapped on the baby, and went outside to go to town on the weeds just now. I’ll let you know how it works. I’ll invest in a sprayer if it’s successful, the bottle was tough on my hands.

Note, two days later: it didn’t work at all. Maybe it wasn’t hot enough? Maybe I didn’t apply enough? Or maybe it needs to be much, much stronger.

A friend posted a recipe to Facebook for a safe and simple DIY alternative to RoundUp, so I thought I’d give it a whirl on our mess of buttercups, dandelions, and morning glory in the new yard. There seem to be a few variations online. Here’s what I used:

1 gallon white vinegar
1 cup Epsom salts (some say table salt, Epsom seemed deadlier and I have a bunch)
1 tablespoon dish soap (some say Dawn, I say anything blue is freaky and went with Biokleen)

I put it in a spray bottle, strapped on the baby, and went outside to go to town on the weeds just now. I’ll let you know how it works. I’ll invest in a sprayer if it’s successful, the bottle was tough on my hands.

Note, two days later: it didn’t work at all. Maybe it wasn’t hot enough? Maybe I didn’t apply enough? Or maybe it needs to be much, much stronger.
We’re barely picking them fast enough!

We’re barely picking them fast enough!

So buying two artichoke plants at that early spring sale thinking that our plant had died was rather unnecessary.

So buying two artichoke plants at that early spring sale thinking that our plant had died was rather unnecessary.

I started laying out the new garden on the lot next door today and set up our new veggie patch: a straw bale garden. I’m pretty excited about it.

When we had the demo crew clear the lot, I asked for them to deliver a dozen straw bales - the plan was to put a few in the new chicken coop and then use the rest for erosion control/mulch in and around the chicken coop. For the money - and despite straw being fairly expensive here ($10-$15 a bale, I think it’s because it’s in high demand and we’re a ways from Eastern Washington) - it’s still an economical mulch. 

With the coop move and the consequential rat diaspora, the straw became a rat refugee zone (along with just about every other part of our, and our neighbors’, yards). This has made me less enthusiastic about keeping it around to use as mulch later. 

I’d originally planned to dig long beds straight into the ground and have been reading a bit up on organic gardening to actually be strategic about it. I’ve got my drip irrigation kit all ready and waiting, too. But the potential of there being heavy metals and toxics in the soil (definitely lead paint, probably other crap from the former occupants’ car “repairing” hobbies) means we need to get the soil tested before we can be confident that the food will be safe to eat.

The need to move the straw bales and the need to create a quick and safe garden for the pile of starts sitting in our yard made me remember to look up straw bale gardeningsomething I’d seen a while back.

It’s pretty simple, especially if you already have a source of straw and fertilizer. Basically, you lay down weed protection (coffee bags, already collected!), set up your rows of bales with the string still attached, pound in some metal stakes (dad brought those last weekend!), add fertilizer on top (partially composted chicken poo!), and soak the bales. Then you water every day, and add more fertilizer every other day until you’ve got a soil-like decomposed pile that you plant right into. (Read more here and here.) 

My bales are now laid out, fertilized, and watered for the first time. I also spread the rest of the coffee bags to create a main path to our little gathering area in the middle of the lot. Now the trick will be to keep the starts watered & happy until they can go into the straw.