During our Tierra: Online conference in Fall 2015, master gardener and plant guild expert Delia Carroll showcased a truly excellent straw bale garden bed system she’s installed in her yard.
We love its novel, water-saving, food-forest-loving design so much, it’s on our master garden plan wish list for next year’s garden expansion here at 8th & Bee.
Built on a skeleton of straw bales and repurposed pallet materials, and integrating recycled ceramic water pipes-turned-worm towers, the design is a water conserving, soil building machine. The upright design elevates the growing space, saving your back from stooping.
This five-minute video clip shows the design in some detail, and we’ve included a step-by-step recap of the highlights below.
Step 1: Build the Base
Start with a base of straw bales, slightly larger in area than the bed you plan to layer on top (more on this in a moment). Multiples of these are recommended, laid out in an arc to create wedge-shaped spaces in between each bed
Step 2: Add the Growing Bed
Delia repurposed pallet materials for this. Make yours smaller in area than the straw bale base and set on top. You’ll water the straw around the edges, which will retain the precious H2O and act like a sponge to keep your plants watered (more on this below). Add soil and compost. She used about 6-8″.
Step 3: Add Plants
Delia’s integrated her beds into her master yard plan, close to trees, vines, and other elements of a good multi-layer food forest. She details this a bit in the video clip, which hopefully inspires some ideas
Step 4: Add Worm Towers!
This part is so, so cool. Stand a pipe up on bricks in the wedge spaces in between each bed. Delia scored some repurposed ceramic pipes originally to shepherd municipal water, but you can get creative here.
Surround the pipe and fill it with kitchen and yard scraps. Add worms to the pipe. The worms break down the scraps, building nutrient rich soil. Rinse and repeat and – voila! – vertical worm farms integrated into your new beds. The bricks used as a base for the pipes allow for the worms to circulate more easily.
A Note About Water
We’re going to bring up water with as many awesome garden design idea we share, because it’s scarce and precious. This garden design works well with laundry-to-landscape or other sources of greywater. Delia uses no drip irrigation in her raised beds as the straw stores water and keeps her plants sufficiently watered.
Want to see her Delia’s full presentation on plant guilds and companion planting? Hers is one of more than a dozen conversations that make up our Tierra: Online program. Give it a look here.