Autumn is my favorite time of year. I love the cool nights, warm days and beautiful fall color. Its harvest time in the garden….usually! This year on the first day of fall, the weather man on TV said we had a warming trend. After a few weeks of colder weather, 50’s & 60’s during the day and 40’s at night, it was warming up! Then I woke up on Saturday morning to see frost on the garage roof. I looked at my thermometer to see that the overnight low was 23! That cant be! I know it did not get that cold last night! I went outside to do a damage check. Sure enough, the tomatoes, peppers, basil, squash, and gourds had all frozen and were limp and going lifeless. There were dozens of green tomatoes on the vine. I brought some in to put on the window to see if they would ripen.
This scene has happened quite a few times since I moved to the high desert. Even my more experienced gardener friends got caught off guard this time. I heard no reports that there would be a hard freeze that night. Since then the temps have been above 30 every night. Its kind of wacky how emotional I get about this. I was so sad and upset about it. I spent the afternoon tearing all the dead plants out and putting them in the compost pile so I wouldn’t have to look at it every day. I’m such a sap!
This year I planted a straw bale garden. I planted just a few last year with good results, and expanded this year. One of the local nurseries had a seminar in the spring which I attended, and I had previously got a book “Straw Bale Gardens Complete” by Joel Karsten as well. The bales need to be “seasoned” prior to planting by fertilizing them with nitrogen and watering them. The process takes about 10-14 days. The best part of a straw bale garden is that you can put it anywhere, even on a slope or in a poor soil area or no soil area like on a deck or concrete. Bales can be planted on the side as well, so a lot of produce can come out of a few bales. After harvesting early summer crops, you can replant with fall root crops for a second harvest, or plant root crops in the early spring for spring harvest. Root crops are a breeze to harvest, for potatoes, just cut the strings of the bale open and pick up the potatoes. Then you can use the bale for mulch around shrubs and trees or put it into the compost pile. Herbs or flowers on the side of the bale make it look nice too! I bought a few things to help with my straw bale garden, that also can be used in any garden.
- Hori Hori Garden Knife – This makes cutting out holes for planting easy. Without it, digging out the holes is kind of a pain. The one I got has a leather sheath (it’s very sharp). It also has a measuring scale on the blade to measure depth of soil or holes, and a smooth edge on one side and serrated on the other. A sharpening tool is also included in the gift box. I really love this knife! So much that I bought another one for my friend. Its heavy and very well made. I got it on Amazon.
- DigHealth Soil PH/Moisture Meter – The soil moisture is a critical component of straw bale gardening. In the heat of the summer, you may have to put extra water on the bales to maintain moisture. I also use it to check moisture levels in the compost pile. In the high desert, it dries out pretty quickly. You can also use it elsewhere in the garden to check soil PH levels. Just move the switch. This is a super handy multi function tool.
- REOTEMP Backyard Compost Thermometer – I purchased this in the spring to check the temp on my Straw bale garden prior to planting. I also have a compost pile, and found out that I was not getting it hot enough, so this has been a very helpful tool, I purchased together with my DigHealth Soil PH Moisture meter. Both are a must have for straw bale gardening and Composting.
- Drip Irrigation System – I purchased mine DIY as parts at a local store, but I’ve attached a link for a kit that will get you started. Most hardware or home improvement stores have free booklets you can use to decide what parts are needed. Its helpful to install drip on Straw bale gardens, or raised beds, especially if you want to water on a schedule. Everyone is busy, and a timer is really helpful if you are not going to be home at a planned watering time. The drip irrigation system can control the amount of water on each plant or area, so you don’t over water tomatoes, and under water your squash!
The best part of the freezing temperature that did my garden in is the deep fall color that is coming out this week. Temperature, sunlight and soil moisture greatly influence the quality of the fall foliage display. Last winter was a record precipitation year, with periodic rain during the late spring and summer, combined with warm sunny days and colder than average nights have made for an amazing display of color this year. Makes me want to head out to some of the more famous areas nearby to photograph the trees. We might just do that this weekend. Maybe bring a horse to ride. Sounds like a plan!!