Day 5 – Last week a friend of mine found herself suspected of being both a drug dealer and a pyromaniac by going into a local, reputable garden store and asking about nitrogen fertilizer and straw bale gardening. This prompted me to educate myself, so I did some research on the possibility of spontaneous combustion in straw or hay bales. It involves some fascinating microbiology. In short, my straw bales are not at risk, which is good news since I already set up my straw bale garden.
The main reason seems to be that they are not a big enough “pile” for the heating of decomposition to feed itself. Heat and moisture can escape sufficiently. The secondary reason is that they are last years bales and have already gone through metabolic processes which have a lower heat maximum with every cycle. If you are looking for a bonfire, you’ll have to look somewhere else, like possibly the plastic 5 gallon bucket under our back yard brick oven. But that’s another story.
Meanwhile, here are some websites that I found very helpful. First, to inform about constructing a straw bale garden, I still like the simple steps from the June 2010 Fine Gardening magazine best. However, the instructions from the other sites indicate that there is not one absolute method. I received a gracious reply from a University of Idaho extension representative that introduced me to:
If you thrive on understanding the intriguing chemistry and biology of gardening, then you’ll want to read more about the ongoing cellular respiration of cut hay, mesophilic and thermophilic bacteria, and interior bale temperature. This Virginia Tech article gives an excellent detailed, but easy to understand explanation. yourcattle.com gives straight forward advice about managing these temperamental bales should you be storing them in stacks for any length of time.
I remain hopeful for the outcome of my bales, having faithfully watered it with fish emulsion solution again today. It may look like dirt frosting on a piece of straw cake to the casual passerby, but I see the promise of a vivid jungle of vines of squash with their exotic orange blossoms.