The Impossible Farm #1 – Straw Bale Composting

The Impossible Farm #1 - Straw Bale Composting

In which we begin the impossible farm and spread straw bales all over everything.

The fall is the time to prepare the soil for our spring garden (and field crops to come) and so we’re GETTING STARTED! Thanks for coming along.

I’m not promising anything about when videos will come out because that Nick fellow is so absolutely fierce about this thing that we homestead first and make videos second. 🙂 But Wednesday nights is a good time to check. We are super grateful for your patience with us and the sense of community you share as we struggle to build a life that matters. We appreciate you!!!!


About the Fouch Family:

We are Nick and Esther, and our three kids Milo, Stella, and Sadie. We have lived off the grid — in the sense of not connected to the power grid — for four years on three acres of wooded land in Southwestern Idaho. Nick is a finish carpenter working on building his own business. Esther is a writer, the author of a recent memoir called “What Falls From the Sky,” and a daughter of the homesteading teacher and activist Carla Emery, who wrote “The Encyclopedia of Country Living.” Nick and Esther were both raised in Idaho, near where we live now, but we’ve also lived in Massachusetts, Utah, and California. Our kids are ages 9, 8 and 4.

If you haven’t seen our original show, Mountain Dream Home, that playlist is here:

The “Little House” playlist, heavily featuring kids and holiday fun, is here:

Esther’s book:

Esther’s mom’s book:

More about straw bale composting:

In this episode we made temporary compost bins by arranging straw bales (spray free) in C-shapes against a hillside and layering our compostable materials inside them. Our basic compost recipe is 4″ deep of chopped straw, 4″ deep of chopped alfalfa hay and 2″ of horse manure, repeated to the height of one straw bale. We water it every couple of inches as we layer it, keep it moist and turn it approximately every ten days.

As long as there is plenty of alfalfa hay in the mix we don’t need any “activators” to kick it off, but if we needed something we would probably use blood meal as we do keep that around.

There are a lot of factors determining how long it takes to finish, but in this case we will spread the compost when the season demands it, which is after the first frost and before the ground is frozen hard. Then we’ll start another batch of compost in the same straw bales and let it go all winter.

Feel free to add your suggestions or ask questions about COMPOSTING!!! Happy gardening and homesteading to everyone!

And finally, if you can only read ONE BOOK about MAKING COMPOST, here’s Esther’s pick.

Video Rating: / 5

20 thoughts on “The Impossible Farm #1 – Straw Bale Composting”

  1. Have you guys seen the Back to Eden garden documentary with Paul Gautschi? He feeds his food scraps to his chickens, and then spreads the compost from the coop onto his garden. Since you have chickens, I thought about it cutting out the turning step in the composting process. Just a thought. *Oops, I made the comment before I completed the video. I see you have. 🙂

  2. I have been thinking about trying a hot compost in a small way to see if it will be warm enough to keep my small flock chicken warm this winter. I live in West Central Texas so the winters aren't to aweful for the most part. Do you think it may work for heat instead of using one of those dangerous heat lamps?

  3. We have been on our present property for 17 years and we are always experimenting we now have a source of compost from cow bedding which has manure and urine in it we leave it to break down for a few months then apply it. Our soil has a ph of about 5.5 so to sweeten it we are experimenting with biochar and so far it looks very promising. John

  4. I'm also using straw bale gardening (a la Joel Karsten's approach) but because we also have a lot of tall pine trees on our property, we have a lot of shade. I came up with a viable solution using "mobile" planters. I use 2' x 4' Harbor Freight garden carts (which have expanded metal mesh on the horizontal surface, allowing drainage) and build a planter box around the perimeter, then fill it with wheat or oat straw, condition it for about two weeks using high nitrogen fertilizer, and it's ready for planting! Because the straw is light weight, they're easy to move from the west to the east as the day progresses. This allows for almost full sun. Because the tires are pneumatic and are large, they can be moved over relatively rough ground with ease.
    The plants (e.g. tomatoes, peppers, etc.) love this and have done extremely well! In the summer, they actually do better being left in some shade when the sun's directly overhead, so I have that option too. The carts last for several years and are cost-effective. This might work well for you too, rather than having to take down trees to increase the sun exposure.

  5. I have a small tip, about the wood mulch, around here you can go to saw mills and they will give you all of you want, I have seen some other tree companies clearing road right of ways, that would bring mulch and dump it on your place fore free, good luck, I really enjoyed the video, it has gave me some inspiration and ideas, 🙂

  6. Somehow I just know you will make this work.
    Really like watching your videos and love your kids. Excellent parents. You are one of the happiest families I have seen.

  7. Oh, I wish I'd have read this post earlier. I have a back to Eden garden/ card board and 4" of wood chips and leaves.I also used (aged)horse manure and it put so many weed seeds in the deep mulch and my compost that I will have to set it aside til everything grows up and I can pull it out and put it in the burn pile. I had talked to my co. extension horticulturist and she warned me about the horse manure, but I thought after aging it would be ok. The manure was 8' high piles so I thought I would be good,not. That chicken manure is gold after aging though

  8. Vertical Potatoes would be perfect for your situation 🙂 Here is one way that seems to work very well!

    Given you folks are very reasarchy, Im sure you know about this.. but I thought I would share the idea anyway, just in case you hadn't heard of it!

    PS: I am planning on doing something very similar to you folks. More power to you and your family for going "outside the box' 🙂

  9. For your composting beds, I had my best luck using leaves. If you don't have any available try going to the nearest town in the fall an collect the bags of leaves people put out for garbage. Try that over the winter you don't have to do anything, just let nature take it's course! Y'all are doing an excellent job good luck

  10. I found a better way to compost. Way easier and better for your garden. Dig a two foot trench, a shovel wide and 2 to 2 1/2 feet deep depending on your freeze in winter. You can dig it 2 feet long to start with depending on how much you want to do. Throw all of your bio-degradeable stuff into the hole. Do not use pine leaves or bark chips like they did in this video. There is too much tannin and acetone and not enough nitrogen. If you have chickens, use all their droppings and their straw bedding as well. As you fill the hole with matter, continue the trench by using the dirt you just dug up to cover the previous part. Cover the previous matter in about 1 to 2 feet of dirt. Keep it wet and as winter sets in, then nature will do its course. It will decompose naturally and you won't be plagued with constantly monitoring it on a daily or weekly basis. In the spring the worms and decayed matter will be hard at work so you don't have to. Then when you plant in spring the plants will shoot their roots down as far as they want and take nutrients as needed. When you compost as they did, unless you check the acidity and bio content before placing your plants in it you may have an imbalance which will stunt the growth or kill what it is you have planted. Again, there is no odor, flies, constant monitoring, other bugs and mold. Most people do not have the time to watch constantly stuff rot. Kinda like watching grass grow, most people have more important things to do.

    I figured this method out about 5 years ago and had 10' tall tomato plants each year since. Other stuff grows well too especially in a cooler climate since the decomposing matter gives off heat. Blessings.

  11. If your site is horizontally challenged , grow vertically. Containers, Containers Containers… rain gutter grow systems, strawberry towers, You have a pond, put some coy in to harvest natural fertilizer once you learn to safely manage the pond turn it into on aquaponics system with automation & plumb some grow beds or build a pool/ lettuce raft.

    You can grow all your leafy vegetables in an Aeroponics setup which is the most efficient way to grow. PVC barrels Gtow even more on a 4" pipe drip fed. First step is to put that pond to use and get it producing fertilizer, which you can use everywhere.

  12. I have never tried it myself, so it may be a total crock of poop, but I have read that you can heat hot water with compost by putting a copper coil in the compost pile.

  13. Wow, just saw you on the Doug and Stacy channel and I had to come back and rewatch the straw bale video. You and Nick have property about like mine. I am on the top and side of a hill and you were so right, water does run downhill and if left to do as it pleases, runs fast and digs deep ditches as it does. So it was interesting to hear about what you were doing, which is about what I had figured out to do here. Will be interesting watching as you two go forward

  14. Your opening comment made me think of a friend in anatomy class that named their cadaver Ernest. When I asked why, they said that everyday they would be working in dead Ernest.


Leave a Comment

Enter Captcha Here : *

Reload Image