What do you think of when I say "container garden"? Perhaps a whiskey barrel with tomatoes in it or a decorative planter with marigolds come to mind. Straw bale gardening expands upon container gardening by allowing you to use the container itself as a garden. Mind blown? Read on to learn more.
Straw bale gardening has many benefits:
It's inexpensive--You can purchase a straw bale for less than the price of a large bag of potting soil.
It can go anywhere. Place the straw bale garden in a field, on your lawn, on a driveway, or on a deck. Simply place cardboard or a couple sheets of newspaper under it to prevent any weeds or grass from the field or lawn growing up through the bale. A sheet of plastic under the bale will protect your driveway or deck from excess moisture.
It's high off the ground so that folks who have trouble bending over can easily access the garden.
It's mobile. Maybe you determine in the middle of the growing season that the straw bale isn't in a great location. No worries! Simply move it. This is made much easier by having a large piece of plastic under the straw bale so that you can drag it to its new location.
Straw bale gardening is green gardening at its best. The bale will eventually decompose and turn into a valuable addition to your compost.
It doesn't take up a lot of space. Your straw bale garden can be as large or as small as you wish. Maybe it will only be as big as one bale.
Because the straw bales heat up, they're a great option for gardeners who live in chillier climates. The bales are warmer than the ground and may allow you to extend your growing season.
You have options
When it comes to straw bale gardening you have three choices. One is to use straw bales to create the exterior of a raised bed. You arrange the straw bales to form the perimeter of the raised bed and fill it in with soil. If you choose this option, then you can start growing in the raised bed immediately.
A second choice is to plant directly into the straw bale. In other words, you don't need a container because the straw bale is both the container and the growing medium. If you choose this option, you're going to have to condition the straw bale; this is a process that takes about two weeks. Instructions for this are below.
A third option is a combination of the first two. In other words, create a raised bed using the straw bales and plant directly into those straw bales. It's sort of like having two gardens in one. One nifty idea is to build the raised bed using straw bales one year, allow the bales to begin to decompose, and plant in them the following year.
Create a straw bale garden in 3 easy steps:
1. Get a straw bale and place it. Make sure that you buy a bale of straw--not hay. The latter has seeds in it and those seeds will turn into pesky weeds. You want the narrow side of the bale facing up. More specifically, you want the narrow side with the cut straw facing up. (The other narrow side will have folded straw.)
2. Allow 10-14 days to condition the straw bale. You can't directly plant in the bale without conditioning it first because it will be too hot (above 125 degrees) for your plants.
On days 1-3 all you need to do is water the bale so that it's damp throughout the day.
On days 4-9 add liquid fertilizer when you water the bale.
On days 10-14 water the bale without fertilizer.
You will know that your bale is properly conditioned when its internal temperature matches the ambient outdoor temperature. You can use a thermometer for this or your hand.
3. Plant the bale. Dig a hole in the top of the bale just as you would dig a hole in a garden. Place a seedling in the hole so that the top of the plant's soil is even with the top of the bale. Fill in the sides of the plant with potting soil or compost.
Some straw bale gardeners suggest planting only plants that won't be too tall or heavy in the straw bale garden. They worry that the bale will tip over or fall apart. If you decide to plant a tall plant such as tomatoes in the straw bale, consider placing the bale near a fence for support.
Routinely water and fertilize the straw bale throughout the growing season.
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photo of green beans on straw bale via Shutterstock