Even though it seems impossible, straw bale gardening is very real, and highly beneficial, both in ecological and economic sense. First mentioned by Joel Karsten, in his book Straw Bale Gardens, this method replaces garden beds and traditional gardens, and it is a new craze in the gardening world.
How to get started?
As with any garden, location is the key. Uneven terrain or bad soil are not factors in this decision. Chose a surface that’s flat enough for your bale to be stable, and make sure there’s plenty of sunlight.
- Condition the bales
Straw bales need to be conditioned in order to handle the weather, and to make sure that when they decompose all the nutrients stay in them. Water the bales thoroughly, and add some nitrogen fertilizer (4oz. of lawn fertilizer per bale). This will start the decomposition process, and get the nutrients flowing. Before planting make sure that the inside of bales is not too hot, as the heat can destroy the plants. Allow more time to decompose and release heat if this is the case.
Planting in straw bales
Small holes should be made in the bales for planting. Either move straws to the side, or remove some. Each hole should be 3 to 4 inches deep. Feel them with compost or rotted manure. Water the bales thoroughly before planting.
Decide whether you want to go with seeds or seedlings. With seeds your root system will have a higher chance of spreading, and making the plants stronger and healthier. You won’t need to start the seeds indoors, as the bale will protect the roots.
As straw bales have good air flow, plants can be planted closer than in a regular garden. The top part should be reserved for plants with compact or bushier growth, and veggies such as cucumbers or amaranth should be planted closer to the edges.
Watering regularly is an imperative. If you’re not able to afford some kind of a drip irrigation system, use bottles of soda with tiny holes in them. Fill the bottles, and water will slowly drip and keep your root zone moisturized. Refill the bottles as necessary.
Providing enough nutrients using a fertilizer is also necessary. Even though natural decomposition of the bale you planted in will provide most of the nutrition needed for your plants, you will need to give it a boost with some fertilizer.
Very few weeds should be appearing in your straw bale garden, but those that do appear need to be removed as soon as noticed. They will be easy to pull out, and you don’t even have to toss them away; just stick them back in the bale to decompose.