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By Linda Wilson

How to get started with straw bale gardening

If you love having a garden, but hate weeding said garden, straw bale gardening may well be the solution you're looking for. A unique twist on container gardening, straw bale gardening offers up a clever way of gardening that has long been overlooked. The straw is your container and being held together with two to three strings of twine it is an ideal container. Here's how it works:

Select your location

Choose your location for your garden and get your straw bales. There are many ways to find straw bales. Ask a local farmer, buy some at a feed store, buy some at a garden center or check your local online auctions.

Remember, your straw bale garden will not be mobile, so be sure to choose a sunny location that is easy to reach with a watering hose. You are going to want to offer your plants plenty of water and sunshine in order to have them grow strong.

How large will your straw bale garden be?

Your straw bale garden can be as large or small as desired. Start with one bale or twenty. After you have your straw bales, you will want to arrange them in your chosen garden area. You can arrange them in any shape that you desire, just keep in mind that you will want to be able to use the top and sides of the straw bale so do not stack them right up against each other if you can help it.

Some people like arranging their straw bales as stair steps and others will choose a horseshoe shape. You can also go with an L-shape or any other shape that you desire. Just be sure to set your bales up so that the strings are running along the sides, not the top. This will help to keep your bales intact as they are decomposing.

Condition your bales

Now that you have your garden location selected and your straw bales arranged in your perfect shape, you are ready to condition the bales. To do this, you are going to need some water and some fertilizer. A good organic fertilizer is ideal.

Start by soaking your straw bales with plenty of water and add in about three cups of fertilizer to each bale alternating days. This will help the straw bale to begin decomposing. You want it to begin to decompose as this is how your plants are going to thrive.

On the days that you are not using the fertilizer, continue to water the bales thoroughly. You want them to decompose. Do this for about seven to 10 days. After seven to 10 days half the amount of fertilizer that you're adding to the bales and add in some bone meal or fish meal. Your bales should feel hot and moist now if you were to poke your finger into the bales.

As soon as you see what appears to be clumps of soil (this usually happens in seven to 15 days) you can begin to plant your plants into the straw bales. Follow the guides for your local area for the best time to begin planting (after the last frost).

Planting your straw bales

Once your straw bales are fully conditioned you are ready to plant. Most gardeners find that they have great success with plant starts or seedlings that they have either grown in smaller containers from seed or purchased at the local garden center. Plant the plants just as you would plant them in regular soil.

Space the plants out in the bales and be sure to give them a good drink of water when you are finished planting. If you are planting vine type plants be sure to offer them some sort of means to climb such as a small fencing, twine or some other means of climbing. Your plants are going to thrive in their new homes. Just make sure to keep them watered and fertilize them about a week after planting.

If you prefer to plant from seeds, simply mix your seeds lightly into a soil based medium and lay this gently atop of your straw bales. Cover with another light layer of soil and lightly water to set the soil.

Fun tips

Plant your root type plants at the top of your straw bale and then plant vining plants on one side. You can also plant such things as strawberries on the sides or squash.

You can readily turn a straw bale into a greenhouse by simply building a cold frame around it and adding in the proper plastic to complete your greenhouse.

Using a soaker hose in your straw bale garden is ideal. Thread the soaker hoses through your garden prior to planting and then you won't have to worry about damaging your delicate plants by moving the hoses around during the growing season.

Benefits of straw bale gardening

  • No need to bend or stretch to weed the garden. This makes it ideal for those who are elderly and disabled.
  • Fewer insects to damage crops.
  • No need to worry about poor soil conditions where you live.
  • You can garden in smaller spaces so if you're limited on space you can garden on porches or decks.
  • Fun and unique way of gardening.
  • Always successful.

Harvesting your straw bale garden

When it is time to harvest you can either pick your fresh produce or if you are harvesting root style vegetables you can simply turn your bale over and rake through the straw for your fresh vegetables.

Now you can take your straw bale (what is left of it) and add it to your compost. Be sure to till it in and you will have even better compost at the beginning of next year's gardening season.

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