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Straw Bale Gardening

In a recent issue of Birds and Blooms magazine, Joel Karsten has come up with an interesting concept, an alternative to conventional gardening. This could be enjoyed by all, from young children to seniors, perhaps even starting children on an early road to providing some of their own home grown foods. Joel’s method is as follows:

Many gardeners face the on-going challenges of poor soil, weeds, short growing seasons and space issues, to name a few. Straw bales hold moisture and as they decompose, providing a rich medium for your vegetable garden. One of the largest benefits of straw bale gardening is that the bales heat up as they begin the conditioning process, thus allowing for earlier planting, according to Joel, author of “Straw Bale Gardens –A Complete Breakthrough Vegetable Gardening Method”. The warm root zone means faster, early-season root production, resulting in earlier maturing vegetables.

For those with physical limitations, raised bales are easier to reach and work on, and they almost eliminate weeding – a benefit many straw-bale gardeners enjoy the most. Here are the suggested steps to follow in order for you to garden using straw bales.

  1. Pick a prime location – Choose heavy, highly compressed straw (not hay*) bales, directly from a farm if possible. Find a location on your property that gets 6 to 8 hours of sunlight per day. Lay landscape fabric first over this area to keep weeds from growing, and arrange the bales with sides up, and the strings running along the sides.

  2. Condition the straw – Two weeks before planting, start “cooking” the bales by treating them with high-nitrogen fertilizer every other day, and then water them heavily for about 2 weeks to accelerate decomposition of the straw inside each bale.

  3. Plant seeds or seedlings – Seedlings can be planted directly in the bales. Just make a hole with your trowel and add a little planting mix to cover any exposed roots. Seeds require a bed of potting soil to hold moisture on top of the bale until germination. If you wish, you can plant annual flowers or herbs into the sides of the bales to make them more attractive.

  4. Protect and support – Position tall posts at the end of each row of bales and run wire between them at 10” inch intervals from the top of each bale. When seeds sprout, drape a plastic tarp over the bottom wire to create a greenhouse for chilly nights. As the plants grow, the wires become a vertical trellis, supporting the tiny veggies.

  5. Harvest and compost – When the season is over, the bales turn into usable and healthy compost for next year’s gardens.

As Joel points out, these bales raise garden beds for easy reaching, and weeds are eliminated.•

Brandon is a landscape designer and founder of Gelderlands Inc. in Burlington. 905-637-1509

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