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Feeling very honored to be asked by GS to add a blog about growing in straw bales! Thank you, GS for your confidence.....
Straw Bale Gardening is an idea which provides low maintenance gardening that results in great plant performance and is a perfect gardening solution to poor soil or limited space in your yard.
It is also a wonderful answer to the problem of not being able to tend a garden the traditional way due to physical limitations or handicaps that restrict a gardener from lifting, tilling, or bending to weed.
This method of gardening has been found to work well in climates from the coldest areas in the north, down to the southern hot spots. If it grows, it can be grown in a straw bale. Using straw bales is simply replacing garden soil on the ground and lifting it up to become a container filled with conditioned straw compost as a growing media.
Vegetables, herbs, and flowers become an impressive display when grown this way, as it produces very nice, healthy plants without weeds. There also is a noticeable lack of pest activity around plants grown in straw bales. No pesticides needed!
Be sure to use straw bales, and not hay bales.
Straw bales are made from the stem end of the grain.
They can be placed anywhere. It takes ten days to get one set up for planting; determine where they will be placed before starting, because once the watering process begins, they are too heavy to move around after that.
Take advantage of fences by putting the bales alongside the fence so the vines can climb without having to build a trellis when thinking of locations to place the bales. If no fencing is available, a trellis or pole inserted into the bale for tomatoes and other tall or vining plants to grow on will work the same as it would as planting into the ground. Use at least a 6 foot length pole as shorter ones will topple with the weight of the plant.
To condition the straw bale for planting, thoroughly water every day for ten days. This is very important as it will heat up and “cook,” softening the straw for growing.
After 7 days of watering, add fertilizer: a fish emulsion or mulch tea to keep things organic, or if a synthetic fertilizer is preferred, choose an equal balanced one of 10-10-10.
Continue to water for a few more days, allowing the bales to cool after cooking. Using the bales while in the heated process of breaking down will cause the plants to suffer and die.
After a week of preparation with watering and adding fertilizer, check to make sure the temperature has cooled inside the bales. Once cool, add plants.
Make a slit in the straw with a sharp trowel, add a cup of good potting soil and then place the plant down in up to the first set of leaves. Scrunch the straw back together around the plants, watering daily to establish.
Supplimental watering is required when growing in bales. Think of it as a hanging basket planter with sphagnum lining. It drains well and dries out faster when the weather gets hotter.
Soaker hoses placed on top of the bales works very well as a watering option.
When planting tomatoes, pinch off all the lower leaves just to the tops and plant them deep.
Pepper plants do not like to have their stems covered, so only insert them to the depth they are planted in their starter pot.
If using seeds instead of plants, sprinkle good potting soil along the top of the bale to place seeds on. Cover seeds according to planting instructions.
When planting potatoes in straw, break open a bale and after placing the potato eyes in a row on the ground, shake loose straw over the tops of them. Water well, but make sure they're not soggy. As the plant tops grow through the straw, add another layer around the plants repeating as the plant grows through the straw. When it's time to harvest the potatoes, lift the plant out of the straw and cut your potatoes off.
Straw bale growing is especially nice for vining plants such as cucumbers and squash planted in the bales, as the bale gives them something to grow on instead of the ground. At it looks pretty once the vines cover the bales, too! :)
The bales will provide two seasons of growing, after that they will break down and can then be “recycled” into the compost bin to be used again for mulch the next season.
It’s a never-ending usage cycle!Hay bales, cut from the seed tops are used for livestock feed and contain wheat/oat seeds that will sprout.