AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. – Want to grow a garden this spring but are limited on space? A straw bale garden may just be the right thing for you. While straw bales are good for composting, they also make great planters. These compact, ready-made gardens can be easily cultivated in a backyard, on the patio or on the front stoop.
“Straw bale gardening is simply planting vegetables into a straw bale that has been conditioned or gone through a composting phase,” said Dani Carroll, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System home grounds, gardens and home pests regional agent. “It is great for urban areas and homeowners with smaller plots.”
Benefits of Straw Bale Gardening
Carroll recommends straw bale gardening for everyone, especially for individuals who have difficulty handling tools like shovels or trowels. Since urban areas often lack good soil or space, straw bale gardens are a great way to take advantage of available space. They also contain great nutrients for plants, when properly conditioned. Carroll recommends certain types of plants for straw bale gardeners.
“I like to grow herbs, flowers and traditional vegetables,” she said. “Shorter plants like tomatoes, broccoli, cabbage and greens tend to work best. Taller, larger or heavier plants could knock the bale off balance, catch too much wind or simply be too large to plant in a single bale.”
Transplants are the planting method of choice, as seeds are more difficult to germinate using this method.
Conditioning the Straw Bale
Before planting your garden, you have to condition the straw bale. Begin by purchasing a wheat straw bale. Carroll said wheat straw works best because pine straw does not break down enough and hay bales may contain more weed seeds.
The next step is adding fertilizer to the bale. Be sure to use a water-soluble fertilizer that is high in nitrogen. It is also important to saturate the bale with water before adding the fertilizer and thoroughly rewatering the bale each time fertilize is added.
On day 10, add 1 cup of dolomitic lime over the top of the bale and water it in. After that, add some balanced fertilizer for several days until the conditioning (or composting) process is finished. The process should take approximately two weeks.
Once conditioning is complete, you can plant the garden just like you would any other garden. Carroll recommends backfilling the hole around the plant once it is in place to fill any gaps and help the root system grow.
Maintenance for the straw bale garden is the same as if it was a basic, in-ground garden. Carroll said gardeners should make sure to water regularly until their straw bale gardens have finished producing.
Gardeners may be able to get more than one planting out of one straw bale. However, once the bales are depleted, the Alabama Extension’s Straw Bale Gardening Guide recommends recycling the bales. They make great mulch and compost. More great tips are available in the guide at www.aces.edu.
Straw bale gardening is a great way for anyone interested in gardening to give it a shot. Visit www.aces.edu to learn more about this and other gardening topics in Alabama. Also, contact the Master Gardener Helpline this spring for assistance with your lawn and garden needs.
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