Melinda Myers: Create a Garden Anywhere with Straw Bale Gardening
Add productive garden space and elevate your planting bed with straw bale gardening. This technique allows you to create a raised garden on the patio, lawn or poorly compacted soil. Straw bale gardening has been around for centuries, but thanks to Joel Karsten’s book Straw Bale Gardens, it has gained new popularity.
All you need are a few bales of straw, some fertilizer, some compost, and time to condition, plant, and water your garden.
Buy straw bales made from alfalfa, wheat, oats, rye, or other grains that have fewer weed seeds than hay. Start a few weeks before you start planting.
Place the bales in their permanent location with the cut sides facing up and the string parallel to the ground. When you start the condition process, they become very heavy and difficult to move. Once the balls are in place, you are ready to start the conditioning process. This is done to begin composting the inside of the straw bales, so that they support plant growth.
On the first day, spread fertilizer on the end of the bale. Use half a cup of a complete garden fertilizer or three cups of an organic fertilizer, such as Milorganite. Organic fertilizers feed the microorganisms that help break down the straw into a nutrient-rich planting medium. Now completely moisten the ball with water.
Continue to soak the ball well every day. On days three and five, you will also add more fertilizer at the same rate you used on day one.
Days seven through nine use half the rate used on the first day. This would be a quarter cup of a complete garden fertilizer or a cup and a half of an organic fertilizer. And once again, water the ball abundantly.
On the tenth day, you will add a 10-10-10 cup or three cups of an organic fertilizer that is high in phosphorus and potassium. This completes the conditioning process.
Bales treated with complete fertilizer should be ready for planting. You will probably have to wait a few more days when using organic fertilizer. The inside of the ball should be hot or colder bath water temperature. If it’s hotter than that, wait for the bale to cool down a bit before planting.
Use a trowel to open a hole in the bullet. Place the graft in the hole and cover the roots with potting soil or compost.
Create a planting bed for the seeds by covering the bale with a one to two inch thick layer of planting mixture. Follow the planting instructions on the back of the seed packet.
Regular watering is essential for success with this method. Soaking hoses or drip irrigation make this task easier. You can also use gallon milk jugs with holes in the bottom or inverted 2 liter soda bottles placed near the base of each plant to deliver water where it’s needed.
Give your straw bale garden a boost of nutrients about once a month or as needed throughout the growing season.
You are about to grow a productive straw bale garden to enjoy throughout the season.
Melinda Myers has written over 20 gardening books, including the Midwest Gardener Handbook and Small Space Gardening. She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything” DVD series and the nationally broadcast Melinda’s Garden Moment television and radio program. Myers is a columnist and editor of Birds & Blooms magazine. Its website is http://www.melindamyers.com.