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Straw Bale Gardening
Short On Gardening Space or Good Soil? With a few weeks of preparation, straw bale gardening can be a great compromise to traditional gardening. Not only can this be very cost-effective, but it also allows you to garden anywhere.
Below are some tips and tricks from Nikki Bailey, MSU Extension Agent in Carbon County (Spring 2018 Lives & Landscapes). Start planning now to get your garden in top shape this summer!
Be sure to use only wheat or barley straw bales that are free of residual herbicide. Often, the straw comes from fields that have been sprayed. Ensure there is no residual by purchasing organic straw, or confirming bales are residue free. Start by arranging bales with baling twine parallel to the ground in a location that gets full sun.
FIRST WEEK: Watering
Start the decomposition process by soaking bales thoroughly with water, making sure water is reaching the inside of the bale and not rolling off the top.
SECOND WEEK: Fertilizing
After a week of regular watering, sprinkle one cup of high nitrogen fertilizer such as ammonium sulfate over the top of each bale and cover with a small amount of topsoil. Slowly water fertilizer and soil, allowing microbes to soak into the bale. Repeat this over the next three days to speed the decomposition process. On day four, reduce the rate of fertilizer to one-half cup per bale and continue to fertilize and water for three more days.
THIRD-SIXTH WEEK: Water and Temperature monitoring
Continue to water each day and monitor the temperature. The temperature will rise and then begin to fall as the bale decomposes from the inside out (this may take several weeks).
Once the bale is below 100°F it is ready to plant. Plant up to five plants per bale depending on mature plant size and recommended planting distances. Spread a layer of topsoil over the top of the bale and insert each plant into the bale, filling around each with topsoil.
Straw bale gardens have a high infiltration rate–consistent watering prevents the plants from drying out. Drip systems and soaker hoses work best. Monitor plants for nutrient deficiencies and add fertilizer as needed throughout the growing season. Straw bale gardens are great conversation starters and perfect for those who are unable to kneel!
For more information on straw bale gardening, see the Washington State University Extension fact sheet http://cru.cahe.wsu.edu/CEPublications/FS109E/FS109E.pdf