Straw Bale Gar­den­ing

Catron Courier - - News -

by Don Brown

Straw bale gar­den­ing may of­fer the so­lu­tions to your gar­den­ing prob­lems. Heavy clay soil, weeds, an in­abil­ity to bend, a cold early grow­ing sea­son, wet or dry soils, rock, con­crete, drive­ways, are all prob­lems that can be re­duced by grow­ing your gar­den in bales of straw. Us­ing a bale of straw as the grow­ing medium for your plants al­lows you to take con­trol of your gar­den.

Straw is the byprod­uct of grow­ing ce­real grain: wheat, bar­ley, and oats. I have had no ex­pe­ri­ence with flax or rice straw. Ce­real grain straw is a hol­low seg­mented straw that will trap and hold wa­ter. Th­ese hol­low straws hold wa­ter, in­crease hu­mid­ity, and re­duce dan­ger of over­wa­ter­ing.

About half of the nu­tri­ents used to grow the grain crop is con­tained in the straw. To re­lease those nu­tri­ents, it will be nec­es­sary to treat or “tem­per” the straw and start it to de­com­pose. The bale has two edges: the cut edge and the folded edge. Th­ese are the sides of the bale that do not have strings. Stand the bale with the cut edge up.

Use a dowel or ham­mer and punch five holes in the straw about two inches deep. Fill the holes with blood meal if you are an or­ganic gar­dener or with a ni­tro­gen fer­til­izer such as a 34-0-0 for non-or­ganic grow­ing. Wa­ter the bale, soak­ing it, once a day for two days. The bale will start to get hot as the mi­crobes break down the straw. On the third day, punch new holes at dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tions in the bale and fill them with your ni­tro­gen source. Wa­ter the bale. Re­peat one more time. Then wa­ter the bale daily un­til the heat starts to leave the bale, usu­ally 10 to 14 days. Use a ther­mome­ter or put your hand into the bale. When the bale is about the tem­per­a­ture of your hand, it is ready to plant. Cov­er­ing the bale in cold weather with plas­tic be­tween treat­ments will speed the process.

Be­gin the tem­per­ing process about 12 days be­fore plant­ing. The heat in the bale may al­low a 2 week ear­lier plant­ing date. By cov­er­ing the bale and plants with a plas­tic cover, it has been re- ported to with­stand spring night time tem­per­a­ture down to 20 de­grees. I can­not con­firm this.

The bales can be lined up in a row. Pound a steel “T” post on both ends. Fas­ten a 2x4 hor­i­zon­tally across the top of the “T” posts and string 14 gauge wire be­tween them. The wire can be used to sup­port plas­tic over new plant­ings. The wires will sup­port tall plants and net­ting over the top bar to pro­tect the plants from varmints. Wire that is used for elec­tric fence works well.

Stack the bales on top of each other to raise the plant­ing sur­faces for bet­ter ac­ces­si­bil­ity for mo­bil­ity-lim­ited gar­den­ers.

In­sert started plants by dig­ging out a hole in the bale where the plant is to go. Re­move the plant from its pot and in­sert it in the hole. Use a good qual­ity pot­ting soil if needed to fill the hole, and wa­ter.

Bales can be planted with seeds. Small seeds that are to be broad­cast need a layer of pot­ting soil on the top of the bale to al­low the seed to sprout and start es­tab­lish­ing roots. Seeds that grow in a bunch can be started by hol­low­ing out a hole and fill­ing it with pot­ting soil. Plant in the pot­ting soil and wa­ter. Seeds will re­quire close at­ten­tion to keep them from dry­ing out, much as they would in a soil gar­den. Or­ganic fer­til­izer may be needed to help sup­port the plants. Ep­son salt is a good source of Mag­ne­sium sul­fate for toma­toes.

A few grain shoots may come up. If the bale was tem­pered cor­rectly, those seeds will be ster­il­ized. Do not use soil on the straw bales or weed seeds will be in­tro­duced. If the bales are placed on a lawn or weed patch, cover the grass un­der the bales with card-

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