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Backyard Gardener

STRAW BALE GARDENS

Straw bale gardening is a technique that uses straw as the principal growing medium for herbs, vegetables, and ornamental plantsIt is a great way to grow plants if you lack space or have poor soilThe process involves conditioning the straw bales with a small amount of potting soil, compost, and fertilizer, which gradually breaks down the straw and provides nutrients throughout the growing seasonStraw bale gardening is an economical and easy-care garden option that is easier on your back and great for people with mobility issues. Here are some tips to get started with straw bale gardening:

  1. Use straw, not hay. Hay is made from alfalfa and grasses that still have the seeds attached, and these seeds will turn into weeds when they germinate and sprout. Straw, on the other hand, is comprised of the leftover stalks of grains such as oats and wheat—after the seeds have been removed through harvesting. Hence, straw is virtually weed-free.

  2. Locate the garden near a water source. If you can, put your straw bale garden near a water source. Any garden takes a fair amount of water, and it’s helpful to be right near a hose.

  3. Solarize the bales. If you solarize the bales by wrapping them in black plastic for several weeks before you plant them, the heat will kill any remaining seeds that might otherwise sprout. It also speeds along the process of breaking down the straw into nutrients the plants can use. Remove the plastic before you begin planting.

  4. Use short plants. Corn, sunflowers, tomatoes, and other upright plants may grow too tall to be supported by the straw bales. And stakes are difficult to use in straw bales unless you can drive them down through the bales and into the earth. You can either grow smaller varieties of tall plants like tomatoes or keep them pruned to train on wider, shorter trellises.

  5. Plant in full sun. Nearly all herbs and vegetables prefer full sun locations—defined as six to eight hours per day or more. If you have only part shade locations, make sure to use plants suitable for that exposure—such as lettuces and other leafy vegetables.

  6. Avoid pooling water. Don’t position the straw bales in low-lying locations where water pools. Too much standing water can cause the bales to rot, and it can even drown plants.

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