Straw Bale Gardening
What better place to try straw bale gardening than in Kansas, where we have an abundance of straw. Straw bales are made from the stalks of such crops as wheat and barley and can give home gardens a boost especially in areas where soil conditions are less than ideal for growing herbs and vegetables.
The small rectangular bales, about two feet high, can be used as raised beds in the yard so that no additional soil is needed. They can be placed just about anywhere, even on concrete or asphalt. Just make sure there is plenty of sun and watering is convenient.
Straw bales are different from hay bales, which are made from grass. Straw bales serve as both the gardening bed and a growing medium and are considered an inexpensive method for growing vegetables.
Straw bales must first be conditioned for 10 days before planting. Condition by watering the bales and keep them wet for three days. The bale will start to heat up as it breaks down. Then, on days 4-6, sprinkle fertilizer on the top of each bale with 1 cup of ammonium sulfate or ½ cup of urea; and on days 7-9, continue fertilizing, but cut the amount in half. On the tenth day, stop fertilizing but keep the bale moist. Check the heat on top of the bale daily after 10 days. When the temperature drops below 100, your crops can be planted into the bale.
There are two methods for planting. For the pocket method, make a hole for each plant several inches deep and fill with a growing medium, such as well-aged manure, compost or potting soil. For the flat bed method, cover the top of the bale with 3-4 inches of growing medium and plant into it.
Watering is the most challenging aspect of straw bale gardening. The straw dries quickly, so if you can install a drip irrigation system on a timer, that is a good way to keep the bales wet. Gardeners may also use soda bottles or milk jugs to water by poking drip holes in the lid, filling with water, and then turning it upside down next to the target plant.
As a guideline, here are the number of plants that can be planted in one bale: cantaloupe - 2, cucumber – 3 or 4, peppers – 3 to 5, winter squash – 2, summer squash – 2 or 3, and tomatoes - 2 or 3.
Washington State University has an excellent publication through the Extension Horticulture Program. The publication includes much more detail and images. Use the following website link: https://pubs.extension.wsu.edu/using-cereal-straw-bales-in-homegardens.
For more information, please contact the local K-State Research and Extension Office.
Information provided by: Ward Upham, K-State Research and Extension Horticulture Specialist
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