No digging required: Straw bale gardening

With spring, hopefully, around the corner, straw bale gardening is a great project for youth to become involved in this season.

A great way to start a new garden, whether on concrete or a site you thought would be impossible to cultivate is to try a straw bale garden with no digging required.

So what is straw bale gardening?  For starters there are different types of straw bale gardening.  The straw bale gardening Michigan State University Extension will discuss is actually using the bale of straw as the “container” for the plants.  What is great about this method is it’s cheap, easy, portable, raised off the ground, can be planted where you didn’t think you could garden and of course, my favorite, no digging is required.

Be sure you use straw, as hay has too many grass and weed seeds. Take your straw bale and place it on its side so the strings are horizontal to the ground. Even though it is portable it is a good idea to place it where you want it for the season because when it is soaked with water it can weigh up to 150 pounds.

Make sure you have placed it in a sunny or partially sunny location, depending on what you plan to plant. Take into consideration the growth of the plants.  It is fun to have pumpkins on your patio, until the vines take over your furniture and pumpkins are hanging from the backs of your chairs.

There are many different ways to go about starting your straw bale garden. For example, after finding the perfect spot for your bale, or bales, you need to condition the straw bales for 10-15 days. Water the bales thoroughly keeping them moist for three days. On days 4, 5 and 6 add a high nitrogen fertilizer, 1 cup of ammonium sulfate 46-0-0 or 1/2 cup of urea 21-0-0 and water each day. Cut the fertilizer in half for the next three days. Some people skip the fertilizing step and add organic fertilizer at the time of planting and during the growing season.  Either way, keep the bale moist and as it starts to decompose it will heat up, giving your new seeds or seedling a speedy and warm start.

One way to plant your crop is to make small holes on the bale, add some soil and plant individual plants. The other way is to spread soil over the surface of the bale and plant. For both methods use a good growing medium of good quality compost, soil and aged manure. The number of plants per bale depends on the specific crops. Pinterest has great pictures, plans and additional resources to get you started.  You can use ideas from the site or mix and match.  This is also a great gardening idea for kids. Youth have the best ideas and adults will gain the added bonus of having a nice compact garden that can create a passion for growing and eating healthy food.

Watering your straw bale garden is critical.  The bales dry out quickly, so you need to water often or come up with a drip system to keep your plants happy and healthy.

You may also need to add fertilizer during the growing season or make sure to use a foliar feed from time to time. A fact sheet by Washington State University Extension has more information about straw bale gardening. For even more activities and projects for youth and adults to become involved in, visit the Michigan 4-H website. Happy gardening!

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