We're still growing strong (see what I did there?) here in Southern California, so forgive this tip if you're in a cold-weather area and battening down the hatches (and perhaps building a cold frame). But for those who experience a longer growing season - or for early planners looking forward to spring - I wanted to share with you one of my very favorite ways to garden: straw bales!
When I first moved to the west coast, I tried digging up portions of my yard and dumping compost in. Though compost works beautifully (and did then) to feed and help grow plants, I found the sandiness and dryness made for a poor "bottom layer" to my garden. So I first tried container gardening (I still keep some plants in containers), then hit upon the jackpot of straw bale gardening.
With straw bales, you can garden in any zone and any climate, as well as any soil (since the bale is serving as your planting "soil").
One boon I didn't expect was that because my crops were raised, I didn't need to bend and strain so much. I don't have back issues, but hours bent over definitely give me pain at some point. Less bending meant a more comfortable gardening experience. This alone hooked me right away to straw bale gardening.
I also discovered far fewer (if any) weeds "tried" to grow in my straw bales as opposed to directly from the ground.
Want to try this method for yourself? Well then let's go and let's garden!
1. Straw bales (you may also use wheat or alfalfa)
2. Compost - you can use store-bought soil, but compost will be your richest source in which to get your straw bale crops going
You will need to condition your straw bales first and foremost, as the gradual decomposition of the straw is key to feeding and housing your crops. Choose a good, sunny spot for the bales (or partial shade if your plants require these conditions).
Conditioning your bales is VERY easy. Thoroughly soak with water - that's it. Then wait two weeks. Some gardeners add compost or fertilizer at this point, but I have always had more success allowing the straw to begin decomposing and housing beneficial microbes without any additional help at this point.
You will now need to make little "pockets" in which to place your seeds or seedlings. This is just like making pockets in soil in order to plant. Make your pockets/indentations about 4-6" deep. Sprinkle in some compost.
Now plant your seeds or seedlings. Gently cover roots (or the seeds) with more compost. Water well.
Water percolates quickly through hay, so make sure you keep your bales moist. Do not over-water, but do check the dampness of your bales regularly.
As with in-ground growing or container growing, your plants may or may not need fertilizer through the growing process. Avoid disturbing the roots when fertilizing; sprinkle and water well rather than digging down through the straw.
It's so easy! Enjoy, and happy growing!
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