Straw Bale Gardening With Herbs
If you want a nice raised bed but don't have the time, resources or energy to invest in cultivating it, there may be a fast, fun solution that can help. If you're having back problems that are keeping you from enjoying your garden plot, then getting some easy elevation on the problem may be just what you need too.
Straw bale gardening is a version of hydroponic gardening for outdoors. It uses bales of mixed grasses, straw or hay as a growing medium. Add water and high nitrogen fertilizer to speed bale prep, and you've got a perfect spot for herbs, vegetables and annual flowers. Just choose low growing species to keep things from getting out of hand.
If you think the setup will look ugly, there are worse things to be cluttering up the garden. For a little camouflage, choose herb ground covers like thyme or woodruff, or annual flowers, and grow them up the sides of the bales.
You can grow two tomato or sage plants, or three cucumber, basil or squash plants per bale. You can even plant seeds directly into the bales.
How to Start a Straw Bale Herb Garden
Here's how it works:
Lay out bales in a geometric configuration that will allow you to move between them easily. Once in place, saturate the bales with water for a few days. A week isn't too long. Add a high nitrogen fertilizer in two applications over the next week, watering daily. As a general rule, use a half cup of ammonium nitrate, ammonium sulfate, or organic fertilizer (yes, you can go organic) on a bale for the first application and a quarter cup for the second application. Oh, you can also use blood meal.
The bales will heat up, which is a good thing. The heat tells you the process is working. Once the temperature starts to drop, you know the bales are almost ready to go. The whole process will take 10 days to two weeks.
When the temperature drops to something close to the soil temperature, dress the bales with potting or tops soil to a depth of a couple of inches and you're ready to plant. Just rough up the tops of the bales, or make wells on the surface to give plant roots a jump-start.
Over the course of the season, worms will work the soil under the bales, making it a better growing medium next year. Your plants will have a relatively bacteria free and naturally elevated substrate to grow on. It's a tidy solution.
You can even place bales on top of concrete or brick. You lose the benefits of improving your soil, but if you've always wanted a garden instead of that concrete slab, it's an effective method that bypasses having to invest in innumerable small pots that need to be watered twice a day during hot weather.
Tips and Tricks for Herb Gardening with Straw Bales
Don't wet bales and then try to move them. They get heavy.
If you use hay, you'll have to invest some time in removing sprouting hay seeds. It's part of the process.
Make sure the temperature in the bale has dropped before you proceed with the planting process.
Because the plants get their nutrition from what you put in the bale and not the straw itself, keep the setup uniformly moist and fertilized throughout the season.
The conditions your herbs or vegetables like in dirt is what they'll want when they're planted in straw. If they like sun, then situate the bale in good light. If they like shade . . . likewise.
After a few seasons, the bales will break down naturally and become part of the garden.
Great Plants for a Straw Bale Garden:
Vegetables for a Straw Bale Garden:
Some Easy Herbs for a Straw Bale Garden:
Nice Herbs to Grow Along the Sides of a Straw Bale:
For more complete information about starting and maintaining a straw bale garden, I set up a blog to record my experiences. I think you'll find it useful. Straw Bale Gardening
Photo courtesy of Make Me Smile. Visit her straw bale gardening and other projects at her flicker page.