Summer brings plenty of sunshine, making it the perfect time to get outdoors and garden. If you’ve been itching to try new gardening methods, you’ll want to dig deeper into straw bale gardening—a form of container gardening. All you’ll need are your favorite gardening tools, straw, and of course, some elbow grease.
- What is straw bale gardening?
- How do you start a straw bale garden?
- What can I grow in a straw bale garden?
- How to Grow a Straw Bale Vegetable Garden
- Keeping Deer Away
- Straw Bale Gardening: An Easy Way To Grow Food
- How to Build a Straw Bale Garden
- 1. Source your straw
- 2. Position your bales
- 3. Condition the bales
- 4. Build a trellis and greenhouse in one
- 5. Time to plant
- 6. Look, ma – no weeding
- 7. The harvest after the harvest
What is straw bale gardening?
Straw bale gardening, also known as bale gardening, is a technique that allows you to create a substantial but temporary garden almost anywhere. When you grow your own straw bale garden, you’re essentially planting seeds into bales of straw that require frequent watering. If you happen to have a sunny driveway, access to an empty lot, or a sturdy rooftop, you can use it as the spot for your summer garden.
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This form of container gardening is considered one of the less physically intense versions of the activity, which is ideal for individuals who experience mobility issues or have back pain. Throughout the summer, the straw will slowly decompose, feeding plants and veggies in the process, and by the end, it can be turned into mulch for later use.
How do you start a straw bale garden?
When starting a straw bale garden, it’s crucial to use bales of real straw and not hay—the two are not interchangeable. The best source of straw bales are local farms, though they are also available at nurseries and feed stores (decorative bales from craft stores are not recommended). In addition, you’ll also need: fertilizer, potting soil, compost, a trowel, seeds or seedlings, and optional wire fence.
All Purpose Fertilizer Dr. Earth amazon.com Potting Soil Fox Farm amazon.com $17.50 Compost Starter Jobe’s Organics amazon.com $6.63 Trowel Fiskars amazon.com $7.84 Variety Vegetable Seeds Black Duck Brand amazon.com $11.99 Variety Herb Seeds Homegrown Co. amazon.com $19.95 Variety Flower Seeds Seed Needs amazon.com $10.00 Garden Wire Fencing YARDGARD amazon.com $24.01
Once you have selected a spot to put down your straw bales and have arranged them to your liking (with the strings running along the sides), you’ll need to start prepping them. But before doing so, make sure that your straw bale garden isn’t placed on a wood surface you like (i.e. a beautiful deck) because the constant dampness could cause the wood to rot.
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The first step in prepping your straw bale garden is to decompose the inner straw by fertilizing and watering for 10 days. First, generously placing all-purpose fertilizer on the top of the bales. Next, you need to water in the fertilizer, taking your time to fully saturate each bale—this will need to be done every day for several days. Before watering your bales every day, you must add more fertilizer on top. Lastly, mix together your potting soil and compost, then put it on top of the bales, creating a 2 to 3-inch thick layer. This will help you plant seeds and seedling in the bales.
What can I grow in a straw bale garden?
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When your straw bale garden is all set up and prepped, it’s time to start planting your seeds or seedling. Take your sharp trowel and stick it into the top of a straw bale, then move it back and forth to make a spot for your seed or seedling. Make sure you put plants as deep as they would be in their nursery pot and seeds can be planted as normal (following the packet’s instructions). It’s ideal to place taller plants towards the back of your garden to prevent them shading smaller ones in the future.
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Over the next several weeks, your straw bale garden will begin to bloom with the plants, herbs, and vegetables of your choice. It’s important to regularly water your bales to keep them moist, especially during the summer. Gardeners are recommended to water in the mornings, directing the water towards the bales and not the leaves. Straw bale gardening lessens the chances of drowning plants because excess water will simply drain out from the bottom of the bales. And of course, fertilizing is still necessary.
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Selena Barrientos Editorial Assistant Selena Barrientos is the editorial assistant at GoodHousekeeping.com covering entertainment news and social content.
Straw bale gardening is becoming popular as a form of “container” gardening, without the container. Photo by A. Windham, courtesy UTIA.
Growing a large vegetable garden isn’t for everyone. When you don’t have the personal resources to provide proper care, you risk wasting both time and money. Fortunately, Joel Karsten, author of Straw Bale Gardens, developed a simpler method.
If you’d like to grow fresh fruits and vegetables without the challenges of a traditional garden, a straw bale garden may be the right choice for you. It’s definitely more convenient for gardeners with limited mobility, poor soil conditions and limited space.
What is a straw bale garden?
A straw bale garden is an easy way to create a raised bed where a variety of crops can be grown. You simply start with a conditioned bale of straw and a selection of vegetables you want to grow.
West Virginia University Extension Service.
- It’s an inexpensive way to create raised beds for gardening, making it easy to care for the plants and harvest the fruits and vegetables. Sitting over two feet tall, the bales are more accessible to gardeners who can’t reach ground level.
- A wide variety of fruits and vegetables can be grown this way, including tomatoes, peppers, cucumber, eggplant, squash, zucchini, lettuce, strawberries, beans, melons and herbs.
- Straw bale gardens do not require digging or soil preparation, which is a huge advantage when your soil has too much rock, clay or sand in it.
- Bales can be placed anywhere with adequate sunlight, including asphalt or concrete.
- The bales can be used for two growing seasons. After, they can be easily removed and recycled into a compost pile or spread on the ground to enrich its soil at the end of the second season.
- Root vegetables like carrots, potatoes and onions are difficult to grow this way.
- Taller plants, such as corn, are too top heavy to grow this way.
- Since the straw bale contains only a little soil, your plants will require more fertilizer than they would in a garden.
10 steps to make a straw bale garden
Washington State University Extension.
It only takes about 10 days of preparation to get started. Straw bale gardens can be constructed and maintained in a few short steps.
- Purchase rectangular straw bales instead of hay. If you use hay instead of straw, it will sprout weeds as hay is full of seeds. Be sure to select a bale that is held together tightly with twine.
- Choose a location for your straw bales. You should select a spot that gets at least six hours or more of full sun.
- Layer four to five pieces of newspaper under each bale, if you’re placing the bales on top of soil or lawn rather than asphalt or concrete to prevent weed growth underneath and around them.
- Leave the twine on your bales and situate them so that it wraps around the sides and one of the cut sides faces up.
- Soak your bales thoroughly and keep them damp for three days.
- Over the next three days, sprinkle each bale with a 1/2 cup urea (46-0-0) and water well into bales. Bone meal, fish meal or compost can be used as a substitute for a more organic approach.
- Next, you can cut your fertilizer application back to 1/4 cup per bale per day for three days. Then you can stop applying fertilizer all together. However, it’s important to keep the bales damp throughout the process.
- Dig or cut holes with a six-inch diameter in the cut side of the bales, facing up. You can cut four in each bale.
- Add potting soil to your holes, plant your seeds and seedlings and water immediately.
- Fertilize every two to three weeks and water daily.
- Straw Bale Gardens
- West Virginia University Extension
- University of Arkansas Extension
- Washington State University Extension
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How to Grow a Straw Bale Vegetable Garden
Straw bales are more than just a fall decoration to arrange pumpkins and gourds around—they’re a bed that can grow these vegetables, plus many others! Straw bale gardens offer small-space gardeners the opportunity to grow vegetables just about anywhere. Say goodbye to digging, weeding, and other labor-intensive gardening tasks. Simply water your bale, dig a hole, and plant all of your favorite veggies inside.
The easiest vegetables to grow in a straw bale include tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, eggplant, lettuce, beans, peas, and herbs. Once you’ve become a master straw bale gardener, you can tackle squash, cucumbers, zucchini, and pumpkins. Tip: For larger plants, only two of each variety should be grown in a bale, while up to five smaller plants can grow in one bale. Your straw bale will eventually turn to compost, so it can feed your garden the following year. How’s that for organic gardening? Learn how to make your own straw bale garden with these three easy steps, and you’ll have a go-to gardening plan for years to come.
Keeping Deer Away
We asked Joel Karsten, author of Straw Bale Gardens Complete, Third Edition and the originator of the straw bale gardening method, his tips on keeping deer away from your garden:
- Electric fencing, set at exactly 32-inch and 7-inch height.
- Bird netting stretched and suspended 3 inches above the ground around the garden. Deer don’t like the feel of it on their hooves, yet you can walk on it and run a wheelbarrow without difficulty.
- Motion sensor sprinklers work well but must be set up very early and way before planting.
- Double fencing; two 4-foot fences 3 inches apart work better than a 7-foot-tall fence but not as well as a 9-foot-tall fence. Deer won’t jump a fence without a landing zone on the other side. They can jump high or far, but not both. So two short fences are more effective than one tall one, and cheaper and easier to set up.
Buy it: Straw Bale Gardens Complete, $25
Straw Bale Gardening: An Easy Way To Grow Food
Last year I tried a few off-the-wall types of gardens, including a straw bale garden.
Plants growing out of straw bales – I had seen them being done, but I was skeptical of the results it could yield. I decided to try it with one bale. Big mistake! I should have done a bunch of them!
Why Straw Bale Gardening?
Straw bale gardening is very simple system to set up, and there are many benefits to growing this type of garden:
- Very few weeds grow in straw bale gardens, and because they are elevated, weeding is easier than in a conventional garden.
- They are also great for seniors who still want to garden but have a hard time getting up and down. The elevated design makes it very easy for them to maintain.
- Being off the ground seems to deter a lot of pests.
- Straw bales tend to stay damp longer, so they don’t need to be watered as often.
- Straw bales aren’t a permanent structure if you decide you don’t like the positioning of your garden.
- When you’re done for the year the leftover straw can go into the compost.
Starting Your Straw Bale Garden
Choosing a location & setting up
First, you need to find a sunny spot in your yard that won’t be in the way. Last year I only had one bale, but this year I will have at least 10 of them, so I needed to find a large enough space. I put mine along a fence line in the back yard. They will get east and west sun most of the day, at least 6 hours. This is important for most vegetable crops.
Place your straw bales in a row or group them together. Do whatever is easiest for you to maintain. Then, it’s time to get started. The conditioning steps will take about two weeks.
Conditioning the bales
- Place your straw bales cut side up. The “straws” will act as tubes, holding water and nutrients for the plants. The twine holding it together should run around the sides of the bale, not over the top and bottom. Don’t cut the twine, you’ll need it to hold the bales together.
- On days one through 3 or 4, water the bales well. It’s important for them to remain damp during the conditioning process.
- For the next 6-7 days fertilize the bales. You can use a commercial organic water-in fertilizer, but I used compost tea. (Learn secrets to making great compost tea.) Make enough tea so that you have 2 gallons or so for each bale and water in thoroughly.
- For the next few days, use only water to moisten bales.
If you check the temperature, you’ll see that bales will heat up quite a bit and then cool down gain. Don’t start planting until the temperature comes down to around 80°F. Any warmer and it could kill the roots of new plants.
During the conditioning process you may notice steam coming from the bales – this is normal as the temperature rises. The straw on the inside of the bale is actually beginning to decompose, much like it would in a compost bin. It is normal to see black gunk making its way to the top of the bales or mushrooms forming. Don’t worry, neither is harmful, and the mushrooms can be pulled out if you wish.
Planting in the bales
- After the temperature comes down, you’re ready to plant. An average straw bale can handle 2-3 tomato plants or 2-3 pepper plants. Place them in a line on the top, digging into the bale a bit to set the roots.
- You can also plant seeds – just dig a small trench, fill it in with some soil, add your seeds, and cover lightly with soil. I’m going to try an herb bed this year using this method. The seeds require a small amount of soil to help get the roots started.
- If your plants need support, you can use tomato cages or poles.
- The poles or cages can also serve as support if you need to cover for frost.
- I supported my pepper plant last year and let my tomatoes run over the sides. They were very easy to harvest and pinch off when it was time to do so.
- Try sweet potatoes or squash on the sides. Let them run and they’ll do really well.
- Flowers? Sure! Why not? I planted a few marigolds and nasturtiums for color and to detract bugs.
- Really, the planting possibilities are endless.
Caring for your straw bale garden
- Water plants as needed. Straw bales stay damp longer, so watering won’t need to occur as often as in a regular garden.
- You may also need less fertilizer. Decomposing straw creates compost which is usable by plants. This is mostly nitrogen, so you may need a little extra phosphorus for root growth.
- At the end of the season, you can put the straw in the compost to decompose the rest of the way or pile up in a corner of the yard. You can use most of it in the spring.
- Then, why not get a few more bales in the fall? You could plant lettuce and kale, maybe even broccoli and spinach! Any cool season crop should do well and you can cover it to extend the season.
Have you ever planted a straw bale garden? Share your experience in the comments below!
photo credit to Patty Lakinsmith
Bales of wheat straw, oat straw, or alfalfa straw work best. Hay bales also work, but they carry a lot of seeds, which may become a nuisance. Look for bales bound with synthetic twine, which won’t break down.
Over the first growing season, the bales will settle and decompose a bit, adding nutrients to the thriving garden inside. A raised bed made of straw bales could last a couple of growing seasons, depending on where you live. (It will decompose more quickly in warmer, damper climates.) As an added bonus, when the straw does begin to break down, it will begin to create a rich soil you can use for future planting.
(Some gardeners plant directly into the bales, which requires that they first “cure” the bales so that they break down and create a composting, soil-like growing environment. You can learn more about this technique in our How to Condition and Plant a Bale of Straw for Gardening article.)
For best results, feed plants with a continuous-release plant food like Miracle-Gro® Shake ‘n Feed® Tomato, Fruit & Vegetable Plant Food to make sure they have all the nutrition they need throughout the season.
Click through the slideshow below for a step-by-step guide to creating your own raised bed from bales of straw.
How to Build a Straw Bale Garden
Faced with the expense (OK, and effort) of building raised beds, I decided instead to go cheap and easy: a straw bale garden. So I called up Joel Karsten, author of Straw Bale Gardens, and lead authority on all things straw.
Karsten argues that straw is an ideal “container” for growing vegetables. “The hollow tubes are designed by Mother Nature to suck up and hold moisture,” he told me. And as the insides of the bales decompose, they provide a rich medium for vegetable growth.
You can put together a straw bale garden right on your lawn, your driveway (oh yes, your neighbors will love you) or anywhere that gets at least six to eight hours of sun. It’s especially good for growers who live in northern climes with shorter growing seasons – the bales heat up much quicker than soil, stimulating early-season root growth.
Here’s the method that has made Karsten the go-to guru for straw bale gardening:
1. Source your straw
You can toss the dice like I did and purchase straw bales from your local garden center, but it’s best to source them direct from the farm. If you want to garden organically, the person at the garden center won’t likely know how the straw was grown. To help connect farmers with growers, Karsten has set up a user-generated marketplace, but it’s still too small to be useful to most gardeners. Remember, straw is easiest to come by in the fall. If you arrange your straw bale garden before the winter, you’ll be all set to plant when springtime comes.
2. Position your bales
Before you set up your bales, lay down landscape fabric to prevent weeds from growing up through the bales. Arrange the bales side by side in rows, with their cut sides up. The strings that bind the bales should run across the sides, not across the planting surface. The strings will help keep the shape of the bales as they start to soften and decompose.
3. Condition the bales
Two weeks before you plant, you have to get the bales cooking. This means wetting and fertilizing the bales for roughly 10 days to start composting the inner straw. For the first six days, put down 3 cups of organic fertilizer per bale every other day, and water the bales to push the fertilizer down and thoroughly saturate the straw. On the off days, simply water the bales. (Tip: try to ignore the neighbors staring suspiciously from their windows.) Days 7 through 9, lay down 1.5 cups of organic fertilizer each day and water. Day 10 put down 3 cups with phosphorus and potassium (bone or fish meal mixed with 50% wood ash works like a charm).
If you stick your finger into your bales, they’ll be hot and moist. You’ll start to see some “peppering” – black soil-like clumps that signal the beginning of the composting that will continue through the growing season. If mushrooms sprout up, rejoice – they won’t harm your plants; it means the straw is decomposing as it should.
4. Build a trellis and greenhouse in one
One of the coolest things about straw bale gardening is that it combines the best of container gardening with vertical gardening. Karsten recommends erecting seven-foot-tall posts at the end of each row of bales, and running wire between them at intervals of 10 inches from the tops of the bales. As your seeds sprout, you can use the bottom wire to drape a plastic tarp to create an instant greenhouse for those chilly early-season nights. And as the plants begin to grow, the wire works like a vertical trellis, supporting your cucumbers, squash and assorted viney vegetables.
5. Time to plant
If you’re planting seedlings, use your trowel to separate the straw in the shape of a hole and add some sterile planting mix to help cover the exposed roots. If you’re planting seeds, then cover the bales with a one to two-inch layer of planting mix and sew into this seedbed. As the seeds germinate, they’ll grow roots down into the bale itself. While you’re at it, plant some annual flowers into the sides of the bales, or some herbs – it’s otherwise underutilized growing space, and will make the garden a whole lot lovelier.
6. Look, ma – no weeding
If you lay a soaker hose over your bales, you’ve pretty much eliminated all your work until harvest. That’s because your “soil” doesn’t contain weed seeds. There’s one caveat, though – if you didn’t get your straw from a farmer (guilty as charged), there’s a chance your straw (or, worse, hay that was sold as straw) contains its own seed. If your bales start to sprout what looks like grass, you can beat back the Chia pet effect by washing the sprouts with diluted vinegar. If you don’t mind the look though, the grass shouldn’t harm your plants, and will likely die off from the heat produced by the bale’s decomposition.
7. The harvest after the harvest
When the harvest season ends, the bales will be soft, saggy and gray – but that’s exactly what you want. Because when you pile the straw together and leave it to compost over winter, you’ll have a mound of beautiful compost to fill all your pots and planters in the spring.
Nicole Cotroneo Jolly (@nicolecotroneo) is a journalist, filmmaker, and founder of How Does it Grow? – a series of food education videos that trace our food back from the fork to the field.
Raised beds make gardening easy and productive, although it takes a bit of effort to get them set up. There are three basic ways to make raised beds: Hill up soil, surround soil with lumber or stone, or use bales of straw to enclose the soil.
I have used straw bales for decades as mulching and path material, and as bedding for chickens, ducks and geese. (This is straw, not hay. Straw is what’s left after wheat, oats or other seed has been harvested. Hay is full of weed seeds that will love your garden.)
Straw bales, available from feed and farm supply stores, vary in size but usually range from 40 to 48 inches long and 12 to 14 inches on a side. A common size is 40-by-18-by-18. If you know the size ahead of time you can design the bed better and know just how many bales you need. Each bale will be tied with plastic twine or wire. Do not cut it. It holds the bale together.
Build your bed:
First, remove grasses and weeds from the bed-to-be. Lay the bales inside the perimeter of your new bed, stacking them only one bale high. Drive two evenly spaced long wooden stakes along the outside edge of each bale, leaving 6 to 8 inches of each stake exposed (see diagram). Run a strand of wire around the perimeter of the bed and twist ends together securely. Bend the sharp ends of the wire over to prevent snags and injuries. The wire and stakes will help to keep the bales stable.
Then fill the center of the bed with the best soil mix you can find (see sources) to the upper edge of the bale. The soil will settle once it has been thoroughly watered.
For a deeper bed, lay bales on their narrow side to produce a bed a few inches deeper than if laid on the broad side. Bales are the ideal height for kneeling on while tending the beds.
These beds can vary from 12 to 18 inches to 24 inches deep, depending on the bales, so they are great for root crops as well as any other garden crop.
Once you’ve decided what you’ll plant, you can lay out soaker hose or drip irrigation.
I love these beds because the bales themselves can be planted. You can cut pockets into dampened bales, add soil, and plant seed and starts of squash, which will benefit from the heat produced by the composting straw.
Other vegetables to grow in straw-bale beds include broccoli, carrots, cucumbers, bulb fennel, green beans, mustard greens, peppers, potatoes, radishes, spring peas and zucchini in summer; in winter, chard, garlic, kale and leeks.
Some gardeners like to add green sand and fish meal to the bales and soil for strong plant development. Sprinkling sulfate of ammonia on the bales will keep them from leaching too much nitrogen from the soil mix.
These beds drain well in spring. Worms are attracted to the damp straw that shelters them during hot weather. Their casting help bales to decompose and improve the soil bed as the bales compost.
After one season in the garden, bales begin to collapse. Some bales will support better crops than others, and some will compost faster than others. You usually won’t know whether the straw is organic. A few seeds of grass, wheat or oats will germinate in the bales, but they are easy to pull out. They are a favorite of my ducks and geese.
When you import soil, you risk importing horsetail or other invasive plants or organisms, so get soil from sources you trust. Slugs may appear, but still have no immunity to a flashlight and scissors or organic bait.
Overall, straw bale beds are a fun way to grow a garden. They are user-friendly and children love them.
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Bad back? Bad soil?
No problem, says Minnesota horticulturist Joel Karsten, who’s emerged as the leading apostle of 2013’s hottest gardening technique – growing veggies out of straw bales.
Instead of planting in lousy, compacted soil and then fighting weeds, this idea involves laying straw bales on most any surface and then planting into the top of them.
The idea isn’t exactly new.
Middle Easterners and Eastern Europeans have long grown out of straw to overcome atrocious salty soil, and growers here looked at growing young plants in bales before leaning toward perlite.
If you’ve ever seen volunteer pumpkins growing out of a compost pile or a neglected straw bale, you get the basic premise.
What Karsten has done is perfect what he calls “conditioning” bales so they become little self-feeding growing boxes.
His system seems to be one of those things that hit the right nerve at the right time.
Karsten’s Facebook page has 25,000 likes, and he’s sold tens of thousands of print and ebook tracts on his straw-bale how-to system.
Joel Karsten harvesting tomatoes out of his straw-bale garden.
His new book, “Straw Bale Gardening” (Cool Springs Press, $19.99), has become one of this spring’s hottest gardening titles.
Essentially, straw bale gardening is container gardening, except you end up with a half-decayed pile of compost at season’s end instead of empty pots.
“The garden can be set up in mere minutes in virtually any location, and no soil is required,” says Karsten. “The bales are portable, fairly light-weight, relatively inexpensive and not super hard to find.
“The bale serves as the container and the media, so the entry cost is very low, and the results are no fail if the proper steps to condition the bales are followed.”
Karsten says the biggest plus, though, is the lack of weeding.
Assuming you buy straw and not hay with the grain seeds still attached, you shouldn’t see much more than a few stray weeds that pull out easily.
Straw bales sell locally in garden centers, ag stores and home centers for $5 to $8.
Karsten says the idea is going like gangbusters because it appeals to a confluence of current desires.
The influx of rookie gardeners likes it, he says, because it’s quick, easy, cheap and comes with high odds of success despite limited gardening experience.
It’s also ideal for renters and those with small yards.
Older, experienced gardeners like it, Karsten says, because it eliminates back-breaking digging and weeding and allows knee-high harvesting.
And because growth is happening in fresh “containers” every year without soil, it’s a solution for people who battle overwintering disease in their in-ground gardens.
Karsten got interested in straw bale gardening soon after he moved into his first house and encountered compacted construction fill – nothing like the soil he remembered growing up on his family’s tree farm.
One day he read an article that mentioned how well seedlings grow out of compost piles, and that triggered memories of the impressive weeds that used to grow out of discarded straw bales back on the farm.
So he and his dad began experimenting with planting veggies in bales.
They found the key was conditioning the bales for 12 days before planting with alternating days of fertilizer and daily soakings of water – in particular, air-temperature water.
“The goal is to partially compost the bales, just enough to get them cooking before plants or seeds are introduced,” Karsten says. (See below for more details on this.)
Young transplants are inserted into slits in the straw bale and firmed in with a little potting mix.
Transplants then are inserted into slits in the bale (cut end up) and heeled in with a little potting mix.
For seeds, spread a 1- to 2-inch layer of potting mix over the top of the conditioned bale and plant.
After that, the trick is keeping the bales damp.
That’s the most likely issue that will prevent success, as Lower Paxton Twp. gardener Susan Norris found in a pair of experimental bales planted last summer at the Harrisburg Boys and Girls Club garden on Berryhill Street.
“We wet the bales thoroughly and dug small holes, filled them with compost, planted peppers and waited,” she says. “But the bales dried out and nothing grew. We watered the bales twice a week. We weren’t there every day. I think they should be watered every day in hot weather.”
That’s exactly what Karsten recommends. He says the ultimate watering game plan is to lay a soaker hose across the top of the bales and connect it to an automatic timer.
“Farmer Jane” Del Sordo had better results with the bales planted last year in the courtyard of the Bethany Village Skilled Unit in Lower Allen Twp.
“We got beautiful zucchinis,” she says. “The leaves were humongous. We couldn’t get the pumpkin vines to produce any pumpkins, though.”
Del Sordo, the unit’s activities coordinator, says the Bethany residents did condition the bales in advance and managed to water almost every day.
“You can’t just plant them and walk away,” she says. “We watered when they started to dry out. You have to go by the weather.”
“The thing that’s really nice about growing in bales,” she adds, “is you can do it right on the ground. It’s good for people who don’t have ground.”
Karsten’s book has diagrams on how to plant entire gardens out of straw bales, including right on top of a patio or driveway.
“It really doesn’t matter what you have underneath them,” says Karsten. “This is great for people who are convinced their yard won’t grow anything.”
How to Plant into a Straw Bale
Joel Karsten’s tips for getting a straw bale ready to plant:
Day 1: Set the bales so the cut ends are facing up and down. Secure them with posts, especially if you’re using multiple bales or growing in windy or sloped areas.
Evenly scatter a half cup of cheap lawn fertilizer over the top of each bale (something with at least 20 percent nitrogen, i.e. 20 or more as the first number on the three-digit formula on the bag).
Avoid any product that contains weed-killers or weed-preventers and that lists “slow-release nitrogen.”
Organic gardeners can substitute with blood meal, feather meal or an organic lawn fertilizer such as Milorganite or Espoma Organic Lawn Food. Use 3 cups of this per bale instead of just a half of a cup.
Then soak the bales until water comes out the bottom, ideally with air-temperature water, such as that collected in rain barrels.
Days 2, 4 and 6: Just soak with air-temperature water.
Days 3 and 5: Scatter again with the same amounts of fertilizer as on Day 1 and soak with air-temperature water.
Days 7, 8 and 9: Scatter again with fertilizer, except reduce amounts to one-quarter of a cup of lawn fertilizer or 1½ cups of organic fertilizer. Soak with air-temperature water.
Day 10: Fertilize with 1 cup of 10-10-10 granular fertilizer or 3 cups of a balanced organic fertilizer (i.e. one that also adds phosphorus and potassium). Soak with air-temperature water.
Let the bale sit a day and then plant on day 12 (or ideally by day 18).
Add a balanced liquid or organic fertilizer every few weeks during the growing season, and be sure to keep the straw damp at all times.
Thank goodness for food bloggers and their practical advice on storage of winter squash (which includes pumpkin). I found some cooking and freezing guidelines that are worth sharing.
Emily Han, one of the writers at thekitchn.com describes two ways to freeze winter squash. To prepare raw squash, “peel and cut the squash into chunks of any size; 1-inch cubes are a good size,” Emily writes. “Spread the pieces in a single layer on a baking sheet and place in the freezer. When completely frozen, transfer the squash to a freezer-safe container with 1/2-inch headspace to allow for food expansion. Frozen chunks may be added directly to stews or into the oven for roasting, or thawed before using.”
Emily says to consider the size of the squash or pumpkin when preparing to cook it. “Depending on the size, cut it in halves, cubes, or slices. Cook it by roasting, steaming, or boiling. Remove the skins and mash the squash. When cool, pack it into freezer containers with 1/2-inch headspace – or freeze in ice cube trays or muffin tins and then transfer to a container. The creamy squash puree may be used in lasagnas, soups, dips, and more.”
One thing she doesn’t mention … after cutting open the pumpkin, remove the seeds and pulpy membrane before cooking, but do save the seeds. Roast them too.
The roasting method is the one I like best. The Kitchn editor Faith Durand says, “Cut the cleaned pumpkin into quarters and place them pumpkin side up, rind down, in a baking dish. Bake at 350ºF for 45-60 minutes. Scrape off the flesh and whiz through a food processor until smooth. After the the pumpkin has been pureed, it will stay good in the fridge for up to three days. It can also be frozen for several months.”
Now could this post be complete without a recipe? Make this soup with sugar pumpkin or a sweet squash.