Saturday, July 10, 2010
Planting in Straw
A recent trend (though not a new technique) in gardening is straw-bale gardening, essentially conditioning bales of straw (not hay- hay has seeds and will sprout too much) and planting vegetable plants right in them. The photos above are of my neighbor's garden of straw bales. There are several on-line tutorials on how to do this. The basic steps are to condition the bale, and this involves watering the bale for several weeks before you plant, plus adding fertilizer to improve the nutrients in the bale and help it break down a little. The seedling plants are then planted right into the bale. Straw-bale gardening has several advantages- it greatly suppresses weeds, the straw breaks down and enhances the soil and you can easily add whatever fertilizers you need. If your garden soil has any plant viruses, the straw should suppress these as well, and they will not travel as easily into the plant. Another advantage I can see is in making a garden bed where one did not exist before- the bale will kill grass and break down into it, making your digging a far easier chore. The bales hold considerable water, but, as they are "high" they could get dry at the edges, though straw holds water in the interior well. Root crops are not well suited to this technique, but it seems to be good for tomatoes, peppers and squashes.
Some gardeners have been planting in untilled hay beds for years. They just add more hay every year and do not dig (the hay is not kept in a bale). You could layer the hay with leaves, compost or other organic matter to improve soil fertility. I might give this a go next season to see how it works.