There has been growing interest in straw bale gardening. What better place to try this than in Kansas where straw is so abundant. First, some pointers.
∙ These are the “small” straw bales that are about 2 feet high and 3 feet long.
∙ Place the bale on edge so the twine doesn’t rot.
∙ Bales can be placed anywhere including concrete or asphalt. Just make sure there is plenty of sun and watering is convenient
∙ Water the bales and keep them wet for 3 days. The bale will start to heat up as it breaks down.
∙ On days 4, 5 and 6, sprinkle fertilizer on the top of each bale with 1 cup of ammonium sulfate (21-0-0) or ½ cup of urea (46-0-0). Water the fertilizer in. This speeds the decomposition process.
∙ On days 7, 8 and 9, continue to sprinkle fertilizer on each bale but cut the amount in half.
∙ Stop fertilizing on day 10 but keep the bale moist.
∙ Check for heat on the top of each bale for each day after day 10. When the temperature drops to below 100, the bale can be planted.
∙ Pocket Method: Make a hole for each plant several inches deep and fill with growing medium.
∙ Flat Bed Method: Cover the top of the bale with 3 to 4 inches of growing medium.
∙ The growing medium can be well-aged manure, compost or potting soil.
Number of Plants per Bale
∙ Cantaloupe: 2
∙ Cucumber: 3-4
∙ Peppers: 3-5
∙ Squash (winter) 2
∙ Squash (summer) 2-3
∙ Tomatoes 2-3
Watering will be the most challenging aspect of management. The straw will dry quickly. A drip irrigation system on a timer can work well but may take some time to set up. Gardeners may also use soda bottles or milk jugs to water by poking drip holes in the lid, filling with water and then turning upside down next to the target plant.
This information was taken from an excellent publication from Washington State University that includes much more detail as well as images. See http://cru.cahe.wsu.edu/CEPublications/FS109E/FS109E.pdf . (Ward Upham)