Straw bale gardening is probably very old but for most of us, it is a very new idea. The common straw bales that are familiar to most anyone who has taken a summer drive in the country, are used, with only a little preparation, for raised-bed gardening.
Eliminating the need for diggingup the soil, amending it and working it into something that will grow plants, simply move in a straw bale (or six) to the location you’re planning to use and the garden is in place!
Use wheat or oat straw (they tend to be cleaner--fewer weeds and seeds) and NOT hay (which has more seeds and more weeds and costs more, as well). The bale is placed length-wise, with the spikyends up and the baler twine going around it (not on the “ground” side). The great thing about these bales is that they will act as growing medium AND fertilizer (once it starts to rot inside). Start the process by using the following plan: Day 1-3 - Soak with water; Day 4-6 - 1/2 cup ammonium nitrate sprinkled over each bale; water in well; Day 7-9 - 1/4 cup per bale, applied as before; Day 10 - 1 cup of 10-10-10 fertilizer per bale, water in well soaking the bale with water and keeping it soaked for a week (this gets that internal combustion working--heating up the inside and “cooking” the straw--starting the rotting). Or you can simply soak it down with water for a week (which is also a little more “organic” friendly) and it will get things going.
Once the bale is well-seasoned you can begin to plant. Top-heavy plants (such as corn) probably won’t work out so well but most other plants will work, so long as you are realistic about how much space they will require...vine plants (squash, cucumbers, melons) work nicely and keep the vegetables off the ground and clean but they spread like crazy, so just be sure to plan for that. Remember that you can also plant on the sides of the bales--so increase your harvest or plant something pretty--the soul needs to be fed, too.
Plant by using a trowel to “dig” into the spiky ends of the straw and separate it sufficiently to place prestarted plants OR simply spread seeds on the top of the spikes, brush them in, and cover them with a thin coating of potting soil (they will root into the bale but need that protection of the soil to get started.
The straw bales in this area run $4+ but that is really inexpensive when you compare it to the cost of the additives you might need to use on a new garden spot PLUS the labor can be personally expensive. This is a great idea for those who have difficulty getting around in a garden (the bales can be arrange so that they are wheelchair or walker accessible) and they are a handy height for fussing-with (some of us just like to fuss!). Consider getting an extra bale to sit in the middle of your arrangement; use it to sit on while you work your garden. Straw bales can also be a great way to give gardening a try without making a long-termcommitment--no digging-up the front yard and then finding you don’t enjoy the pastime.
These may not be the most attractive beds you’ve ever seen and you may not want to put them in your front yard, for aesthetic reasons, but you should take a second look at this neat idea for an old hobby.