By Mindy McIntosh-Shetter
For many years I have always looked for something to do with all those bales of straw I see going to the landfills after Halloween.
In the past I have gathered what I could and used them for bedding for my animals or as mulch for my garden but there does exist another garden use.
This use can benefit every conceivable type of gardener from apartment homesteader to homeowner.
What could straw bale and gardeners without land have in common?
The answer to this question is straw bale gardening.
The most important aspect of this type of gardening is using the right type of straw. Do not use hay but instead use wheat. The reason for this is hay contains the whole plants including seeds while wheat only includes stalks of the wheat plant after harvest. Wheat straw does have some seed in it but very little so there is a very limited weed problem.
Once the straw has been picked up or recycled a few things need to be done. If the straw is going to be placed on the ground a wire mesh will need to be laid down first to keep rodents out. If the straw is going to be placed on a deck or porch then the wire is not needed.
Next the straw needs to set and cure for 3 weeks before you can start planting. This curing process consists of getting the straw completely wet and keeping it that way for 7 days. Then allow the straw bale to set for the next 2 weeks to cook and cool down.
After this time period one can start planting. While indeterminate tomatoes can be a challenge in this type of container gardening determinate and cherry tomatoes work fine. Also companion planting work great in with tomatoes in this type of container garden along with herbs.
To plant, pull apart straw and fill hole with compost. Then place tomato plant in hole and push straw back together. Another approach that works with companion vegetables and herbs is to add 2 inches of compost on top of the straw bale and plant seed. Both of these approaches work well with tomatoes. Since you can plant them as deep as you want and add additional depth with the top layer of compost.
This type of container or raised bed garden will last about 2 years before it begins to breakdown. At that time it can be added to the compost pile or garden, which is a lot better than the landfill.
So look into straw bale gardening as a new approach to container or raised bed gardening for the unconventional environments found on patios and decks. Also consider this type of gardening as an alternative form of recycling where the container recycles itself.
So until we blog again remember that bales of straw are a fall staple not to be forgotten or thrown away, but instead used to improve the environment everyday. Through planter, compost, and mulch we save because somebody else’s trash is the gardener’s planter today. Tomatoes, lettuce basil, and sage will all find a home on the straw bale discarded after Halloween season has passed and gone away.