Forget Soil, Use Straw

July 20, 2017
Straw turns to gold.

Straw bales are inexpensive gold for gardens. I only pay $4 a bale, and the straw saves me hours of weeding, watering and worrying.

All photos by Doreen G. Howard

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If you have poor soil, limited space, or difficulty leaning over, try a simple straw-bale garden with herbs, a couple of tomato plants, and flowers, courtesy of the 2014 All-Seasons Garden Guide!

Forget Soil, Use Straw

Set Up:
1. Select a spot in your yard that has a southern exposure.
2. Set three bales of straw on their sides so that the strings around the bales don’t touch the ground. (Use one or two bales for a smaller garden.)
3. Move the bales close together and tie a rope tightly around the perimeter to hold them together as one unit.
4. Soak the bales with water. The straw will start breaking down (“cooking”) and get warm. Soak again in a couple of days. To speed up the process, sprinkle with composting inoculant (available at garden centers). Plant in a week or two, when the bales have cooled off.

1. Use a sharp knife or trowel to cut a small trench around the outside edges. Excavate two holes, each the size of a 16-ounce measuring cup, in the top of each outside bale and one hole in the top of the middle bale.
2. Fill the trench and the holes with a mixture of half potting soil and half composted cow manure.
3. Plant flower seeds in the outside trench. Cover the seeds with a thin layer of potting soil.
4. Set parsley and/or basil plants in the holes in the outside bales and put a couple of tomato plants in the middle bale. Add more soil around the transplants, if needed, then water.

Take Care:
1. Plants dry out quickly, so water often.
2. Fertilize weekly. (Use 1 gallon of water mixed with 1 tablespoon of seaweed extract and 1 tablespoon of fish emulsion.)
3. Add more soil around the plants if and when needed.

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