Gardening with bales

Tired of tilling, weeding, watering, delayed spring planting and a short growing season? Gardening with hay bales might offer some options.

Joel Karsten, author of Straw Bale Gardens, said preparation is required for the square straw bales, which must be conditioned ahead of time.

Begin about two weeks before you plant seeds or transplants. Choose a location in full sun where water does not collect after a heavy rain. Place the bales end to end on their sides, keeping the strings on the sides.

Pound 2.4 metre steel fence posts into the ground at each end of the row to allow for wires to be stretched between the steel posts above the bales to support plants.

Karsten recommends erecting two-by-fours between the tops of the posts to keep them upright and rigid.

The bales are conditioned over a 12-day period by watering and/or adding fertilizer each day, causing the bales to begin to decompose and produce heat.

Transplants can then be planted into a warm seedbed using soilless mix to cover the roots.

Plant seeds in a three to five centi-metre layer of soilless mix spread on the surface of the bales.

Karsten cautions against using soil to avoid weed growth.

To start the garden earlier, use the posts and wires to support a cover and create a greenhouse effect.

Use this technique to ward off early fall frosts as well, extending the growing season even further.

The bales have great water retention properties so your garden can be left for several days without being watered. Karsten recommends an automatic watering system be installed when the bales are prepared to eliminate the bothersome chore of watering.

Bale gardens cannot be overwatered because the excess water runs out the bottom of the bale.

Insects that live in the soil are less apt to attack a bale garden and soil-borne diseases are eliminated. There will be few weed seeds because no soil is used.

Mulch the paths between the rows of bales to prevent weed problems.

Although best suited for a rural garden, a straw bale garden might be useful in small urban gardens where nearby mature trees have sent out extensive root systems that steal nutrients and moisture from garden plants.

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