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Vermont Garden Journal: Straw Bale Gardening

Tracy Walsh/Poser Design
AP Photo
Tomato plants flourishing in straw bales.

I've seen vegetables planted in just about everything. Whether it be old bathtubs, broken down cars, old shoes or even a used gas grill, gardeners can get creative when it comes to space saving techniques. Well, here's an old space saver that's come back to life in a new book. It's called straw bale gardening. Ruth Stout started it years ago and now Joel Karsten has got a new twist on this idea. Joel makes vegetable gardening less work and more productive by growing veggies in “conditioned” straw bales.

Here's what he suggests. Use straw, not hay bales. Straw bales don't have weed seeds in them. Lay bales on their edge, rough side up and condition the bales for 2 weeks. The conditioning consists of watering the bales daily and applying fertilizers to start the decomposition process. After following this regiment for about 12 days, cut small holes in the bales, add potting soil and plant your tomato, pepper or other transplants. You can also grow veggie seeds on the bales. Spread a 1 to 2 inch thick layer of potting soil over the top of the bale and direct sow. Because of the watering and fertilizing, the bale starts to decay and the vegetables feed off it. Since you're growing on a bale, there's little or no weeding and you have an instant raised bed. You can make a row of bales held together with metal fence posts, wire and a 2 by 4. And by fall you have a pile of usable compost. I'm going to try growing some cucumbers in my bales this summer to see how they do.

And now for this week's tip, cut back your overwintering geraniums severely now to reduce their legginess and stimulate new flowering. The plants will quickly put on new growth and you'll be enjoying flowers in your sunny windowsill in a month. The'll also be in better shape to be transplanted outdoors by the end of May.

Next week on the Vermont Garden Journal, I'll be talking about Nepeta or catmint. Until then, I'll be seeing you in the garden.

Broadcast on Friday, April 4, 2014 at 5:57 p.m. and Sunday, April 6, 2014 at 9:35 a.m.

The Vermont Garden Journal with Charlie Nardozzi is made possible by Gardener's Supply, offering environmental solutions for gardens and landscapes. In Burlington, Williston and

Straw Bale Gardening

Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally recognized garden writer, radio and TV show host, consultant, and speaker. Charlie is the host of All Things Gardening on Sunday mornings at 9:35 during Weekend Edition on Vermont Public. Charlie is a guest on Vermont Public's Vermont Edition during the growing season. He also offers garden tips on local television and is a frequent guest on national programs.
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