(THIS STORY WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN 2015)
POTTSTOWN >> Gardening is a great outdoor activity that also results in healthy foods but can be intimidating for beginners. The Pottstown Community Garden hosted a workshop on how straw bale gardens are easy and convenient to create.
The garden is planted on top of the straw bundle, making planting more accessible and manageable. Straw is dried stalks of grain used in farming but can also be used for small gardens.
“It’s an easy way to garden that’s also weed free,” said Anna Cousins, of Barto.
Cousins taught the straw bale workshop at the Pottstown garden and has been planting for more than 20 years.
“I love to grow my own things and herbs,” she said.
After taking some classes on herb gardens, Cousins learned how straw bales could be used to plant. Cousins said she works in the medical field and her schedule is busy so this type of gardening was quick and easy.
She said a straw bale garden is a great option for people with special needs who can’t get low or bend. Another benefit is a large area isn’t necessary to plant, Cousins said.
“It doesn’t take up that much room,” she said adding that it can fit easily in a small yard or even on a deck.
Straw bales are a low-cost gardening method. Cousins said the bales can be purchased from local farmers for about $4. They are also available at home improvement and tractor supply stores. To get started, people will need the straw, a meat thermometer, fertilizer, water and plants.
Cousins said first the straw bales have to be conditioned for planting. She said the straw will compost and eventually turn into dirt making it suitable for gardening. She said the conditioning process usually takes about 12 days which includes adding fertilizer and water each day. Toward the end of the process, phosphorus and potassium will be added.
“That just starts the microbial process of breaking down the straw,” Cousins said adding that this will attract worms which will further help the straw compost.
HOW TO CONDITION AND PLANT ON A STRAW BALE GARDEN
1. The first step is to choose a location that gets lots of sun. Sunlight is necessary for the composting process.
2. Position the straw bales so the strings binding the bundle are on the side. Make sure that wherever you place the straw is where you leave them because the bales will become heavier as they become dirt.
3. Lay newspaper underneath the straw bale because this will help prevent weeds from growing.
4. Condition the bales by adding a natural nitrogen rich fertilizer. Make sure it doesn’t include a weed killer or this will kill the plants in the garden. Sprinkle about three cups of fertilizers onto the bale.
5. Water the straw bale with a hose so the fertilizer is saturated into it. Use about a gallon or two of water. Continue to water and fertilize the straw bale for about 12 days adding phosphorus and potassium toward the end.
6. Before planting anything, check the temperature of the straw bale with a meat thermometer. Don’t plant anything until the temperature is below 100 degrees or the plants will burn up.
7. Just about anything can be planted in a straw bale. The straw is compressed so can be difficult to plant in. Use a pair of pliers to make space for the plants then add sterile soil in the hole.
8. Continue to water and fertilize plants as they grow.
“I just encourage everyone to try it. It’s fun,” Cousins said.
The Pottstown Community Gardens are located on Chestnut Street and is operated through the MOSAIC Community Land Trust. The trust in partnership with the Pottstown Area Health & Wellness Foundation has organized a Home Garden Contest for borough residents.