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Straw Bale Gardening

Straw or hay bales can be used as borders for garden beds - they're great for sitting on while you garden :) - or you can use them as planters. If you're using them as borders you can plant into them two and get double usage out of them. When they've degraded too much to be used as borders/seats or as plant containers, you can then use them as mulch or compost them.

If you want to use them as planters here are some easy steps to follow:

  1. Prepare them: find a spot for them and soak them with water two or three times a day for at least a week - this is difficult if you work full time so you might need to get up a bit early to water them before you leave and then again when you get home.
  2. This starts the straw decomposing - you can also add blood and bone or liquid fertiliser to help speed this up.
  3. Make sure you do this in their final location because they can be very heavy once they're wet.
  4. Make holes in the bales at least big enough to hold a 60 cm (23 in) pot but the bigger the better - bigger plants will like more space too. You can get away with smaller holes but the plants won't be as happy and will need watering more often.
  5. Fill the holes with compost, potting mix, aged manure etc. or a mixture of these.
  6. Plant your seedlings into these now filled holes. Good things to try are: salad greens such as lettuce and Asian greens such as pak choy; tomatoes (cherry varieties work well); silver beet; cucumbers, zucchinis and other compact growing squashes; herbs that prefer richer conditions such as coriander, chives, lemon/lime balm (you'll need to transplant perennials when the straw breaks down), parsley, fennel and basil - hardier herbs such as thyme and rosemary won't like these planters as much; avoid root veggies.
  7. Water the plants in as normal and water the plants as often as required, which may be more frequently than you would a standard garden bed. Companion planting is still important in bale planters.

I'd recommend using 'standard' straw bales, lucerne hay or pea straw bales as these contain fewer weed seeds - meadow or other hay bales tend to have lots of weed seeds and these will easily grow in your new planters.

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