The straw bale is a common fall decor item found on front porches and yards across Bakersfield. But they also have another use. They can be used as a gardening container.

It’s a strings-attached approach to growing some winter edibles. For those green thumb gardeners out there with thumbs-down soil conditions, this method provides an extraordinary productive, warm, moist environment for young seedlings. The benefits are: it’s a raised bed so you don’t have to bend down to the ground, no digging in the dirt, no weeds, no planting mixes and minimal maintenance with maximum results.

How to start

Choose a sunny spot. If it’s a grassy area, put a piece of cardboard beneath to prevent weeds from growing up through it – can be placed in a wood frame also.

Position the bale

Turn the bale narrow side up, so strings holding bale together are now on sides. On one narrow side, the straw will be folded over; on the other, it will be cut. Make sure the cut side is up, as the hollow straws will allow moisture to penetrate better.

Condition the bale

As soon as moisture hits the bale, it will start to decompose and the inside will heat right up, so it needs to be conditioned. This process usually takes around 10 to 14 days. For the first three days, simply water the bale thoroughly so it stays damp. For the next six days, in addition to watering the bale, use a liquid fertilizer like vegetable and flower plant food to add nitrogen to speed the decomposition. Add a capful to a gallon of water and pour it all on the bale.

Choose your plants

On day 10, return to simply watering the bale and continue doing that until the temperature inside the bale starts to reflect the temperature outside – then the bale is ready to be planted. Use a compost or meat thermometer to keep tabs. You can grow just about anything you would in the ground. Use a trowel to dig into the top of the straw bale. Make a hole about the size of the container your plant came in. Items like garlic, lettuce, spinach and radishes would be good to plant now.

Water and fertilize regularly

You’ll want to make sure not to let the bale dry out. Fertilize every two weeks while plants are young and every week once they start bearing fruit.

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