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Where We Live:

Mostly because the house was built on a shale ridge - one of our state’s commodities.

About seven years while covering a garden show for the paper I worked for then, I went to one of the houses and the owner was watering 12 bales of straw with vegetable plants growing out of it. I politely asked what he was doing and he said he was growing a straw bale garden.

I came home and searched online for straw bale gardens and found a tutorial from the many versions of straw bale gardening.

First you need to decide what you want to plant - cucumbers, tomatoes, melon, lettuce, and other vegetables.

The reason you use straw instead of hay bales is because straw has less weeds growing in it.

The advantages are no weeding and you don’t need to hoe, and you can extend the growing season by weeks because of the heat from your decomposing straw. You can also use loose straw in raised beds or large pots.

Here is what I do to get it ready for my garden:

• To properly condition your straw bale for planting, you’ll need to monitor its moisture levels.

• Water the bale thoroughly for three days to ensure it stays damp, checking for moisture and heat by pushing your hand inside the bale.

• During the next six days, use a general-purpose liquid fertilizer to ensure that the bale has enough nitrogen to grow healthy plants.

• After feeding the bale, keep it damp for two more days before planting. Finally, when the bale feels warm but cooler than your hand, you’re ready to plant.

I started with four straw bales and put two rows with two bales in each row making a square. Now I have 12 bales with four bales across and three bales down. You can choose any configuration you like, but if you have more than four bales you should put some spikes in the ground around the outside of the bales so when the straw start starts to decompose the bale will not collapse.

To check other people’s straw bale methods, Google straw bed gardening.

Happy planting.