New Heights: Raised-bed gardening

Posted on 30 November 2016

planting a straw bale garden

Straw bale gardens make gardening easier

 

By Melinda Myers  

Want to raise your garden to new heights for easier access and greater productivity

Raised beds allow you to overcome poor soil by creating the ideal growing mix, plus make gardening time more comfortable thanks to less bending and kneeling. Whether you purchase a kit or build your own, there are a few things to consider when creating a raised bed garden.

Select a long-lasting material such as interlocking block, fieldstone, plastic lumber or naturally long lasting wood like cedar. The material selected will influence the shape and size of your garden. Some materials allow for curved beds while others are limited to squares, rectangles and other angular shapes. Design your raised bed to fit your space and your needs. A three- or four-feet width makes it easy to reach all parts of the garden for planting, weeding and harvesting. 

Raising your planting bed at least 8 to 12 inches improves drainage and provides an adequate space for most plants to root and grow. Fill the bed with a quality growing mix that is well drained but also able to retain moisture and nutrients. This may be a mixture of quality topsoil and compost, a high quality potting mix, or a planting mix designed specifically for raised bed gardens. Grow any plants that you normally would grow in ground. Just make sure the plants are suited to the growing conditions (such as sunlight, heat and wind) in your area.

Since the soil mix and drainage is ideal in a raised garden, you will be able to grow more plants per square foot. Just be sure to leave sufficient room for plants to reach their mature size. Keep your plants healthy and productive with proper watering. This is critical for growing any garden, but even more crucial in a fast-draining raised bed. The simple act of raising the garden height increases drainage, and a raised bed filled with planting mix means more frequent watering.

STRAW BALE GARDENING

Add productive garden space and raise your planting bed with straw bale gardening. This technique allows gardeners to create raised bed gardens on a patio, lawn or any area with poor compacted soil. Straw bale gardening has been around for centuries, but thanks to Joel Karsten’s book “Straw Bale Gardens” it has gained new popularity. All that is needed are a few straw bales, fertilizer, a bit of compost and time to condition, plant and water the garden.  Be sure to purchase straw bales made from alfalfa, wheat, oats, rye or other cereal grain that have less weed seeds than hay. Start a few weeks before the designated planting date. Place the bales in their permanent location with the cut sides up and twine parallel to the ground. Once you start the condition process, the bales will be very heavy and hard to move. When the bales are in place you are ready to start the conditioning process.

This is done to start the inside of the straw bales composting, so they’ll support plant growth. On day one, spread fertilizer over the top of the bale.  Use a ½ cup of a complete garden fertilizer or three cups of an organic fertilizer like Milorganite. Then completely moisten the bale. Thoroughly soak the bale everyday. On days three and five you will add more fertilizer at the same rate used on day one. Bales treated with a complete fertilizer should be ready to plant. You may need to wait a few more days when using an organic fertilizer.  The inside of the bale should be the temperature of warm bath water or cooler for planting. If it is hotter than this, wait for the bale to cool a bit before you plant. Use a trowel to pry open a hole in the bale.

Place the plant in the hole and cover the roots with potting mix or compost. Create a planting bed for seeds by covering the bale with a one- to two-inch thick layer of planting mix. Follow the planting directions on the back of the seed packet.

Give your straw bale garden a nutrient boost about once a month or as needed throughout the growing season.

• Gardening expert Melinda Myers is a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine.



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