Hello, fellow readers,
I knew little about straw bale gardening until I met Peg and Ed, who volunteers at the Kearny Community Garden. Peg, a retired 6th-grade teacher of 52 years, I believe she said, is still teaching, but now her students are gardeners from age 8 to 93. Her’ textbook’ on the subject is Straw Bale Gardens by Joel Karsten. The new edition includes directions for making bales using leaves and kitchen waste that is usually composted. That’s a nifty option, too!
While a trend in urban areas, straw bale gardening also works for folks with little space, difficult rocky or heavy clay soil, and those with lousy backs or who garden in a chair. Don’t confuse hay with straw, though; beware of mislabeling too. Hay is the entire harvested plant, including the seed heads, while straw is the plant stalk left behind after the seed heads are removed. Using hay bales will result in a Chia Pet of sorts, creating a lawn sprouting from your bale. And use organically grown straw to be free of nasty pesticides, especially when growing food.
The Kearny Community Garden is along the Passaic River, though the town installed hose bibs, so the river water is not a factor. They have 62 spots with five bales each at a modest twenty bucks a season. You can see why they quickly sell out.
The bales are prepped before planting by watering fertilizer into them for about three weeks. Peg says they use Cheep Cheep by North Country Organics. Each bale gets sixteen and a half cups of the stuff. That’s 5,115 cups over the 310 bales! The bales then decompose to the point that they will support plant growth, and the continued decomposition provides nutrients throughout the growing season.
“We want our garden to be a bridge for all the different groups in our community.” Their Facebook page says, “When you come, you may hear English, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian or Hindi. Regardless of the language we speak, we can all get together around food. Everyone and anyone is welcome.” United as one. Imagine our world the same way.
Link to Rutgers Cooperative Extension talk on Vegetable Gardening Basics