Article and photo by Donna Iverson
"Grow something" shouted the headline of a recent article in my favorite gardening magazine. Good advice and I would add "grow something edible," even if it's only a pot of parsley. In fact, parsley is a good place to start. Seeds are easy to come by, it's easy to grow and you could use just about anything for a pot. Set it in a sunny place near your doorstep, or on a patio or balcony or even on a bedroom window ledge if that's the only space you have.
In the face of a pandemic, sales of seeds and plants are robust with some veggie seeds in short supply..like carrots.
Are carrots seeds the new toilet paper?
Gardens or even a pot of herbs offer reassurance of a brighter future, of learning to grow your own food, of caring for something, of watching something you created turn into an edible food source, of watching nature regenerate.
So a pot of parsley is a start. But maybe you are a little more ambitious than growing a pot of herbs but you aren't into tilling or building a garden bed. If so, consider straw bale gardening. It's cheap. It's easy. And it's quick.
All you need is a straw bale, a bag of organic soil and some seeds or seedlings. Straw bales cost less than $10 and provide the garden bed. Be sure what you buy is straw and not hay bales, as these are animal fodder and full of weed seeds. You can find straw bales at garden or feed stores or from your local farmer.
Usually straw bales come wrapped in twine; leave the twine on. Place the bale in a sunny location and soak it with a hose daily for four to five days. Add nutrients by pouring on compost tea. Once the bale has "cooked,", take a trowel and remove about six inches of straw from the top center. Pour organic soil and compost into this rectangular hole. This is where the plants or seeds will go.
The final step is to plant seeds or seedlings. Tomato seedlings purchased from your local garden store or farmers market are a good choice to start with. One straw bale will hold three tomato plants. Other seedlings that work well include eggplant, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, and cabbage. Or go the seed route with lettuce, radishes, beets, peppers or those hard-to-find carrot seeds. All these are easily grown by beginners. It is important to keep the straw bale garden watered regularly, especially during hot weather..
Like all gardening techniques, be forewarned, there is a downside. Straw bale gardens require a lot of regular watering, you need to add organic fertilizer on a regular basis, each bale will only support a few plants and a straw bale can only be used for one season. Still it seems worth the effort if you want an easy way to get started, or just want to experiment with a new gardening approach. At the end of the season, the straw bale can be thrown in your compost pile.
If you want more information on straw bale gardening, your local library has a surprising number of books on the subject.