Tag Archives: soil

Straw Bale Gardening

by Sharon Dent

Hot Springs and the vicinity are known for rocky soil.  We laughingly say the best shovel to use here is a pick ax. Most gardeners that I know, opt to build raised or elevated beds filled with imported soil to overcome the situation.

A straw bale garden between a driveway and a fence

There is another option: straw bale gardens. Lynn Harris who lives within shouting distance to downtown Hot Springs is trying straw bale gardening. She is a long time gardener without much space on her urban lot. She added straw bales along the backyard driveway abutting the property line. This created a narrow linear garden. She has harvested herbs, peppers tomatoes and more.

Straw bale garden later in season

She got an early start in the spring, first identifying the sunny spot to use and wetting the bales down for several consecutive days. The moist bales heat up and so a few more steps were needed to cool and condition the bales before planting. Over the next 6 days, she continued to water but introduced fertilizer as well

Note: Either liquid fertilizer or ammonia sulfate will work. When using ammonia sulfate sprinkle about ½ cup on each bale each day of the conditioning period. 

She kept the bales moist for the next four days and measured the temperature inside the bales.  She planted when the temperature was equal to that of the outside temperature.

Close up of straw bale garden Close up of straw bale garden

Close up of straw bale garden

I also tried straw bale gardening this summer of 2015 for the first time. I got a later start than Lynn and placed a dozen bales one or two high next to our vegetable garden in the backyard. I was inspired by Lynn to try it.


The literature I read suggested planting herbs and shorter plants such as lettuce and spinach. By the time I got started, it was too late for cool weather plants. I will try those in October.

I planted a few tomatoes and herbs. The basil especially liked the environment. I also planted squash, watermelon, and cantaloupe, but they were not as successful as the tomatoes. I think it was because I did not fertilize every two weeks after planting as recommended in the literature. Nor did I water enough during July.


Here are a few tips:

  •  Put newspaper or cardboard under the bales to choke out weeds.
  • When placing and/or stacking the bales, turn them on their narrow side and face the cut straw side up rather than the side with the folded straw. It will be much easier to cut the holes for planting.
  • The holes should be about twice the size of the root ball of the plants. Add a high quality planting soil in the holes, and plant seeds or seedlings.




Waterlogged Soil and Gardens

by Grazzie Warbritton

Have you finished building your ark yet?  So much water.  And we’re told that the lakes haven’t even crested yet.  Oh, our poor soaked gardens.

For gardeners this over-abundance of water surprisingly means that we have much less control over our plants and gardens than we do in times of drought.  Well, that was a surprise to me!  And unless our precious plants are living in moveable containers, we can only appeal to the rain gods to change the weather.  There isn’t much we can do if our gardens are waterlogged.  However, once there are a few sunny days to dry things out, you need to assess your garden’s status.

If your garden is truly waterlogged, your plants are almost certainly stressed—or soon might be.  Why?  Because there is an insufficient amount of oxygen in the soil.  Every plant’s roots must take in and release excess carbon dioxide.  Paradoxically plants look as if they are wilting, but not because of too little water.  They simply are unable to access the available water.  This causes root rot, and plant death.  We might not be able to prevent heavy rains or flooding, but we can be alert for signs that our plants are suffering.  Symptoms of water damage can look just like many other plant problems. Symptoms usually begin with the leaves, although trees and shrubs may not exhibit symptoms for a year or more.   Other symptoms include twisting, yellowing, and dropping leaves; lack of flowers or fruits; wilting (despite abundance of water) and roots that are turning dark (sometimes with a scent of rot).  Look for soft or spongy areas at the base of leaves.

I was surprised to learn that flooding during warm weather is more damaging to plants because in warm weather they are “breathing more” and need more oxygen during cold weather.

Unfortunately, once the garden soil is flooded, the best thing to do is what’s hardest—to be patient.  Just because a plant shows signs of distress doesn’t mean it won’t eventually recover.

Here are a few guidelines for dealing with waterlogged soil

  1. Don’t walk on waterlogged soil. Walking on it usually further compacts the soil and causes even more damage to distressed roots.
  2. Remove plants that are under water and remove any sludge or other residue by cleaning them with a gentle stream from the hose.
  3. Stay vigilant for diseases that take favor stressed plants. These include fungal diseases that thrive on damp weather.
  4. Buy an inexpensive soil-moisture meter from your nearby hardware store. It will tell you the percentage of water remaining in your soil.  Of course, if you still have mud, you don’t need a meter to tell you the soil is waterlogged.  If you want to know if the soil is dry enough for the roots to get the necessary oxygen, a meter will tell you when the soil has reached that level (usually between 40 – 70%).