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.
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.
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.
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.