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Gardening with straw bales is like container gardening, except the container is compostable and it's nutritious for the plants it cradles. An article in Fine Gardening magazine inspired Sandy White of Bainbridge Township to give it a shot. White, who is a Cuyahoga County master gardener, gives presentations about straw-bale gardening.
In the video, Amy Stewart says she began straw-bale gardening because only one spot on her property gets the proper sun exposure to grow food.
In "Stand Up and Garden" ($16.95, Countryman Press), Mary Moss-Sprague says once she discovered straw-bale gardening through a neighbor, her old gardening ways fell by the wayside.
Joel Karsten can tick off reasons why folks like himself haul straw bales to their yards and grow with them.
View full sizeJoel Karsten, Special to The PDVegetable-growing straw bales are lined up tightly and staked.

There's more than one way to set up a straw-bale garden, so it might be useful to do some research to see which method you prefer. Joel KarstenIn a telephone interview from his home in Roseville, Minn., Karsten explained how he came to share his love and knowledge of straw-bale gardening with the public. Wheat, oat and barley bales work best, said Karsten, who has a degree in horticulture science from the University of Minnesota. Kowalski likes that more people are learning about straw-bale gardening as an alternative to in-ground growing, but it's not for folks who have allergies, she noted. Karsten explains the reasons in his booklet, "Straw Bale Gardening ($14.99, Karsten Publishing). Wire is slung between the stakes to keep the garden compact and to provide support for vines or a heavy vegetable crop if needed. In the video, Stewart layers store-bought compost over the tops of the bales and plants in the compost.

To get the bales nitrogen-rich for planting, she sprinkles granular nitrogen fertilizer over the top of the square and then covers it with 4 inches of compost and for 10 consecutive days waters with a liquid nitrogen fertilizer. His dad, Glen Karsten, still lives on the property, and Joel Karsten does some straw-bale gardening there. Any vegetables can be grown, but those that have perennial roots, such as rhubarb, asparagus and strawberries, are not the best choices because the bale decomposes and the roots would then need to be transplanted, which they don't like, said Karsten.
White purchases hers at Breezewood Garden Center in Chagrin Falls, so it's worth calling around before making a long trip.
She plants longer-rooted vegetables, such as carrots and beets, in the opening in the middle of the square.

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