Thursday, May 19, 2016

No Yard? No Soil? No Problem: A Straw Bale Gardening Primer

Not every gardener has a lawn. When short on fertile soil, we have to get creative, and some simple straw bales can transform even a cement parking lot into a verdant paradise! In addition to providing a medium in which your plants can grow, straw bales create an instant raised bed at a convenient height for most people! Even if you do have a yard in which you could plant a more conventional garden, straw bales eliminate the need for kneeling or crouching down to tend to your plants and are also wheelchair accessible.

Are you intrigued?
  Let's give it a try!

What you need: 

Straw bale
Small amount of potting soil
Organic fertilizer or compost
Starts or seeds

Pick a nice sunny spot: 
Once the bales get wet, they will become much heavier and harder to move, so make sure it's where they're going to stay. (If you choose a grassy area, be sure to place several layers of newspaper or a piece of cardboard beneath to prevent grass and weeds from growing up into the bale.)

Position the bale:

Turn the bale with the narrow side up, so the strings holding the bale together are now on the sides (you don't want those strings to be on top in case you were to sever one while planting). On one narrow side, the straw will be folded over, and on the other side it will be cut. Make sure the cut side is up, as the hollow straws will allow moisture to penetrate better.

Condition the bale:
It is important to condition the bale before you plant. This process usually takes between 10 and 14 days. For the first three (3) days, simply water the bale thoroughly so that it remains damp. For the next six (6) days, in addition to watering it, use a liquid fertilizer to add nitrogen to speed up the decomposition. Simply add a capful to a gallon of water and pour it all on the bale. (Another option is to sprinkle a cupful of ammonium sulfate on the top of the bale on days 4-6 and then a half a cup days 7-9, each time watering the fertilizer in deeply.)

On day ten (10), return to simply watering the bale, and continue doing that until the temperature inside the bale starts to reflect the temperature outside. Use a compost or meat thermometer to keep tabs: you'll see the temperature start to rise after the first day or two, spike about mid-way through the process, then start to come back down. Once it reaches a consistent temperature that matches the temperature outside, the bale is ready to be planted.

Choose your plants:
You can grow just about anything in the bale that you can in the ground - with a few exceptions:
Tall plants like indeterminate tomatoes and corn, for example, get too tall and heavy, and can start to break the bale apart. (If you wish to grow tomatoes, stick to bush or other determinate varieties.)

Running plants like sweet potatoes can be harder to grow in a bale too.

We recommend smaller plants like herbs or flowers, or use it for your cooler weather leafy crops. Whichever plants you use, space them the same as you would in the ground.

Plant the bale:
Remove straw to form a hole that is as deep as the rootball of your plant. (Though if you are planting a tomato, you'll want to go deeper.) Place the plant in the hole, add some potting soil around it for extra nutrients and stability, then fill the rest of the hole in with some of the straw you removed and water deeply.

Water and fertilize regularly:
Your plants will receive less nutrition from the bale than it would from the soil, so it's important to fertilize them every week or two. You'll also want to make sure not to let the bale dry out.

And Voilá! 

You can create your garden from as many straw bales as you'd like, arranged to fit 
your need, aesthetic, or mood! 

Happy Growing!

images, in order of appearance, from:

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Gardening For Health and Wellness

Macintosh HD:Users:kendrabrewer:Dropbox:Garden Program:Watercolor Veggies:wreath.jpegGardening For Health and Wellness

We all love fresh produce from the garden, but did you know that gardening also produces a whole host of health benefits for our minds and bodies.  These benefits can ultimately reduce the cost of our health care!

Gardening can improve your mental and physical health!

* In studies, gardening is shown to significantly help to reduce stress, depression, physical pain, and improve sleep. Simply viewing plant-life reduces peoples stress and boosts recovery times from illness. But working to grow plants, and getting to touch, smell, taste and feel them on a weekly basis creates a raft of positive effects in our brains and bodies.

* Even just touching soil can boost our health! The microbes present in healthy soil are the same microbes that our bodies need to function completely. In today’s world, many of us don’t get enough exposure to these little helpers on a regular basis. But when we garden, we encounter them. Studies demonstrate how this probiotic effect can increase our mood through serotonin creation, and has been likened to a natural anti-depressant!

* Growing food is empowering.  Gardening requires care, attention and responsibility. Gardening stimulates creativity and brings a sense of accomplishment.

* Gardening is a superstar strategy to manage weight, providing both exercise and healthy produce! Getting enough fresh produce and exercise is also important to prevent cancer and heart disease, and decreases risk for many other chronic diseases.

* Gardening is a great mild exercise that can help increase joint flexibility, fine motor skills, and even burns calories. Gardening movements can also build strength and endurance, to aid physical rehabilitation, and helps to stave off osteoporosis.

And the benefits last…many of these studies show that these effects tend to last, even months after the last gardening activity was done!

Community Gardening has even more benefits!

Community gardening provides a great opportunity for social connection, which is a key factor in our happiness and health: Our social connectedness actually influences our blood pressure, immune responses, our stress levels and our rates of chronic illness.  Community gardeners are also more likely to eat more vegetables even than home gardeners. Most of all, community gardening is FUN…Come garden with the Hub!

We are looking to host a Gardening For Therapy Club.  If you are interested in participating, please contact Kendra