A very unique way of using a straw bale leftover from the fall decorations is to turn it into a gardening container. But before you decide to go this approach you must first understand the difference between straw and hay.
Hay is the whole plant that is cut and then baled. Straw, on the other hand, consists of only stems with a few seed heads left in the bale. For this project, only use straw. Using straw instead of hay will reduce the amount of weeds you will have to deal with in your straw bale garden.
The first step to this process is to arrange your straw bale so that the twine does not make direct contact with the soil. This will prevent the straw bale from falling apart after a few months. Next you will need to put it where you want your garden to be. Straw bales that are not wet are much easier to move than wet ones.
Second, you need to arrange the bales so that the tops are easily reached. Straw bale gardens can be any shape and/or size. These gardens are stronger if bales are butted up against each other long ways. This provides strength and structure for the bales and the gardener can easily get two gardening seasons out of these bales.
After the garden has been arranged, the next step is to allow the bales to cook. Straw is a natural product that will begin to decompose when the conditions are right. This will begin as soon as the bales are thoroughly moistened with water. Begin this process by watering your bales everyday for the first three days. The next three days you will need to add ½ cup of compost or manure tea to the water for each bale. The following three days you will need to only use ¼ cup of organic fertilizer per bale. Continue to water the bale and on the 10th day check the temperature. This is easily done by sticking your hand in the bale and feeling the heat. If it is cool it is ready for the next step. Throughout this process, if you see any growth appearing from the bale pull it out.
After the above time period, the bale should be cooled down and you can begin to plant. If you are going to plant seed, then you will need to lay two to three inch layer of compost, potting soil or a combination of both on top of the bale. This will create the medium by which you can plant your seed as usual.
If using transplants, then you can still use the method described above and plant directly into the soil or you can plant into the bale. To do this, simply open up the bale with a garden trowel but make sure not to cut the strings. Once a space in the bale has been opened up, then simply place the transplant in the space and allow the bale to close naturally. Make sure though that the transplants are planted deep enough and that the plant spacing is correct.
Straw bales will need to be watered daily. The direction of the stems in the bale channels the water so that it just runs off so this type of gardening is not conducive to water restricting areas.
Straw bale gardens do need to be fertilized. Keep in mind though, that the more you fertilize the shorter-lived your straw bale garden will be. Under normal situations, biweekly fertilization of compost or manure teas or fish emulsion is all that is needed.
This type of gardening method can be used for any annual flowers, herbs, and vegetables but keep in mind the height of the material. Many tall plants will not do well in a straw bale garden because the ground support is not there. Corn, indeterminate tomatoes and sunflowers are some of the plants that do not do well in this type of garden. If you choose to utilize these plants, plan on adding trellises, stakes or some other type of support to the bales.