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Straw-bale gardening is a good option in this area

The Grass is Greener

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POSTED: December 20, 2012 5:00 p.m.

It is not even Christmas yet, but I’m going to talk about tomatoes and other vegetables for your 2013 garden. After all, if the big box stores can have their Christmas inventory on display a week before Halloween, I can talk about tomatoes in December.

It is planning and seed-ordering time in any case. The favorite vegetable for most of us to grow is the tomato. Unfortunately, tomatoes are the most difficult vegetable to grow in Coastal Georgia. We get too warm too early in the growing season for tomatoes to be commercially successful here, but we can be successful in the home garden with tomatoes if we plant early enough for the crop to mature and harvest before the heat hits.

The second-most restricting factor in successful tomato here is bacterial wilt. The bacterium that causes this wilt is in the soil, and once it is there, it is there. One cannot grow another solanaceous crop in that soil — ever. Your tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants and peppers will have to be grown somewhere else. Bacterial wilt is one of the driving forces behind developing container-gardening systems for Coastal gardeners.

Today, I want to tell you about another option for growing vegetables here on the coast: straw-bale gardening. One of the best sources on how to do straw bale gardening is recently retired Regional Horticulture Specialist Dr. Gary Wade of UGA. Instead of planting your vegetables in the ground or a pot, they can be planted in a straw bale that has been properly prepared.

As with all gardening, there are multiple ways to do successful bale gardening. These links will take you to good publications to get you started:

• anr.ext.wvu.edu/lawn_garden/straw_bale_gardening 

• santarosa.ifas.ufl.edu/blog/2012/04/03/how-to-grow-your-vegetables-in-a-straw-bale

• msucares.com/pubs/infosheets/is1678.pdf

There are also several good videos on MySpace that will help you get off on the right foot.

Straw bales have to be prepared prior to planting. Essentially, composting is started by watering and fertilizing the bales well before planting the transplants.

Once planted, the bales are watered regularly just as you would with any garden. Advantages of growing in straw bales are better drainage and air access for roots, avoidance of soil diseases, a raised bed that reduces bending and stooping to tend the plants, no rototiller needed, no disruption of root systems of nearby trees and other landscape plants, and weeding is almost unnecessary. It is easy to move the gardening location from year to year — just put the bales in a different spot next year.

Straw is a better growing medium than hay because hay has seed heads in addition to the grass stems. The seeds become weeds when they sprout. Straw does not have the seed heads — just grass stems.

Of course with the droughts, finding straw can be challenging in this area. Unfortunately, a bale of pine straw does not work well for bale gardening. Grain straw is the best.

If you have limited space for a garden, have soil-disease issues with your soil-based garden like bacterial wilt or just like an easy, inexpensive way to have a raised bed for vegetable gardening, you might give straw bale gardening a try.

Don Gardner lives in Keller and is the UGA extension agent for Glynn County serving Bryan County.

 

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