While in a hurry to plant some early white potatoes in late February this winter, I decided to try my hand at gardening in a couple of surplus bales of wheat straw left from a November cookout…bales can double as seats by the bonfire. I recall seeing an old lady in our neighbor plant tomatoes in such bales back in the sixties. (I guess that makes me the “ol man” now. Oh well.)
I googled instructions online and began the process promptly. Step one” arrange the bales with the twine parallel to the ground. Step two: dig three holes in each bale and pour in cottonseed meal, some 10-20-20 and compost; next, thoroughly soak the bales with water. By mid-March I dropped a pound of Yukon Gold seed potatoes in the “prepared holes” and let nature take its course. By May, I was watering once each week and enjoying the lush foliage cascading from the bales. At least once in the growth cycle I applied a drench of Peters soluble fertilizer for an extra shot of nitrogen to keep the leaves rich green.
In early June the foliage yellowed and I pulled apart the rotted straw to gather my harvest. The potatoes were smooth as silk and CLEAN. There were 2 large, fist-size potatoes per plant and a couple of small ones–perfect for boiling with a mess of green beans. I must say I was a bit disappointed with the overall yield but this was just an experiment to grow a crop I found was not economically feasible considering the low cost of buying potatoes. Clay soil is best left for growing sweet potatoes in my opinion.
An added benefit of the remaining spoiled straw was for mulch; my tomato plants appreciated the mulch in July when our drought set in. As for next year, I will probably try the experiment again in spring and attempt a circular designed bed of straw bales, leaving the center open for compost and soil mix. I saw this arrangement in a gardening magazine and thought it was a good idea. This may be an alternative method to avoid prepping a new space that is devoid of topsoil and replete with heavy clay. Raised bed gardens come in myriad forms besides wooden boxes piled deep with soil mix.