Hay! That's quite a garden in New Berlin
Woman lauds a growing medium that proves effective and easy
New Berlin — Rhoda Flagg stands in her garden, looks up and sees her tomatoes — bright ripe red against the blue sky — bobbing in the breeze, and she still can't believe it.
Against a latticework on a garden shed in her yard, her tomato plants stand 13 feet tall. That itself is unusual. But what is more unusual is what the plants are rooted in: bales of straw, not soil.
"It's blowing my mind, I really love it," Flagg said.
Though the bales were fortified with Milorganite fertilizer, it doesn't account for the tall plants that now stand in front of her.
"I've used Milorganite before but I never got 13-foot tall tomatoes," said Flagg, who has gardened for decades.
The bales of straw made all the difference in her vegetable garden. Not only did she witness the amazement of plants growing from fertilized hay, she escaped the dread of weeding as well.
Besides tomatoes, Flagg planted Swiss chard, peppers, kale and beets. And the vegetables taste as delicious as from the ground, she said.
Flagg first became aware of straw-bale gardening through a limited reference in a book. It made enough of an impression on her that when she spotted another book with more detailed information, she knew she had to buy it. After reading the book, she decided to give straw-bay gardening a try this year.
Flagg found the procedure simple.
She started by winding strong string around the bales to keep them from falling apart. The string has to be nylon or some other material that won't readily decompose.
To make the bales more secure, she tied them to the latticework or to poles pounded into the ground.
Then she saturated the bales with water for 12 days.
To give the straw more nutrients, she pulled apart 2-inch sections on the top and sprinkled Milorganite into them and then flushed them with water.
She worked her way across each bale from end to end, sprinkling and watering a row. So, in the 12 days of watering, each bale got six additions of fertilizer.
"It's a black, icky mess inside," Flagg had to admit.
At the end of 12 days, it was planting time.
She pulled the straw apart where she had dropped the fertilizer, put the plants in, and then closed it back up.
"You put the plants in there and they will grow like crazy," she said.
If you plant something like tomatoes, you will need to put something on top of the bales for them to climb on, Flagg explained.
All she'd had to do during growing season was make sure the vegetables got enough water, which she would do anyway with a traditional garden. And there was no back-breaking weeding, she said.
"It's easy and there's a lot of bang for your buck," said the pioneer gardener.
When the harvesting is done, Flagg will put the spent bales on a compost pile. After turning them over a couple of times, she said, "I'll have good dirt for the flowers."
More to come
Flagg is already making plans to expand her experiment next summer.
"I'm going to have a very little dirt garden," she said.
Instead, she plans to plant 16 straw bales in four rows end to end across her backyard, she said.
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