A visitor at Celebration Weekend sang the praises of his straw bale garden. I was quite intrigued, so I did a bit of research.
The idea is that the bale turns into a suitable planting medium as it decomposes from all the water.
Straw bale gardening is great way to go if you have compromised soil. The bales are cheap (mine cost $14/each from the local feed store) and will last a season or two, depending on how you use them. Then you can kick the remains into the compost pile or use them as mulch.
Here's how they look:
The two back bales have the straw running vertically. They won't hold water as well as the lower one, but they'll supposedly last a bit longer. The bale in front has the straw running horizontally. It'll be excellent at retaining moisture but will probably break down faster.
They were a breeze to setup. The one trick is to keep them soaked for a week or two so that they go through their initial composting process. They get so hot from the inside out that they could burn your baby plants.
There are different ways to plant into them. Some folks carve out little holes and plop their plants straight in with a handful of compost. I built little frames because I thought they look nice -- always a concern in the test garden.
The back two are planted with two types of kale: 'Redbor' and 'Lacinato'
The front one has baby cabbages, named 'Pixie.'
I seem to be into straw these days. Here is the slideshow of my potato towers.