If the soil on your property is not viable for growing tomatoes, consider planting them in wheat straw bales. Even if you have good soil, this is an alternative for growers who do not want to exert themselves through the labor-intensive bending that is required with traditional in-ground gardening. Planting tomatoes in wheat straw bales is also a nice way to add a bit of color and interest to your landscape.
Purchase a wheat straw bale that is tied with twine made of synthetic material. Natural twine will disintegrate which can result in your straw bale breaking down.
Place your wheat straw bale in a location where it will receive direct sunlight. It is best to opt for a place where the bottom of the bale will not be exposed to excessive ground moisture. If such a spot doesn’t exist in direct sunlight on your property, place a sheet of plastic beneath the bale.
Place the bale on its side so the twine is visibly running around the sides of the bale, not on the top and the bottom of the bale. Spray water from a hose onto the bale until the straw is thoroughly soaked. This generally requires around 13 to 15 gallons of water.
Sprinkle 1 lb. of powdered limestone onto the wheat straw. Use a garden fork to help work the limestone into the bale. Be careful not to break the twine with the tines of the garden fork.
Add water and keep the bale wet for three days. Sprinkle ½ cup of ammonium nitrite into the wheat straw on day four. Add water so the chemical soaks into the straw. Keep the bale wet for an additional two days.
Sprinkle ¼ cup of ammonium nitrite to the surface of the wheat straw on the seventh day. Add water and keep the bale wet for two more days.
Apply 1 cup of a general purpose fertilizer to the surface of the wheat straw on day 10. Wet the bale so the fertilizer soaks into the straw.
Add 3 inches of potting soil or clean topsoil to the straw on day 11. Water gently and allow the straw to rest for one day.
Make a hole in the top center of the wheat straw by forcing a garden trowel or small shovel into the surface of the bale. Place your hand into the wheat straw to test the temperature of the bale. If it is cooler than your body temperature, it is a viable place to grow tomato plants. If the temperature inside the bale is higher than your body temperature, add water daily and continue to test the bale's temperature. Do not plant anything in your bale until the temperature of the bale has sufficiently cooled off.
Determine that the bale has cooled off below body temperature. Place your tomato plant into the hole you made to check the bale's temperature. Place the plant to a depth so the top of the bale reaches the plant's first pair of leaves. The bale should close up around the roots of the plant on its own. If it does not, gently press the straw around the plant’s base.
Water the tomato plant. Plan to add water regularly to keep the bale moist. You may have to water daily during the summer months.
Apply fertilizer to the tomato plants every two weeks during the growing season.
Things You Will Need
- Plastic sheeting (optional)
- Garden hose
- 1 lb. powdered limestone
- Ammonium nitrate
- General purpose fertilizer
- Potting soil or topsoil
- Trowel or small shovel
- Once your bale begins to decompose it will hold more water and will not need to be watered as often.
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