In 2012, Joel Karsten wrote a book called "Straw Bale Gardening" that spurred a  new way of raising vegetables by literally planting them in bales of straw.

This method certainly hasn't replaced planting in the ground, but it has its advantages.

If you currently aren't growing vegetables because you don't think you have space, or you don't like to weed, or your mobility is limited, this is an idea to tuck away for next season.

Davenport gardener Lee Ann Wille is in her third season of growing tomatoes in bales, and feels it's worthwhile.

"You don't have to bend over a lot," she said. "You can stand up and garden. And there aren't many weeds."

The basic concept is simple, although you need to condition your bales for about 10 days before planting, adding water and nitrogen-rich fertilizer. That is because you need to create the right conditions within the bale.

What makes your plants grow without soil is compost and warm temperatures, created when fertilizer and water encourage bacteria to break down, or compost, the straw.

To begin, you need to obtain a bale, or several, depending on how much you want to plant. Be sure to get straw; hay bales contain grass and alfalfa seeds seeds that will sprout as "weeds." Large garden centers and farm-related stores sell bales.

Then, follow a water-and-fertilizer recipe and on day 10, add phosphorus in the form of fish or bone meal, according to the recommendation of Kelly Allsup, a University of Illinois Extension horticulturist.

Recipes vary, but generally call for the addition of one pound of fertilizer per bale, or two to three pounds if you are using organic fertilizer.

Note: Be sure to place your bales cut-side up, with the strings on the sides. And be sure to place them in full sun. You cannot grow vegetables in the shade.

You want your fertilizer to work right away, so don't buy the slow-release kind.

Wille used a digital thermometer to make sure the interior temperatures in her bales reached 160 degrees.

Then, she dug into the bale — you can use a trowel or pruners — and inserted her plants, tomatoes and broccoli, along with some handfuls of compost. You also can grow seeds, but there are slightly different instructions with those. Then, she keeps the bales watered through the season.

Just about every vegetable except sweet corn can be grown in bales, and the only reason sweet corn is discouraged is that it tends to flop over because of its height. That means squash, cucumbers, peppers, all the favorites.

At the end of the season, compost the bales and start anew the next year.

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