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Youth bales out his gar- den at ISF 4-H judging

By Staff | Aug 30, 2015

TANNER MILLER, 11, of rural Bon- durant, looks at a ripening cherry toma- to on a plant he grew in a straw bale. He also grew broccoli, lettuce and marigolds. Miller displayed the bale garden as a 4-H’er at the Iowa State Fair.


DES MOINES – First you have to cook the bale.

That’s how Tanner Miller, 11, of rural Bondurant, started explaining how he grew vegetables and flowers in a straw bale, which earned him the right to display it at the Iowa State Fair.

Miller said he got the idea of growing plants in straw bales from a family friend.

“I just wanted to see if it would really work,” Miller said.

Cooking the bale meant a 12-day process in which the bale is inundated with a high-ni- trate solutions for six days. This began the process of breaking down fibers and releas- ing nutrients tied up in them, followed by an- other six days of treatment with a 10-10-10 fertilizer.

The Millers bought common, inexpensive products and plants from an area nursery. The total cost of preparing this bale for fair exhibition was about $37, he said.

Miller said he experimented with two bales, planting sets in one and sowing seeds in another.

He brought the former to the Polk County Fair and subsequently to the Iowa State Fair. He said it took the seeds too long to ger- minate in early spring’s cool temperatures,

plus birds kept eating the seeds.

After planting into the bales, Miller said, it requires daily watering, since the bales have no moisture retaining properties.

He used a household fertilizer every two weeks to meet the plants’ growing nutrition- al needs.

Miller said he planted the marigolds for the chickens kept on his farm. The blooms are picked and petals are strewn on the ground.

Chickens peck them up, he said, adding that the marigolds enrich egg yolks.

Chickens regenerate skins more quickly when fed these blooms.

“You can grow about anything in a bale,” Miller said. “Squash, eggplants, pumpkins, sunflowers.”

He said he’ll try growing in bales again. “I think it would be cool to grow potatoes.”

Miller said that at the Polk County Fair, judges were surprised to see his project and seems interested in this new kind of dis- play.

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