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Unique gardening method earns Casey blue ribbon

Living inside the limited confines of the town of Erwin hasn’t stopped 11-year-old Elisabeth Casey from gardening.
Due to space limitations at their home, growing a normal garden can be a bit of a hassle, according to Tonya Casey, Elisabeth’s mother; so her daughter began searching for different ways of producing vegetation.
“Elisabeth starting looking at ways to have a garden,” Tonya said, adding that her daughter struck gold when she discovered straw bale gardening online.
“She was researching good ways to have a garden with limited space,” she said. “Once she began studying this way of gardening, she decided this would be a great 4-H project.”
Elisabeth began working with her father, Kim, on the garden. Their first step was hunting down straw bale. Tonya said they were unable to use hay due to the abundance of grass seed.
“The first thing was to obtain straw bales,” she said, “which were hard to find in our area.”
After 12 days of preparing the bales for gardening, it was time to plant.
By producing different types of vegetation, Casey’s straw bale gardening technique earned a first-place blue ribbon during the 4-H regional competition held in May at the Gray Fairgrounds in Washington County.
Elisabeth has eight different varieties of tomatoes ranging from tommy toes to German girls, Tony said. The garden also features strawberries, cucumbers, zucchini, yellow squash, patty pan squash, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, eggplant, spicy basil, sweet banana peppers, green and yellow sweet peppers, celery, radishes, okra and cantaloupe.
The majority of plants were transplanted, Tonya added, but some also came from seeds. Elisabeth has had success with both. She also chose to include marigolds and citronella to the garden to repel insects, including mosquitoes.
Preparing the garden was a job in itself, Tonya added. The process of conditioning the bales takes an allotted 12 days of watering them every day and applying half-a-cup of 20-percent or greater in nitrogen on day one, three and five then 1/4 cup on day seven, eight and nine. Before the 12th day, fertilizer was added to each bale. Elisabeth also dedicated time to water each bale with a soaker hose for one minute per bale unless there was a good rain.
Elisabeth enjoyed all the hard work, Tonya said. She also said Elisabeth really enjoyed learning about the project and cannot wait to reap the benefits.
To learn more on straw bale gardening, visit the Straw Bale Miracle Garden on Facebook.