A number of things combined to lead us into trying something new this spring: straw-bale gardening. We ended up with a number of tomato volunteers growing near our compost bin but no more space in the two prepared beds we have already planted -- my mom clipped out a newspaper blurb on a book about straw-bale gardening -- and we have easy access to straw bales at the place where Julia takes riding lessons. David stopped by there with his pickup truck on the way home from work last week, and bought a bale for us.
I'm following the preparation instructions from Grow and Make, so Days 1-3 were simply watering the bale. On Days 4-6, we sprinkled the bale with a half-cup of bone meal and watered it in well.
On Days 7 and 8, we reduced the bone meal to a quarter cup, still watering it in well.
Preparing the bale with this method takes about eleven days, so that the inside of the bale has begun decomposing but has cooled off enough to plant. You can see in this "Day 8" photo that the top of the bale is looking a little peaky. It's noticeably warm inside, although it isn't especially easy to poke into, since of course the bale is packed very tightly. I had thoughts of actually taking its temperature (!), but my food thermometer starts at 130° F. (ideal composting temperature is 135°-160°) and I don't think the probe is really long enough anyway. On Day 11 I will make a bigger hole anyway, in preparation for planting.
The downside is that the little gnatty flies like it, too.