Not too long ago, Newton's Michelle Crist started to experiment in her home garden. This wasn't just some minor tinkering by planting some new vegetables though; Crist was making a whole-scale upheaval of her gardening methods.
While Crist has had plenty of experience in the garden (starting with her grandparents as a child), she noted when she and her family moved to their new home in the country a while back she wasn't finding as much success with traditional methods. Then, she tried out a new form of gardening that has grown in popularity recently among experts and novices alike — straw bale gardening.
"A straw bale garden is an alternative that you don't need a lot of space for," Crist said. "If you have space for a single bale, you can pretty much grow your own salsa garden."
Crist has been an advocate of straw bale gardening since — starting in her third year of utilizing the method — and is now looking to share tips and resources with other local farmers. To that end, Crist organized an information sharing session on straw bale gardening that will be held from 3:30 to 5 p.m. Feb. 10 at First Baptist Church (200 W. Sixth St., Newton).
Personally, Crist's garden has been a model displayed and visited by parents, teachers and students from Newton schools while she has also had a lot of friends asking her for advice. It wasn't until she was recently approached at the YMCA for information, though, that the idea for this gardening meet-up really took root.
There will be a slideshow with general tips, links to resources and more on straw bale gardening at the information session, Crist noted, while local master gardeners from Harvey County (like Marcy Meirowsky Renollet) have also agreed to participate and share advice with all those interested. Crist is also planning to bring seeds, and hopeful others will do the same, so those who attend can swap to add to their potential harvest in the coming gardening season.
Once Crist started sharing the information she had gained over the years — like helping her pastor and his wife set up their own straw bale garden — she began to see the impact her insight could have, leading her to organize the information sharing sessions. While she and others have been spreading the word this week, she said she expects the event to be a success whether six or 60 people show up on Feb. 10. Seeing the good this method has already done, she is hopeful that many interested gardeners will take the leap.
"People just need to realize that there's a simple way so they can get started," Crist said. "I think this is a really good way to get them started and have them have some support."
Straw bale gardening is just one method, and while Crist is happy to share about her experiences she noted a secondary goal of the event is to build up a network of resources for novice and expert gardeners to go to alike — even if for something as simple as looking out for others' gardens while they are on vacation.
Building those relationships is something that Crist sees going a long way to benefit those who attend and could help lead to more meet-ups in the future.
"I tend to think magic happens when you find people who connect over like interests, especially within a community. It brings growth of things that you don't always plan and it's usually really great," Crist said. "We do intend to grow from here and have some of the master gardeners visit. You can talk about so many different things: different vegetables, flowers or methods. Getting this community together and finding a group that's curious, we're gonna be able to meet that need and set up a future plan from there."
Future plans include potentially meeting every four to six weeks to share resources and help each other out. For more information on the upcoming session on Feb. 10, call Crist at 316-288-9426.