Straw bale gardening provides all the benefits of raised beds without the cost. Poor (or absent) soil can be overcome by growing vegetables in bales of straw. Also, if your soil is host to Verticillium or Fusarium wilt, nematodes, or really tough weeds, straw bale gardening may be the answer.
These preconditioning steps are needed for successful straw bale gardening:
When are my straw bales ready for planting?
If synthetic fertilizer is used, you can start planting on Day Twelve. If organic fertilizers were used, wait until Day Seventeen.
Seeds vs. transplants
Crops that are grown from really tiny seeds, such as lettuce, are best started in potting soil and then transplanted to the straw bale garden. Otherwise, those tiny seeds will end up somewhere in the middle of your straw bale where the only thing they can do is decompose. Adding a shallow layer of potting soil on top of your straw bales can also eliminate this problem. Use a trowel to open up a space in the straw bale for transplants and be sure to water after adding plants or seeds.
What can be grown in a straw bale garden?
Each bale of straw can be used to grow a surprising variety of plants. You can grow 2 or 3 tomato, squash, or melon plants, 4 or 5 pepper plants, or as many as 15 bean plants in a single bale! You can also grow potatoes! The most critical issues of a straw bale garden are water and nitrogen. If either of these are in short supply, your plants will suffer.
How to irrigate a straw bale garden
Drip emitters and soaker hoses are your best bet for a straw bale garden. Early in the growing process, more water will be needed as plants send roots throughout the bale.
Feeding plants in a straw bale garden
Since straw bales are not soil, it is important to monitor your plants for signs of nitrogen deficiency. Stunting and chlorosis (yellowing) are the two most common signs. Normally, monthly feedings will be sufficient.
Until your straw bales completely decompose, you can have multiple plantings, especially if you keep tightening the twine. As the bales decompose, they will shrink. You can keep them compressed by tightening the twine with a stick inserted behind the twine and rotated over the twine as many times as it takes to keep it tight, tucking the stick behind the twine.
Straw bales gardens may last for more than one season, but they will ultimately decompose. Once the bales are unusable as growing mediums, they can be added to the compost pile or used as mulch.
What have you grown in a straw bale? We’d love to see photos!
I hope this information inspires you to grow more of your own food. You can ask your garden questions on my Home page.