Straw Bale Gardening: How To Get Started

Straw Bale Garden

Emma Downey

Emma Downey
Gardening Expert

Updated on 12/4/2022

It is easy to maintain and manage a garden that may be created using any raised bed; however, one particularly efficient method is gardening with straw bales. Straw bale gardening, also known as bale gardening or hay bale gardening, uses ordinary farmer's straw as the primary growth medium. Other names for this type of garden are bale gardening and straw bale gardening. The straw that has been pre-treated with a trace quantity of potting soil, compost, and fertilizer decomposes slowly and supplies its nutrients to the plant as the growing season progresses. This treatment is called conditioning.

What Exactly Is A Garden Made Of Straw Bales?

What Exactly Is A Garden Made Of Straw Bales?

Straw bales have the potential to be an excellent growth medium. A straw bale garden is a form of raised bed gardening in which the straw bales serve as the container for the potting soil, compost, and plants. The cultivation of herbs, vegetables, and even decorative plants may be accomplished by using straw bales in gardening. It saves money, is gentler on your back, and is fantastic for folks who have problems moving around.

The Benefits And Drawbacks Of Growing Vegetables In Straw Bales

Benefits And Drawbacks Of Growing Vegetables In Straw Bales

The practice of gardening with straw bales receives a lot of attention, and for a good reason. With this method, you can plant a significant but temporary garden virtually anyplace, even if the sunniest part of your yard is in the middle of your driveway. They are elevated container gardens that are contained within biodegradable containers. Doesn't that sound amazing? It's possible. Consider whether or not you want to plant a straw bale garden by first weighing the benefits and drawbacks of using this method.

Pros

Growing Vegetables In Straw Bales

Gardening with straw bales consists of nothing more than putting seedlings directly into bales of straw. Because each bale is between 14 and 16 inches high, they perform the dual roles of a raised bed and a container garden in a single unit. During the summer, the straw will break down and transform into compost, nourishing your plants. Using this strategy has several advantages, including:

  • Straw bale gardening is one of the types of gardening that is one of the least physically demanding and easier on the gardener's back. Once you have your straw bales in place, you won't even need to get down on your knees to harvest your vegetables or pluck any weeds.
  • Garden Anywhere: A garden made of straw bales may be established virtually anywhere in the sun. In light of this, placing bales on any necessary wood for you, like a deck, is not a good idea because the bales' persistent moisture might cause the wood to decay. However, you can cultivate a garden on a rooftop, provided that the roof can support the weight of the plants. When filled with water, the bales expand significantly and become rather heavy.
  • Economical: Straw bales may be purchased from nurseries, feed stores, and even some farms for less than $10 per bale, and in some cases even less than $5, depending on the size of the bale, the vendor from whom it is purchased, and the going price in the area in which it is purchased.
  • It's possible to have a lot of success while growing veggies in straw bales since they work. The bales do an excellent job of retaining water compared to other types of container gardens, despite the fact that you will need to be vigilant about watering them.

Cons

Straw Bales

Regardless of the time of the year, even at the beginning of the growing season, this kind of gardening does not produce a crisp and tidy appearance; therefore, most drawbacks are related to its construction.

  • Weeds: Even if you use straw bales—not hay bales unless you smother the weeds before you plant your garden—your bales will grow, and if left alone, they will start looking like enormous Chia Pets. If you use hay bales, you will suffocate the weeds before you plant your garden. The good news is that the sprouts may be removed by hand or trimmed with scissors. The bales may even be home to the growth of mushrooms and other types of fungi. Most of them won't cause any harm to your plants, so you may either get rid of them quickly or ignore them altogether.
  • After the growing season, a straw bale garden may start to seem ragged since the straw has lost its elasticity. As the bales decompose, they become less rigid and more disorderly in appearance.
  • Stability: If you place tall plants inside of them, such as giant tomatoes, the bales may not be able to support the weight of the plants and may begin to topple over as a result. You can use more staking, growing tomato types that are shorter or simply allowing them to sprawl.
  • Straw bales, particularly wet ones, tend to be rather heavy. You may need assistance putting together your straw bale garden if you're not very strong or are nursing an injury.
  • Think about a field treated with persistent herbicides (such as aminopyralid, clopyralid, picloram, or aminocyclopyrachlor). In that case, it can potentially contain toxins that might harm the plants in your garden. The manure in the straw may prevent some leftover pesticides from when they were applied to the hay that the animals ate (possibly present in the feed from a feed store). Although the pesticides do not affect the animals, they may harm your veggies. If you have these issues in your garden and you install bales that have these issues in your garden, it may be several years before you can plant in that spot again. In addition, you should avoid putting a poisonous straw in your compost pile since the toxins would cause the compost to get contaminated. This would undermine the point of utilizing a biodegradable container for your container garden. (Decorative bales purchased from craft stores may also have been sprayed with a chemical that acts as a fire retardant; thus, you should never reuse decorative bales for gardening.)

Advice For Gardening Using Straw Bales

Advice For Gardening Using Straw Bales

To successfully cultivate with straw bales:

  • Use straw, not hay. Hay is created from alfalfa and grasses that still have the seeds attached when harvesting. When these seeds germinate and sprout, they will develop into undesirable weeds. On the other hand, straw is made up of oat and wheat stalks that remain after harvesting but before seeds are extracted. As a result, straw rarely supports the growth of weeds, which results in a garden that requires less maintenance.
  • Place the garden close to a water supply. If possible, locate your garden made of straw bales near a water supply. Every garden requires a significant quantity of water; thus, positioning yourself close to a hose is essential.
  • Put the bales in the sun. If you solarize the bales by covering them in black plastic for several weeks before you plant them, the heat will kill any leftover seeds that might otherwise grow. You can accomplish this by solarizing the bales. Additionally, it accelerates the breaking down of the straw into nutrients the plants may take advantage of. Take off the plastic covering first before you start planting.
  • Make use of shorter plants. Corn, sunflowers, tomatoes, and other plants that grow erect may go beyond the capacity of the straw bales to hold their height as they mature. And it's not easy to utilize stakes in straw bales unless you can find a way to drive them through the bales and into the ground below. Either you can cultivate shorter versions of tall plants like tomatoes, or you can keep them trimmed so that they may be trained on broader and shorter trellises.
  • Plant in a whole light. A full day of sunlight, defined as six to eight hours daily, is ideal for growing almost all herbs and vegetables. Make sure to use plants suited for the amount of shadow your garden receives, such as lettuces and other green vegetables, if you only have access to spots that receive part shade.
  • Avoid pooling water. It is essential to avoid placing the straw bales in low-lying areas that are prone to collecting water. If there is excessive standing water, the bales may rot, and the plants may die as a result.

What You Will Require

Equipment / Tools

  • Garden trowel

Garden trowel

Garden Shovel - Heavy Duty Gardening Hand Trowel, Carbon Steel Garden Trowel with Rubberized Handle, Trowel Garden Tool for Diligent Farmer Soil Planting Digging Transplanting
Our Opinion 🤔
Ergonomic10
Ergonomic
Easy to hold10
Easy to hold
Sturdiness9.6
Sturdiness
Light weight9.6
Light weight
Comfort9.4
Comfort
Value for money9.2
Value for money

Materials

  • Straw bales
  • Fertilizer for the grass that is high in nitrogen
  • Potting soil
  • Compost
  • Plant seedlings
  • Fencing made of wire (optional)
  • Maintain a healthy balance of water-soluble fertilizer.

Garden Elements Straw Bale by Shady Creek Farm, Multi-Use for Farm & Home (22")
Our Opinion 🤔
Maneuverability9.8
Maneuverability
Easy to use9.6
Easy to use
Easy to spread9.4
Easy to spread

Instructions

Set Up The Garden Using Straw Bales.

Set Up The Garden Using Straw Bales.

Straw bales become pretty heavy after being saturated with water; thus, before planting, you should carefully consider the location of your straw bale garden. Having a site that receives a significant amount of direct sunshine, at least six to eight hours a day for most vegetables, is the single most crucial need.

Ideally, the bales should be placed on their sides, with the cut ends of the plant stalks pointing upward and the twine bands running down the edges. Place the bales in a configuration that is most suitable for how you do your gardening. When arranging the bales, some individuals like to do it in a row, while others prefer to place them in an L or U shape. It is also possible to butt the hay bales against one another to create a larger raised bed; however, you must ensure that you will still have access to the garden's center to tend to the plants.

Be aware that when the bales degrade, they will shrink, which will increase the space that exists between the bales. When gaps like these form in a garden, some gardeners immediately fill them with an extra compost and soil combination.

Get The Bales Ready.

Get The Bales Ready.

The process of getting straw bales ready for planting, which is also known as conditioning in some circles, entails beginning the decomposition process first. It takes anything from one to twelve days to properly prepare.

As soon as the hay bales have been arranged as you desire, apply a thick coating of high-nitrogen fertilizer on top. Using water to the fertilizer and ensuring that each bale is completely soaked in it should be done every day for many days. After every couple of days, add more fertilizer and lay it out pleasantly, then wash the bales each time. For this stage of the conditioning process, the optimum formulation is a fertilizer that is heavy in nitrogen and is often applied to lawns.

After you have seen the straw warming up and disintegrating, cover the top of the bales with a layer between two and three inches thick, consisting of a mixture of potting soil and regular compost. This is the only growth media you will need if you lay it over straw that has already started the decomposition process.

Begin By Sowing The Garden.

Begin By Sowing The Garden.

If you want to plant seedlings in a straw bale, you must take a pointed trowel, put it down into the straw, and then move it back and forth to make a place for the seedling. As is customary, ensure that seedlings are not planted any more profound than they are in the nursery container in which they were grown. In addition, try to position the taller plants toward the back of the bale so that as they develop, they won't cast a shadow over the more delicate plants in the front.

The Garden.

Be careful to use long stakes that can be pushed through the straw bale and into the ground when you are anchoring larger plants. Alternatively, seeds can be sown directly in the ground or compost layer and soak afterward. Be sure to maintain a consistent moisture level in the soil until the seeds have germinated and become firmly established.

If you construct pockets of potting soil and compost inside the hay bales, certain types of edible plants may even thrive inside the hay bales themselves. When planted in this manner, strawberries and potatoes be very productive. You might also utilize the edges of the container to grow beautiful flowers, such as petunias or marigolds.

Take Care Of The Garden.

Take Care Of The Garden.

Like most other types of raised gardens, straw bale gardening is resistant to many common garden pests. However, many animals will not think twice about climbing atop your hay bales and devouring your whole crop. A fence may be required to stop pests such as groundhogs or rabbits from destroying the harvest, and a simple and inexpensive wire fence could deter these pesky animals. Using chicken wire and posts to create a massive fence system that encircles the entire garden is possible. Serious vegetable growers may wish to consider making this purchase.

Be sure to water your straw bales regularly to keep them wet. Like any other raised garden, straw bale gardens require a significant amount of water. In the sweltering heat of summer, this may need watering daily. When watering plants, the morning is the optimum time to do it, focusing on the stems rather than the leaves. Your plants will not be submerged in water since the excess water will drain from the bottom of your bales. The risk of the plants becoming submerged in water in a garden made of straw bales is significantly reduced.

END

Even though the plants will obtain nourishment from the internal decomposition of the bales, you will still need to fertilize them, although you will need to do so less frequently than you would with plants grown in the ground. A single application of balanced, water-soluble fertilizer once per month is all that is required. Once the season is over, wait until the bales have decayed to allow them bales to decay, and then you can use the leftover material as mulch the following year. When harvesting root crops like potatoes, carrots, and onions, it is often necessary to dismantle the entire bale to extract the vegetable roots. By this time, the bale has already undergone significant decomposition.