The Basics of Straw Bale Gardening

Would you like to grow a vegetable garden, but you have poor soil or you are unable or unwilling to get down on the ground to plant and harvest, or do you simply hate pulling weeds?

“Straw Bale Gardening” is just what you need!

Easy access is one benefit of gardening in bales.

Straw bales vary in dimension, but the 18-20” height makes planting and harvesting easier. For those with back pain or other disability that making access to the ground difficult, the straw bale’s raised height means everyone can still enjoy gardening.

Bales can sit on any surface because the plants root into the bales.

Set up a row of bales end to end with the strings on the sides. Pound a 7-9’ steel “T” post into the soil at both ends of the row, and pull 14-gauge wire from post to post every 10” above the bales. The wire trellis gives the plants somewhere to climb and helps stabilize other plants.

Watering your plants can be extremely efficient.

Stretch a soaker hose down the center of the row and pin the hose with long wire staples. Adding an auto timer to the soaker hose makes it easy to keep the garden watered throughout the growing season.

Weed control around your Straw Bale Garden is easy!

Putting landscape fabric, cardboard or old plywood down between rows keeps the grass and weeds from growing, and gives vines a place to spread.

No weeding is one of the biggest advantages of straw bale gardening.

Since clean straw has very few weed seeds in it, the bales will not sprout weeds. If you get any sprouts, wipe them with vinegar or pull them out.

“Conditioning” the straw prior to planting is an important part of the process.

Nitrogen fertilizer and water are used to encourage the bacteria growth inside the bales; this begins to decompose the straw inside the bale and turns it into “soil” that allows the newly planted seedlings to thrive.

The fertilizer can be synthetic or organic, and only approximately 1-2 pounds of active nitrogen per bale is needed. Total varies with % of N in the formula. Water daily, and add Nitrogen every other day for ten days, and the bales will be ready to plant.

Bales decompose after heating up early in spring when nitrogen is added.

The heat generated inside the decomposing bales acts like a heater in a greenhouse.

The bales, once wet, can get up to 150 degrees inside, but after 10-12 days they will cool down to less than 105 and can then be planted. Each spring fresh bales are recommended to take advantage of this heating and cooling process. Bales can be used a second year, but won’t heat up again, so no conditioning is needed. These second season bales are ideal for root crops.

Straw Bale Gardeners can plant both seeds and seedlings.

Potted seedlings can be planted directly into the bales. Or, if planting with vegetable seeds, then a 1-2” coating of clean, weed seed free, potting mix spread over the surface of the bale is required to form a seed bed.

Once planted, it is easy to cover the bale with 3 mil polyethylene plastic, tucking it under the bale strings on the sides, and feeding the poly over the first wire stretched 10” above the bale surface.

This makes a little “straw bale greenhouse,” enabling the seeds to sprout and grow rapidly.

Besides holding in heat from the decomposing straw below, the poly tent also keeps heavy spring rains from washing away the tender seedbed and keeps rabbits or deer from eating the new seedlings.

As the plants grow, raise the poly to the next level of wire. Tie the poly behind the post to allow the wind and air to circulate around the plants keeping them cool on warm days. This poly comes off when the weather breaks and the nights warm up, and seedlings are well established. The heat in the bales will last about 4-6 weeks after the bales are planted.

Tomatoes, potatoes, pumpkins and cucumbers are just some of the hundreds of vegetable crops that grow extremely well in the straw bales.

Don’t grow corn, it’s too unstable; rhubarb and asparagus are other crops that need permanent soil placement as they come back from the same root year after year.

The bales often sprout mushrooms; don’t eat them, just ignore them or knock them over, and they usually disappear quickly.

Once the growing season is over, either pull off the bale strings and toss the remaining straw/compost into a pile to finish composting over winter, or plan to push them together in the spring and wrap with chicken wire to reuse them again.

Root crops such as carrots, beets and potatoes LOVE growing in second season bales.

Use the resulting compost the following spring to mulch perennials, enhance existing garden soil, spread around trees and shrubs, or to fill containers for patio flowers.

Mice won’t be an issue because they don’t like the wet, hot and decomposing straw at all.

It isn’t very inhospitable for nesting, and straw has almost no food value. Keep bird feeders away from the garden, that is where mice come from!

Straw or hay?

Hay bales can be used for gardening, but they are more expensive; heavier; smell a bit because they decompose slower; and, weedier because hay has more seeds which may sprout more weeds. Stick with straw unless it isn’t available, then opt for hay as a second option.

Straw Bale Gardening has become incredibly popular in locations all around the world, simply because it has so many advantages.

It’s amazing to hear from so many enthusiastic fans of the method by email, in posts on our Straw Bale Garden Club Forum, and through messages on social media every day.

If you haven’t tried growing a vegetable garden this way yet, what are you waiting for?

Get one bale, buy a package of BaleBuster™ to make the conditioning process super-simple, and see what happens.

All our videos and resources on this site will help make sure that you ENJOY the experiment and SUCCEED in growing your very own fresh, healthy and delicious harvest.

Thousands of experienced AND rookie gardeners love this method of gardening … and if they can do it, so can you!

One way to get started is by purchasing my eBOOK “Straw Bale Gardening” at this link for just $9.99.

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