Straw Bale Gardening
“There are no gardening mistakes, only experiments.”
– Janet Kilburn Phillips
Having a garden is a great summer hobby with incredibly rewarding results. Starting a garden from scratch, though, can be time-consuming and expensive. Luckily, there is an awesome solution to these issues and more: Straw Bales.
Straw bale gardening is a technique that has been used for thousands of years, world-wide. It gives gardeners the freedom to make an instant garden just about anywhere with very little work and few supplies. Given that it is organic in and of itself, straw bales make the perfect compostable container. They are high in carbon content and, given enough nitrogen, are ready-made to cook up some home-brewed soil plants will love.
Straw bales will only last a season, or maybe two, so planting just for the year is ideal. This makes them great for annuals and vegetables! Use them to grow delicious tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, lettuce, and more. For an easy, DIY trellis, simply add a tall stake to either end of a bale and string wire between them.
The Straw Bale Advantage:
Straw bale containers are the perfect solution to many common gardening issues:
Compost: Not only do they compost and make their own soil for growing flowers, but when the bale is finished growing, it will continue to compost. This compost can then be used in next year’s gardens, too!
Bad Soil: Many gardeners have faced the struggle of having poor soil. These soils will be too sandy or too dense to drain. Luckily, straw naturally breaks down into rich, black earth that is full of organic matter! It is also excellent for plants’ water-draining needs, with natural drainage built-in between the stalks.
Short Growing Seasons: Straw bales don’t need to thaw, so they can be plopped down and ready earlier in the season. Carbon and nitrogen together will naturally produce heat (for making compost), so your plants can get started sooner.
Time-Consuming: Straw bales are incredibly low-maintenance. With ready-made holes and new soil forming every day, no digging is required to plant in these garden beds. The bales are also weed-free by nature.
Expensive: For those with impossible soil or little yard space, gardening can get expensive. Factoring in the cost of building and gardening supplies needed for a raised bed, growing a garden isn’t cheap. Straw bales are relatively inexpensive – especially in the farm country of the prairies – and won’t require much more than the plants themselves.
Planting A Straw Bale Garden:
Planting a straw bale garden simply requires a little planning ahead to get started. The bales need a little TLC and time to get ready for growing plants.
Start by getting straw bales – not hay. Hay may be cheaper, but it is typically just dried grass that is full of seeds. With hay you’ll have more weeds and too quick of a break-down time. For best results, I recommend wheat straw.
Begin by placing your bales somewhere with plenty of sun. Lay down a barrier between the bale and the grass to prevent weeds – wood mulch or newspaper will do. Water your bales thoroughly every day for two weeks.
For the first week, fertilize every other day with a high 1st number fertilizer (lots of nitrogen) before watering. In the second week, fertilize with half-doses every day for the first three days. Simply water the rest of this week. After this preparation, your bale should feel warm to the touch. You might also notice “peppering”, the appearance of little soil clumps. These mean you are ready to plant!
To plant seedlings, make a little hole by separating the straw with your fingers. Place your seedling in the hole and water thoroughly. You can cover any exposed roots with a light sprinkling of potting soil. For seeds, simply lay down some potting soil on top of your bales. Add your seeds as you would in a bed and water thoroughly to settle.
With a little planning and prep, and very little work, you can have a simple, low-maintenance garden. Place, prep, and plant and you’re ready to go all season long with straw bale gardening!