Not everyone has the luxury of a large plot of land for growing vegetables, so alternative garden styles are continually being developed. One that continues to be popular is using a bale of straw as the garden or garden “pot”. This style of gardening is not for everyone. It can be messy and the bale, once saturated with water, is exceptionally heavy. However, for gardeners facing the challenge of poor soil, excessive weeds, space issues, and short growing seasons, this method of gardening can provide a solution. Because the bales hold moisture, as they decompose they provide a rich medium for veggies.
“The biggest benefit of straw-bale gardening is that the bales heat up as they begin the ‘conditioning’ process, and thus allow earlier planting,” says Joel Karsten, author of Straw Bale Gardens Complete: Breakthrough Vegetable Gardening Method. “The warm root zone means faster, early-season root production and earlier-maturing vegetables.”
Raised bales are easier to reach and work on for those with physical limitations. And they almost eliminate weeding, a benefit many straw-bale gardeners love most.
Follow these steps to garden with straw bales.
- Pick a prime location. Choose heavy, highly compressed straw (not hay!!) bales, directly from a farm if possible. Find a location that gets six to eight hours of sunlight per day. Lay landscape fabric to keep weeds from growing and arrange the bales cut sides up, with the strings running along the sides.
- Condition the straw. Two weeks before planting, start “cooking” the bales. Treat them with high-nitrogen fertilizer every other day and water heavily for about two weeks to accelerate decomposition of the straw inside the bale.
- Plant seedlings or seeds. Seedlings can be planted directly in the bales. Just make a hold with the trowel and add a little planting mix to cover the exposed roots. Seeds require a bed of potting soil to hold moisture on top of the bale until germination. If you wish, plant annual flowers or herbs into the sides of the bales to make them more attractive.
- Protect and support. Position tall posts at the end of each row and run wire between them at 10-inch intervals from the top of the bale. When seeds sprout, drape a plastic tarp over the bottom wife to create a greenhouse for chilly nights. As the plants grow, the wires become a vertical trellis, supporting the tiny veggies.
- Harvest and compost. When the season is over, the bales turn into usable, healthy compost for next year’s gardens.