You might think that using straw bales in any way is something only a farmer would do — but if that’s what you’re thinking, you’re missing out on an incredible opportunity to do raised bed gardening in a unique way. Rather than go the more labor-intensive route of building raised beds for your veggies, let the straw bales do the work for you. Intrigued? Keep reading for ideas on how you can create this unusual container garden.
Tips Before You Build
Why use straw bales, anyway? And where do you get them?
- Growing in straw bales is ideal for veggies — straw are hollow tubes that hold moisture and then provide a nutrient-rich container as the bale decomposes.
- Straw bale gardening is perfect for gardeners in northern climates, as bales heat up quicker than the soil, encouraging early-season root growth.
- Straw bale gardening is temporary — you can move it from season to season if you want to.
- Find straw bales at feed stores, home improvement stores in the garden center, or direct from a farm. Depending on where and how much you purchase, each bale can cost as little as $3/bale or up to $12/bale.
- Straw is not the same as hay. Straw is a waste product of wheat and is typically used as bedding for farm animals. Hay is the entire harvest plant, often with seedheads, and used as feed. You want straw.
9 Steps to Get You Going
While there are varying methods, tips, and tricks to straw bale gardening, here’s a solid approach with easy-to-follow steps. Note: You have to start ten days before you want to plant.
- Straw bales
- Organic fertilizer
- Bone or fish meal
- Sterile planting mix
- Veggie transplants or seeds
- Hand trowel
1. Choose a location that gets at least 6-8 hours of sun per day. Lay down landscape fabric in that area to prevent weeds from growing into your bales.
2. Arrange your bales end-to-end in a row(s) with the cut side up. Don’t know which end is up? It happens to the best of us. When properly placed, the wire or string that holds the bale together will run across the sides, not the tops, of the bales.
3. Days 1-6:
a. On odd-numbered days, spread 3 c. of organic fertilizer over the top of each straw bale, then thoroughly water the bales to work the fertilizer down into the bale.
b. On even-numbered days, simply water down the bales, aiming for thorough saturation.
4. Days 7-9: Spread 1 ½ c. of organic fertilizer over the top of each straw bale every day, and thoroughly water in.
5. Day 10: Spread 3 c. of organic fertilizer mixed in with some phosphorus and potassium (bone or fish meal) over each bale and water in.
a. Using seedlings: Use your trowel to separate the straw and create a small hole. Add transplants with a bit of sterile planting mix to cover roots.
b. Using seeds: Spread a 1-2” layer of planting mix over the top of each bale, and sow seeds.
c. Optional: Add annual flowers or even herbs along the sides of each bale using transplants.
7. Water: Use a hose to keep the bales moist, but if you want to cut down on maintenance, lay a soaker hose over the top.
8. Compost the remains. When your harvest season is over, leave the remaining straw bales to compost for next year’s garden. The straw will be soft and saggy with a gray color at the end of the season.
9. Optional: Use 7-foot tall T-posts and some baling wire to create a combination greenhouse/trellis for your straw bale garden. Put a T-post at each end of every row, then run wire between them at 10” intervals, starting 10” from the top of each bale. When you have an unexpectedly cold night, simply drape a tarp or freeze cloth over the bottom wire to cover your bales, and as the season progresses, the wires act as a vertical trellis to support climbing vines.