Strawbale Gardening

No room for a garden?  Lacking a green thumb? Is your soil poor and will not sustain a garden?

Strawbale gardening may be just your style.  To grow a garden with straw bales, you just need space for the bales, sun, and a way to keep them watered. You can plant seeds, grow seedlings, and enjoy fresh wholesome produce.  

 

 

Choosing Straw Bales

When purchasing bales, look for ones that are tightly bound and wrapped in synthetic twine, this ensures your bales will stay intact during the entire growing season.   Then the fun begins!

 

Location, Location, Location

Now your bales have been purchased, place the bales in the sunny part of the yard.  Bales can be placed on cement or grass, since the roots do not grow through the bale, any sunny location is perfect to start your garden.  Be mindful to place the bales cut side up.  Look at the straw; if there are ends poking up that look like they have been cut and are hollow, this is the top where you would do your planting.  To prevent rodents from burrowing up into the straw, you may need to place chicken wire or hardware cloth down before placing the bales.  Once you get your rodent, you are stuck with them as there is no way to lift the soggy bales.

 

Prepare for Planting: A Day by Day Guide

Green bales need to be seasoned or conditioned before you can plant in them. Failure to do so will yield poor results.   Conditioning assures that the bales will have composted enough that the bacteria inside is activated making nitrogen and other nutrients available to the plants. Get water and fertilizer down them so they can “cook” or partially compost following this process:

  • Day 1:  Sprinkle 4 ounces, (1/2 cup) of nitrogen rich fertilizer all over the bale surface. Any lawn fertilizer will work for this process, but avoid any fertilizer with herbicide in it.  Water the bale thoroughly with warm water until the fertilizer has soaked in and the bale is thoroughly waterlogged.  If you are using organic techniques, use 3 cups of the organic fertilizer, blood meal, feather, meal, etc. 

  • Day 2: Water the bales again until they are thoroughly saturated.  Warm rain water works best as water from the faucet may be too cold.

  • Day 3: Sprinkle another ½ cup of the lawn fertilizer or 3 cups of the organic and wash the fertilizer into the bale with warm water.

  • Day 4:  Water only day making sure the bales are saturated.

  • Day 5: Sprinkle another ½ cup lawn fertilizer or 3 cups of the organic, follow with warm water saturation.

  • Day 6:  Warm water saturation only!  You should begin to smell the sweet odor of composting bales.  This will not last!

  • Days 7-9:  Apply ¼ cup fertilizer of 1 ½ cups of the organic and water thoroughly.  These three days are some of the most active for the bacteria development in the bales.

  • Day 10:  Apply 1 cup per bale of a balanced general type garden fertilizer, 10-10-10.  What is needed here is the addition of Phosphorus and Potassium (P and K) into the bale. Again, making sure NO HERBICIDE!  Organic gardeners will use 3 cups of an equivalent source of P and K by using bone meal or fish meal for the phosphorus, mixed with potash for the potassium and water thoroughly.

You now have bales that are ready to receive plantings or seeds.

If you plan to water your plants with a soaker method, it is important you place your soaker hoses before your plant.  Run the hose down the center of the bales securing with wire to prevent shifting.

 

Don’t worry if you find mushrooms growing on the outside of the bales, this means that the composting is working.  Although not edible, they will not harm your plants and will disappear in time.  Just know that good things are happening inside those bales.

 

Planting Your Crops

Plant as you would any garden, by planting the earliest, less susceptible to frost damage, first continuing as the season goes on.  Straw bales allow for several plantings of lettuce and other fast growing crops.

Plants that are not best suited for the bale are corn, due to their immense root systems, and perennials such as rhubarb and asparagus.  As the bale decomposes you would need to transplant those to another bale.

  • Make sure the bales are not too hot when you start. A meat thermometer inserted should register 105°, or insert your hand into the straw; it should be comfortable and not hot.

  • Dig a hole in the straw with a trowel and insert plant into hole.  Be careful not to damage roots or to let them dry out.  Water as soon as you plant.  You may use sterile potting soil to cover any roots and fill in the hole.  DO NOT USE REGULAR GARDEN SOIL AS YOU WILL BE INTRODUCING WEEDS INTO YOUR GARDEN.

  • When planting from seed, i.e.  Lettuce, radishes, beans, carrots, etc. the seeds must be planted in a layer of topsoil.  Using sterile potting soil, mound on top of bales and flatten with a board. The soil should be 2-3 inches thick. This will hold moisture and keep the seeds in position as they germinate.  Their roots will form and grow into the bale.

 

 

 

Things to Remember:

1.Straw bales are preferred over hay

2.Choose tightly compacted bales

3.Keep the bales watered

4.Use fertilizer that does not contain herbicide

5.Use sterile potting soil for seeds and filler in the bales

6.Warm water is preferred

7.Water with a soaker method to avoid wet leaves

 

Sit back and watch your garden grow!