This week’s how-to garden article and corresponding podcast cover the interesting and fun subject of growing vegetables in straw bales.
Whether you are limited on garden space, time, or looking for an “easier-on-the back and muscles” way to grow a few vegetables, straw bale gardening can fit the bill.
You can listen in below to the complete podcast on how to grow vegetables in straw bales with ease, or read on for our in-depth article on the subject. Either way, you will be ready to start your own little straw bale garden this year!
The Advantages Of Straw Bale Gardening
Gardening in straw bales comes with a whole slew of advantages. Not only does it nearly eliminate weeding chores, with the raised bales, it means not having to bend over to tend to plants.
Add in there is no need for tilling or constant raking and hoeing, and it really can be a great way to garden! With that in mind, let’s take a look at the ins and outs of straw bale gardening, including how keeping the process simple is the real the key to low-maintenance success.
Keep It Simple – The Key To Success
You can certainly find a lot of varied opinions on the best ways to garden with bales. In fact, spend a bit of time on the web, and you may become a little intimidated by all of the “you must do this’ and “you can’t do that” statements made about the process.
But here is a little secret. It really doesn’t have to be complicated. We trialed our first straw bale garden experiment some eight years back, and if there was one thing we learned right away, it was that keeping it simple really is the key to success.
It all happened quite by accident. After planting our traditional raised row garden, we ended up with a few extra bales of straw and couple of zucchini and cucumber plants.
On a whim, we cut out a few holes in the bales, added some of our homemade potting soil, and planted our cucumbers and zucchini. And were we ever surprised at the results!
The plants grew like wildfire. And the harvest? Well, it was simply amazing as well. In fact, we picked well over a few bushel of cucumbers from just a few plants.
Learning From Our Trial Straw Bale Garden
After our first trial year, we have continued to grow a small straw bale garden every year. But we did learn a few things after our initial season that have made it even easier to grow.
The first lesson is that providing a little support to your bales can pay big dividends. The first year, our bales somewhat disintegrated by the end of the year. In a few cases, it made it difficult for the plant’s roots as the bale fell apart.
To remedy that, we created simple bale crates from old pallets and recycled lumber to place our bales down into. Not only does it help keep them together all year, it makes it all quite attractive. Even better, it allows us to get two years of planting out of each bale – which is a huge savings in bale costs!
Finally, the crates give you an excellent way to attach a trellis or stake to for supporting plants.
Growing In Straw Bales – The Basics
First and foremost, always use only straw bales and not hay bales. Hay bales contain seed. And because of that, the bales will fill in with weeds in a heartbeat. Straw on the other hand is the left over cuttings, and has a far less likely chance to sprout weeds.
With that said, there are a lot of folks on websites that try to complicate straw bale gardening with a lot of extra, and to be honest, unnecessary steps.
To grow a straw bale garden, it really comes down to a few simple steps – planting your bales right, watering and fertilizing for success, and harvesting regularly.
Here is a look at each, along with a few ways to really keep it simple – starting with the long-debated topic of conditioning your bales prior to planting.
Is Conditioning Straw Bales Necessary?
Remember that “don’t complicate” topic? Well, for us, conditioning is one of those not so necessary steps in the process of growing in straw bales.
Conditioning a straw bale prior to planting is basically the process of allowing it to decompose a bit before planting. It gives a bit more medium to grow with in the bale. But with the method used for growing below, it is a step you do not have to take.
How To Plant Straw Bales
With this method, there is still a need for a good soil mix placed into planting holes within the straw bale. Straw helps to hold moisture in and allows for easy root growth. But the soil is where the plants can draw their energy and first start their roots.
Use a sharp knife (Hori-Hori Garden Knife works great!), or a reciprocating saw with a long construction blade to cut your planting holes. Create holes about 6 to 8 inches deep in the straw bale and about six inches wide.
Next, fill the holes with a great potting soil mix. As you will hear in the podcast version, this is a super big key to success! Without good soil, the plants can linger for sure. Below is our recipe ingredients from our article on homemade potting soil on our sister This Is My Garden website: https://thisismygarden.com/2021/03/best-organic-potting-soil-for-vegetables/
- 6 cups pulverized top soil
- 6 cups compost
- 2 cups of perlite
- 1 cup worm castings
- 1/2 cup of coffee grounds
- 2 to 4 crushed egg shells
Plant as you would in a garden or raised bed, and then use the cut out straw to cover the top of dirt as a mulch. For spacing, you can usually get three large transplants in per bale (tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, etc.) Now your plants are ready to grow!
Watering & Fertilizing – Growing In Straw Bales
Your straw bale garden will most likely need daily watering, especially when first establishing plants. Water is another key to success. But when you consider there is little to no weeding and other chores, watering is a breeze!
Like a potted plant with limited soil, the plants in your straw bales will need nutrients. Regular fertilizing every few week will work wonders. It is best to use liquid fertilizer instead of granular.
Liquid is absorbed through the roots and leaves, and works better when growing in straw bales. Compost tea and worm casting tea are excellent choices, but there are many good liquid organic fertilizer mixes on the market you can use as well.
Harvesting – End Of Season Care – Growing In Straw Bales
Harvest regularly to keep the plants producing. Allowing too much fruit on the stems and vines will send a signal to the plants to stop or slow down new bloom production.
Once plants have completed their growing cycle, remove them from the bales. Remove as much of the soil as you can as well and place in your compost bin. It is best if you will be using the bale to grow again next season to start with fresh soil.
After year two, place the bale and all in the compost bin and start all over again in year three with new bales. Be sure to check out all of our Simple Garden Life podcast episodes for more gardening info!
- Straw not hay
- Use a soil medium
- Fertilize and water regularly
- Remove plants and soil at season’s end
Simple Garden Life is a website dedicated to keeping gardening fun, simple and enjoyable! We publish two new articles each week along with a new garden podcast episode every two weeks. This article may contain affiliate links.