Growing your own vegetables can be a huge joy and bring you delicious vegetables at a low cost and at the peak of freshness. So many people are discouraged by the amount of work involved in growing a successful, abundant vegetable garden.
Straw bale gardening is a unique way to make growing vegetables much easier, making the backbreaking, insect-fighting, weed-pulling process a thing of the past. Straw bale gardens are ideal for those with limited mobility, physical limitations, and space constraints.
This post will help explain what straw bale gardening is and the steps you need to take to create a successful garden using only straw bales!
- This method is seasonal and is great for renters, since the straw bales can simply be removed at the end of the growing season.
- There is a very low insect problem, especially with soil-dwelling insects, since the bales are off the ground and the dirt you use will most likely be sterile. Any insects you do encounter will probably be winged and easily controlled.
- There will also be a low level of weeds, and those that do grow can be easily controlled without the use of chemical herbicides.
- The straw bales insulate the plant roots, allowing you to stretch out your growing season.
- Straw bales are ideal for growing lettuce, kale, greens, squash, cucumbers, peppers, chard, tomatoes, eggplant, peas, annual herbs, and strawberries. Root veggies, like carrots and beets, struggle to grow in this dense environment.
Straw bale gardening is basically using a straw bale to create a raised plant bed. The straw is then conditioned to form the perfect environment for roots to take hold and for plants to flourish. Using straw rather than hay will help keep weeds at a minimum, since hay generally has seeds attached, while straw has most of the seeds removed. You can often find straw bales at feed stores for a very low price.
Simple set up
It’s easy to set up your straw bale garden. You can put your bales anywhere to suit your space and physical needs. They need several hours of full sun, so plan first before placing the bales. Once you begin watering them, however, you will not be able to move them until the end of the growing season. Placing newspapers under your bales helps keep any weeds from growing under or around your bales.
Conditioning your bales
Conditioning your straw bales is the key to this method. Using a fresh bale without conditioning it will cause all your transplants or seedlings to fail. Essentially, conditioning is decomposing the interior of the straw bale for up to two weeks before planting. This process begins by uniformly soaking the bales for at least three days, followed by some high-nitrogen fertilizer and more watering. There are many “recipes” for conditioning available online with very specific instructions, so you may choose the one that fits your schedule best.
There are a few different ways you can choose to plant in your bales. You can choose to dig out “pockets” of straw and put seeds or seedlings in place, filling in with a bit of soil or compost. You can also choose to spread a layer of soil or compost (or a mixture) on top of the bale, placing in seeds or seedlings and watering in. Watering is crucial, and a soaker hose system or timed irrigation can make your life easier, but any method of watering can work.
Fertilization is also crucial since you are not relying on the soil’s natural nutrients to supplement your vegetables. Adding plant food to your bales will ensure your plants have the proper amount of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and other micro-nutrients is an important part of any gardeners work.
Tips and support
Your local extension office may be able to offer you more complete information on this unique method of gardening. There are many resources available online through university extension websites, as well as materials available for sale to make this process successful and simple for you.
This post was contributed by Jenny G., a gardener and writer from Wisconsin. Jenny likes to write about new gardening techniques, like straw bale gardening, and encourages people to think outside the box when it comes to growing their own food.
- Extreme Urban Gardening: Straw Bale Gardens (simpleunhookedliving.wordpress.com)
- Straw Bale Gardening (notbiganymore.com)
- Ken Druse REAL DIRT 2-8-13 (kendruse.typepad.com)