Sustainable Living

Straw Bale Gardening 101

A bale of straw backyard

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.

Low-cost materials

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.

gardening with straw 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.

Planting methods

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.

Spring Straw Bale Gardens


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.

11 thoughts on “Straw Bale Gardening 101

  1. I started using the 5 gallon wicking system to grow veggies. Works well, inexpensive and cuts the watering chore almost out of the equation. Question ? Do you think you could incorporate a wicking system using a bale of straw? 2 cinder blocks ,one on each end of the bale and a 5 gallon bucket in the middle full of water and wicking material. See any glaring flaws in the idea.


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  6. I’m seriously considering this method and since on other forums I have heard people gripe about the bales growing mushroom, screw it. I’m thinking of using peg spawn and inoculating the bales with oyster mushroom spawn myself and just let them go. That should break down the inside of the bale enough to grow plants in it I would think. Or maybe getting the bales this fall and leaving them in a hoop house to grow mushrooms all winter and then do the plant thing come spring.


  7. We’re looking at doing this for our lettuces this year. Hoping to pick up some straw this weekend and have it delivered (and also hoping that the delivery guy doesn’t mind lining them up in the backyard for me in exchange for a few extra dollars)


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