Gardening can be challenging if you are a beginner and unsure of where to start. Gardening can be more difficult for older gardeners and people with disability as well because tasks like digging the soil and weeding are hard to do.
Fortunately, there is a newer method of gardening which takes much of the work right out of it. It is a great method for beginners, those who are physically challenged, or those who are elderly and loves to garden but finds it difficult to do these days.
It's also great for people in the northern hemisphere who want to extend the growing season.
What’s this amazing method? It’s gardening in straw bales—or straw bale gardening.
What is Straw Bale Gardening?
Straw bale gardening is a modern method of cultivation where you compost straw bales and plant vegetables within them. It requires less maintenance than most other gardening varieties and is an excellent way for everyone to be able to enjoy gardening regardless of their situation.
How to Garden Using Straw Bales
1. Collect Your Bales
To begin, you need straw bales. Consider how many bales you’ll need for the size garden you want to grow.
For a smaller garden, consider starting with a dozen bales. If you want to grow a more extensive garden, once you know this method works for you, consider expanding to around 30-40 bales.
It’s easiest to find straw with a lesser price tag in the fall. You could buy it and be prepared to plant the following spring.
Keep in mind, you can shop local for your bales, buy from big box stores, or if you grow straw or hay each year, you may be able to set a few aside and use them for a modern method of gardening.
2. Setup Your Future Garden
When you have your straw bales, consider where you are going to plant your garden. You’ll want a location where you can get six to eight hours of sunlight, if possible.
Also, be sure to cover the ground where your straw bale garden will be with cardboard, newspaper, or landscaping fabric, to deter weeds from growing up through the bales of straw.
When your groundwork is done, set the bales up. You should arrange them in rows with the cut side facing up. Be sure the twine is across the side of the bales and not running through the planting area.
The twine will help hold the bales together when the composting process begins to happen.
3. Get the Bales Ready to Compost
The composting process is what makes this growth process work exceptionally well. It will take ten days for the bales to be ready to begin composting.
On days one through six you’ll put three cups of nitrogen fertilizer on the bales every other day. On the days you aren’t dumping nitrogen on the bales, water the bales thoroughly.
On days seven through nine add 1.5 cups of nitrogen fertilizer to the bales and water each day too.
On day ten, add three cups of bone meal and 1.5 cups of wood ash to the bales. This will cover the necessary potassium and phosphorous needs.
Although this might sound like a ton of nitrogen, it’s what encourages composting to happen and accelerates the process as well.
4. Get Ready for Optimum Grow Space
When you grow your straw bale garden, it’s a good idea to put posts at the end of each row of bales. You can run twine horizontally from one post to the other to form a lattice. This will optimize your growing space.
Along with this idea, you also have a makeshift greenhouse in effect as well. When you plant your seedlings, you can run a piece of plastic over the top of the posts and seedlings. You’ll need to tuck the plastic under the pieces of twine holding the bales together.
It will protect your crops if a cold snap occurs after planting.
This type of gardening allows you to plant vegetables on top and flowers on the lower parts of the bale as well. It’s important to maximize and utilize the growing space the bales provide.
5. Plant Your Garden
After your bales have been set-up and have started the composting process, you’ll be ready to plant. You should wait two weeks after the composting process to began to plant.
You’ll know the bales are finished composting by sticking your finger into the middle of the bale. If the bale is scorching hot, you’ll know you need to wait a few days and test the bales again.
However, if the bales are only warm on the inside, you’ll know they’re ready to be planted in. If you’re planting seedlings, dig a hole big enough for the seedling in the bale. Place the seedling in the bale and put potting mix around it to close the gap.
If you are planting seedlings in the bales, you’ll need to cover the bales with two inches of seed starting mix. Sprinkle the seeds over the mix.
This is all there is to planting your straw bale garden.
6. Care for Your Garden
There is very limited care necessary for a straw bale garden. You should invest in a soaker hose system to keep the bales watered. Straw bales tend to stay dry which means they’ll require quite a bit of water.
A soaker hose will keep you from having to water the bales constantly. You should fertilize your bales with liquid fertilizer one time per week.
Basically, the more you water your bales (which you have to for moisture purposes) the more of the nutrients will be washed out of them. If you keep up with fertilizing and watering the bales, your plants should do fine.
Keep in mind; this is very little to ask considering there is no weeding to a straw bale garden if you laid the groundwork before starting, and you don’t have to worry about continually amending soil either.
7. Enjoy the Benefits
As I mentioned previously, there is very little work to a straw or straw bale garden. There’s no digging in the dirt, no need to amend poor soil for adequate growth, and no battling weeds.
You can enjoy watching your garden grow and harvesting from it. Where the beds are off the ground, it makes it easier to harvest as well.
straw bale gardening is an ideal gardening technique for anyone who is trying to test the gardening waters or someone facing physical limitations and struggles with traditional gardening techniques.
8. The Beauty of the Finished Product
Finally, when your straw bale garden is complete, it still isn’t done giving to you. The bales will continue to compost over the winter and be perfect for filling your containers for a container garden the next growing season.
You start the process over each year, and each year you can enjoy a delightful harvest with little effort.
The Pros and Cons of Straw Bale Gardening
Anytime I introduce a new form of gardening I like to cover the pros and cons of the method to give you a complete overview and things to consider before jumping in.
Like everything, there are good qualities to straw bale gardening. Here is what they are:
- Great option for those living in a northern climate because straw bales heat up faster than regular soil. It will prolong the growing season for those with a shorter growing season.
- Requires little maintenance but still produces a harvest.
- Great option for those new to gardening because it isn’t high maintenance.
- Great option for gardening for those who are elderly or disabled because this form of gardening is easily accessible.
- A fun way to bond as a family
- Less expensive than raised bed gardening…usually.
Also, like anything, gardening in straw bales has its cons as well. Here are the drawbacks to this form of gardening:
- Is more expensive than traditional gardening.
- You must rebuild your garden beds yearly.
- If you preserve your own food, this method would be complicated to come up with the number of materials needed and costly to boot.
You now have the full picture of straw bale gardening. Like everything in life, it has its ups and downs, but you’ll have to weigh those against your personal situation to know if this style of gardening is right for you.
In my experience, this style of gardening is great for my mother who is still spry enough to garden but shouldn’t be outside working herself into a tither over a garden bed.
But I’ve told him when we get too old to raise everything we eat this style of gardening will be all I do because of the overall simplicity.