You can Garden in a Straw Bale?
I wish this was my original idea, but it is not. I am always looking for an inexpensive, labor-and-back-friendly way to expand my raised garden beds. When I was introduced to this technique at the local community garden, it seemed too good to be true. So I tried it. And its true. You can, in fact, grow food in a straw bale. Think of it like container gardening, where the bale becomes the raised garden bed, container, soil, compost, and plants, all in one.
Is it Expensive?
I paid $13 for my straw bale, plus about $6 for a bag of organic blood meal. Prices may vary in your local area, and you may spend an extra few dollars at the nursery if you’d like starter plants, or you can grow them from seed. Because the blood meal will last over several bales, I’d say a reasonable average price per complete bale garden is about $15.
How Do You Start?
Bring your bale home and position it where it will get good sun. Location is important because once you get the bales wet, they become very heavy. Next, you begin the conditioning process. The instructions I followed can be found here, but I simplified it for myself so I could remember more easily. It goes like this:
- Get it wet. Water the bale daily. (Days 1-2)
- Feed it well. (1/2 cup nitrogen of choice, plus ample watering, days 3-6)
- Feed it less. (1/4 cup nitrogen of choice, plus ample watering, days 7-9)
- Let it cool. Keep it moist as needed, but the decomposition process should begin to slow. (stick a finger in it, if slightly warm to touch, you’re getting close, days 10-14)
- Check it out. When the bale starts to look “moldy” you’re ready to plant. (Days 14+)
When Is it Ready?
When the bale is ready, it will look dark and you will see “mold and mildew” growing in it. To the left is an example of what is happening to the inside of the bale. If it has cooled down to slightly warm when you poke a finger into the middle, you are ready to plant. See the below before and after picture to see the difference in color between a brand new bale and one that has been conditioned.
How do you plant?
Depending on the size of your transplants, you can either spread the straw apart or dig out holes in the bale. To the right is a bale that has been prepared with holes for planting. With my transplants, I did not add extra soil or compost (although I don’t see why that would hurt). The lettuce in the bale is showing new growth after one week.
How often do you need to water?
Time and the weather will tell, but I am finding you’ll have to water daily after the first transplanting to help the plants get established. After that, depending on the weather, every other or every third day is about right for this area. Once the bale has been conditioned, I was surprised at how well it held moisture.
What are the benefits?
- Inexpensive way to expand your garden.
- Saves bending to ground level.
- Harder for dogs and other critters to dig up.
- Changeability. If you don’t like where you put it, you can put it somewhere else next year. You are not married to the location.
- No digging, rototilling, or mulching required. It does all that by itself.
Try a straw bale garden of your own! Let us know how it goes, we would love to hear how it goes!