Seven Best Tips for Straw Bale Gardens

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 Photo courtesy Flickr: knitsteel

There’s no doubt that growing one’s own food looks like an increasingly attractive solution for putting pesticide-free food on the family table. You may be one of those urban dwellers, though, with either tough-as-nails soil or surrounded by concrete and finding yourself perplexed by where to start. Straw bale gardens are a low-input solution for easy plant-and-water food production. No endless back-breaking soil prep. No months-long weeding.

There’s an emerging art and science to growing food in straw bales, so here are a few key tips for creating that living vegetable garden not matter where you live.

1. Most important! Choose a location you’re certain has six hours of sun exposure and a water source close by.

2.  Use wheat, oats, rye or barley straw bales, rather than hay bales, since they will produce fewer “grass shoots”.  Bales are d*mn heavy so bring some muscle along on the trip to the garden center.

3. Water down the bales and keep watered for 5-10 days or so. As the air temperature rises, the bales will “cook” inside. Wait until the bales cool off before planting.

4. Be sure to put down a layer of landscape fabric and small gauge chicken wire before placing the bales into position to keep roots safe from gophers and other underground destroyers.

5. Lay the bales down so the string is positioned to the sides instead of underneath so it doesn’t rot from ongoing watering and cause the bales to fall apart sooner than normal. A straw bale should last at least a full growing season or two.

6. Feed plants with organic compost tea or fish emulsion during full growth mode to replace the nitrogen that is missing from straw bales. You can also lay down a 3 inch layer of potting soil on top of the bale if you’re planting from seed rather than starts.

7. Straw bale gardens will need slightly more water so be sure to set up an efficient drip system with a timer, especially useful when vacation time comes around.

Check out the just-released definitive guide about Straw Bale Gardens.

Photo courtesy Flickr: knitsteel

One Comment

  • Even if you want to start with only a couple of bales, or if this technique brings out the engineer in you, you can grow almost any vegetable, herb or annual flower in a straw bale. You can tuck a few bales along the side of your house or garden wall. A parking strip is often the sunniest spot for many urban gardeners but poor soil and passing animals can make this less than desirable for food gardening. Bales are a great solution. If you are concerned about how attractive they’ll look, tuck in a few marigolds around the base and sow nasturtiums on the corners of the bales. Plant several varieties of colorful lettuce and perhaps a squash or pumpkin vine spilling a few fruits over the side.

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