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Straw Bale Gardening

My name is Kelly - I blog at Becoming Crunchy where I talk about the changes my family has been making toward living more sustainably and healthfully as inspired by the birth of our daughter. One thing that's been particularly exciting to me over the past few months has been the success of my gardening efforts - a somewhat unique experiment created by a no-nothing gardener (that would be me) that has blossomed beyond my wildest dreams - and it's all built upon straw. 


Straw Bale Gardening - What Is It? 

A straw bale garden is pretty much just what it sounds like - instead of planting your vegetables/herbs/fruits in the ground, you plant them directly into straw bales - meaning no digging and no bending low to the ground. The secret is a 'conditioning process' that essentially turns the inside of the bales into compost - and it's super easy to do. 


Setting Up Your Garden 

First, get your bales. It is very important to make sure you obtain bales made from straw - not hay. Oat, wheat, rye and barley are the best choices. You can get straw bales from several sources - farms, garden centers, stables, sometimes even building contractors. Shop around - if you can find a farm that has an abundance of straw, you may even be able to get them for free! Decide how many bales you want to work with and how you want to lay them out - you don't want to have to move them more than once. 


Choose a place that gets 6-8 hours of sun every day. 

I started with 6 bales and arranged them in a rectangle - 3 and 3 right next to each other. While this has worked, I plan to leave more space between the bales next time around - the ideal setup would be to line your bales up in rows end to end, with 2-3 feet of space between rows, giving plenty of room for your plants. You don't have to start with a lot of bales - with limited space you could even try one or two (try planting a bale on your concrete balcony!). Be careful though - you don't want to place a bale on or against any surface that could deteriorate, like wood. If you have plants that will grow tall, use stakes in the straw or plant up against a chain link fence or wall to give them room to go up.


Conditioning Your Bales 

This is the most important part of the process and will take the most effort (though even that isn't much). It should take around 10 days (it took me longer - I think in part due to the very cold weather we had in May). What you are doing in the conditioning process is turning the center of each bale into compost - something that takes heat generation. For the exact steps (as given by Joel Karsten of StrawBaleGardens.com), please visit HERE. 

Conditioning the Bales Conditioning the bales


Planting Your Garden 

Choose whether you want to use seeds or transplants (both will work). I used transplants due to little confidence in my ability to grow from seed, though I may try seeds next year. Take a trowel and separate the straw to make a hole big enough for whatever you're planting, stick it in there, and water when you're done. Make sure to leave enough space between plants for them to grow quite large - don't plant more than 2 plants per bale

I planted transplants... I planted transplants...


Maintaining Your Garden 

Now pretty much all you have to do is water! In the 2 months or so that I've had plants growing, I've had to pull around 5 weeds total. I've had very few bugs as well - 2 of the plants have little holes in their leaves but otherwise continue to grow well. Watering will need to be done every day; it is also recommended to use fertilizer every two weeks.

 Mid-July: Bountiful Garden Mid-July: Bountiful Garden


Tips & Troubleshooting

  • Become a fan of Learn to Grow a Straw Bale Garden on Facebook - there are many helpful people there and it's a great place to ask questions.
  • Consider purchasing a soaker hose for the all the watering you will need to do.
  • Place tall stakes at the end of each row, and grow your tall-growing plants there.
  • Arrange the bales in such a way that allows you easy access to each bale.
  • Do not over-water - around 2 gallons per bale is all you really need.

That's pretty much all there is to it! I would be happy to answer any questions you may have, and for more information, you can visit my previous posts along with these other informative sites: