How to make a straw bale garden

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​​Straw bale gardening is becoming popular as a form of "container" gardening, without the container. Photo by A. Windham, courtesy UTIA.

Growing a large vegetable garden isn’t for everyone. When you don’t have the personal resources to provide proper care, you risk wasting both time and money. Fortunately, Joel Karsten, author of Straw Bale Gardens, developed a simpler method.

If you’d like to grow fresh fruits and vegetables without the challenges of a traditional garden, a straw bale garden may be the right choice for you. It’s definitely more convenient for gardeners with limited mobility, poor soil conditions and limited space.

What is a straw bale garden?

A straw bale garden is an easy way to create a raised bed where a variety of crops can be grown. You simply start with a conditioned bale of straw and a selection of vegetables you want to grow.

West Virginia University Extension Service.

Advantages

  • It’s an inexpensive way to create raised beds for gardening, making it easy to care for the plants and harvest the fruits and vegetables. Sitting over two feet tall, the bales are more accessible to gardeners who can’t reach ground level.
  • A wide variety of fruits and vegetables can be grown this way, including tomatoes, peppers, cucumber, eggplant, squash, zucchini, lettuce, strawberries, beans, melons and herbs.
  • Straw bale gardens do not require digging or soil preparation, which is a huge advantage when your soil has too much rock, clay or sand in it.
  • Bales can be placed anywhere with adequate sunlight, including asphalt or concrete.
  • The bales can be used for two growing seasons. After, they can be easily removed and recycled into a compost pile or spread on the ground to enrich its soil at the end of the second season.

Disadvantages

  • Root vegetables like carrots, potatoes and onions are difficult to grow this way.
  • Taller plants, such as corn, are too top heavy to grow this way.
  • Since the straw bale contains only a little soil, your plants will require more fertilizer than they would in a garden.

10 steps to make a straw bale garden

Washington State University Extension.

It only takes about 10 days of preparation to get started. Straw bale gardens can be constructed and maintained in a few short steps.

  1. Purchase rectangular straw bales instead of hay. If you use hay instead of straw, it will sprout weeds as hay is full of seeds. Be sure to select a bale that is held together tightly with twine.
  1. Choose a location for your straw bales. You should select a spot that gets at least six hours or more of full sun.
  1. Layer four to five pieces of newspaper under each bale, if you’re placing the bales on top of soil or lawn rather than asphalt or concrete to prevent weed growth underneath and around them.
  1. Leave the twine on your bales and situate them so that it wraps around the sides and one of the cut sides faces up.
  1. Soak your bales thoroughly and keep them damp for three days.
  1. Over the next three days, sprinkle each bale with a 1/2 cup urea (46-0-0) and water well into bales. Bone meal, fish meal or compost can be used as a substitute for a more organic approach.
  1. Next, you can cut your fertilizer application back to 1/4 cup per bale per day for three days. Then you can stop applying fertilizer all together. However, it’s important to keep the bales damp throughout the process.
  1. Dig or cut holes with a six-inch diameter in the cut side of the bales, facing up. You can cut four in each bale.
  1. Add potting soil to your holes,  plant your seeds and seedlings and water immediately.
  1. Fertilize every two to three weeks and water daily.

Resources

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