Straw Bale Gardening

Kathleen Roberts
Straw bales are more than a fall decoration.
Straw bales are more than a fall decoration.

Straw bale gardening is ideal for people who have little space for a traditional garden or for those with poor soil. It's is easy to do and requires less work than traditional gardening.

Benefits of Straw Bale Gardening

Straw bale gardening is good anywhere you want to have a garden, as long as you have adequate sunlight. It is especially good in three situations:

  • If you have poor or limited soil, straw bale gardening is a perfect solution. Because the straw bale is your garden, little, if any, soil is required. If you live somewhere that seems like pure rock, straw bales may be the solution.
  • If you you have limited mobility a garden made of straw bales is easier to reach. Like a raised bed garden, it eliminates the bending and stooping needed for gardens at ground level.
  • If you live in an apartment or have limited space, you can still have a garden as long as you have room for a bale of straw.

How to Do It

Bale Preparation

Begin by selecting your bales. Choose straw not hay. This is important because hay is full of seed that will sprout and be difficult to pull. Straw is primarily stems with very little seed. Weeds are easily to pull out; whole plants tend to hold on tight.

Once you have your bales, arrange them in the way you plan to keep them. This is very important because once watered, they are difficult to move. If you have room for several bales, this is a great opportunity to get creative in your garden design.

Make sure bales are placed so the twine binding them runs parallel to the ground. Twine that touches the ground will decompose and your bales will not hold together well enough for gardening. Placing bales this way also makes it easier to put the plants in the straw because the straw stems will run vertically.

Once they are exactly where you want them, water your bales well and allow them to sit for five to seven days. During this time, the bales will "cook" and then cool, making them ready for plants. Bales that are about six months old or more may not need to cook and can be planted right away.

Planting Your Bales

Once your bales have cooled, look for any weed sprouts and pull them out. Your next step will depend on if you are planting seedings or seeds. If you have plants, you can start planting right away. Just take your trowel and separate the straw stems to create a pocket for the plant. Place the seedling inside the pocket and allow the straw to close around it. Plants should be spaced just as they would be in the ground. Over crowding created unhealthy plants. Once planted, water your plants well just as with traditional gardening.If you want to plant seeds in your straw bale garden, first layer the top with a mixture of compost and topsoil. Lay about two inches on top of the bale. Now plant seeds as you would normally, adhering to the spacing recommendations.

Water and Fertilizer

Your straw bale garden will need more water than a typical garden, especially if the weather is hot. This is because straw does not hold water as soil does. Your garden is likely to require water every day or every other day.

Fertilizer needs are minimal. Once every week or two, add a fish emulsion or compost tea. Too much fertilizer will cause your straw bale to break down too fast.

What to Grow

Straw bale gardens are ideal for annual plants. Your straw bale will not last more than two years so plants that come back year after year will not work well. Tall plants such as sunflowers do not thrive in a straw bale garden either. They do not have enough support and are likely to fall over.

What will do well are herbs, flowers, squash or tomatoes. Basically, any annual vegetable or flower that doesn't get too tall. Once you've tried your hand at straw bale gardening, you may find that you want to get even more creative. Have fun! Try different combinations and arrangements. You'll wonder why you didn't try it sooner.

Straw Bale Gardening