Building a garden each year doesn’t have to be cumbersome. You don’t have to till the ground, build raised beds, or even plant in containers. HOW? With straw bale gardening!
Straw bale gardening is a great way to grow a lot of plants in a small area, and it is perfect for those who are unable to dig the yard, but have some space for the bales. I am going to share with you some simple straw bale gardening instructions from the successes and failures we have had over the years with it.
Get the straw bales several weeks in advance of you wanting to plant them. This allows you to completely wet them down and prepare them for planting. To prepare them, we take a garden hose and soak the bales to a the point they are dripping with water. Then, we cover with plastic to heat the bales up in the sun. This helps to kill any mold in the bale that may be present. Rinse and repeat for several days, until the bale becomes saturated.
If at all possible, try and source organic straw. There may still be contaminates on the straw from spraying the wheat fields that can get into your plants. It will cost more per bale, and may not be available in all areas. When we can’t find it, as it’s not always available in our area, that is one of the things I choose for myself to “not sweat” over. Your choice.
Keep the twine in place on the bale. This will help you keep the bales in place for the whole season. Otherwise, the bales can easily fall apart on you mid season, as they compost down with the plants. When you are placing the bales for planting, make sure to pack them next to each other as tightly as you can for additional support.
Once the bales have been saturated and solarized, it’s time to prepare the tea. Compost tea that is. Drill or dig a hole in the bales where you want to put the seedlings and make it about 4 inches deep. You’ll want to space the holes based on the plants you want to put in the straw bales. Use the same spacing you would any other method. Fill that hole with compost tea, comprised of either straight rabbit manure or a 1:5 ratio of chicken manure to water. This is needed because the chicken poop can be higher in ammonia and kill the roots of the plants. Continue to water down the bales for another 3-4 days while adding compost to fill the holes. This will help create a place that can nurture the plants for you.
After 3-4 days of manure tea and continual watering down, the bales are ready to be planted. We put seedlings in the bales, but you can also direct sow seeds. Space your plants out as you would in the ground. Place a bit of potting mix in the hole, add the plant and cover with more potting soil. Gently pack it around the stem of the plant to provide support. You’ll also want to put support structures in place BEFORE you plant the straw bales. For example, tomato trellises should be in place before the plant goes into the bale. This will avoid trying to fanagle it around the plant. Also, the support should go into the GROUND to support the plant, and not into the bale itself. As the bale is decomposing, it will not be strong enough to hold the plant and support.
Drip irrigation is important for consistent watering. The straw doesn’t hold water as well as the regular ground, so you will want to water the plants more often. We use soaker hoses run over the bales to help with that.
After the growing season is over, remove the plants and use the used bales to cover your other garden beds. Or you can place it directly into a compost bin to create more compost for the next season!