Whether you’ve just acquired your homestead and want a fast and easy way to grow food, or you’re faced with soil that isn’t what it should be, a straw-bale garden will help. You can grow a wide variety of vegetables and even some fruits in a straw-bale garden without a lot of digging or preparation. As a bonus, the ground beneath the bale will improve all season long; when you finally break down the bale, you’ll find dense, nutrient rich soil below.
Portable or container gardens come in all shapes and sizes, but the humble straw bale has many advantages over plastic or other pots for gardening:
⦁ Your veggies and produce will be cleaner and easier to use, since they won’t be laying in dirt.
⦁ A straw bale in most areas is about $5 and you get a lot of usable space in each bale.
⦁ No digging or tilling required.
⦁ Straw is sustainable; you can use the bale to grow in for a year, then add to your compost bin or use as mulch for zero waste.
Prepare for Planting
You don’t need to do any digging, but you do need to prepare the bale for planting. Purchase one or more straw bales that are secured with twine. Don’t untie them. Place them where you would like them to live in your yard.
Water the bale thoroughly until it is soaked through; this will soften the straw and make it easier to plant. It will also ensure that your bale never gets too hot; too much heat can kill your plants. Straw bales get very hot on the inside in summer, this heat is why storing straw in a barn is a bad idea.
Leave the bale in place and thoroughly soak it with water each day for the next three days; at the end of this time, the straw bale should be soft, spongy and ready for plants.
Follow the recommended directions for planting depth and spacing for each plant. Push aside some straw and simply place your started plants inside, soil and all. Add fertilizer, manure or compost and water well. You can also just poke a broomstick or dowel into the bale to sow seeds instead of plants. Just add a spoonful of soil and your seeds and cover with straw.
Caring for Straw-Bale Plants
The most important thing to do is make sure your bales stay moist and watered; this will provide the plants with the moisture they need and ensure they do not get too hot. Watering in the morning is usually enough to keep your plants growing healthy and strong.
What Can be Grown in Straw Bales?
Quite a few varieties of vegetables, herbs and fruits can be grown successfully in a straw bale; the yield you get per bale will depend on what you plant and how many plants can effectively fit. In general, expect to be able to fit any of the following into a single bale, and don’t be afraid to mix things up and plant several varieties:
⦁ 2-3 tomato plants per bale (avoid fertilizer with excess nitrogen)
⦁ 4 bell peppers or 6-8 hot peppers per bale
⦁ 4 cucumber plants or bean plants per bale (can be staked for vertical growing)
⦁ 2-4 squash, zucchini or winter quash per bale
⦁ 2 pumpkins or melons per bale
⦁ 6-8 herbs per bale
⦁ Lettuce or spinach in abundance
⦁ 8-10 strawberry plants per bale
Each bale you use will be good for about a year, depending on the weather conditions in your area and what you’ve planted. After a year or so, the bale will be pretty broken down and a prime candidate for a home composting system; it can also be used as mulch for your garden or even to cover and prepare a garden patch for next year.
Starting with just a bale or two can give you an idea of how effective this method is for you; it can also help bridge the gap between buying a property and setting up more permanent beds. You’ll be able to move the bales around to discover which areas of your property are best, then set up a more permanent solution in that location.
Straw is often the affordable answer to starting a garden when you are too busy to till or to swiftly expanding your food growing space to prepare for an emergency. Several rows of bales can be added to your garden in an afternoon, once the watering is done and you’ll reap the tasty rewards of your labor all season long.