How To Start Straw Bale Gardening

                A bale of straw may be seen as something to use as a Halloween decoration or something that is going to be used for animal bedding, but in fact there is another use. A bale of straw can be used to grow your garden. As the straw begins to break down, it turns into a nutrient rich, compostable planter. At the beginning of the season the straw starts as a growing medium, but by the end it will be half way decomposed and can be used to spread on a traditional garden, flower bed or thrown in a compost pile.

                Straw bale gardening offers the ability to put a garden almost anywhere the sun shines. It is also a way to work around poorly drained or difficult to work with soils. Another advantage is, it is gardening with no weeding or digging which offers a less laborious experience.

                To start, acquire straw bales. It is best to start small while still getting the hang of it. Most kinds of straw will work, but stay away from hay bales made from dried grasses, as these will decompose too quickly and become weedy from the seeds they often contain. Put the bales of straw somewhere that will receive ample sun, as most vegetable crops need at least 8 hours of sun a day. Make sure the bales are placed somewhere close to water and on a surface where damage is not a concern. A surface like a wood deck may become damaged. Seeds or seedlings can be planted, just like a traditional garden or raised bed.

                The bales should be placed two weeks ahead of planting. Ensure they are in the location you would like because they will become too heavy to move later.


Week One:

  • Water the bales until water runs out of the bottom.
  • Apply lawn fertilizer that contains plenty of nitrogen (1/2 Cup per bale).
  • Apply fertilizer every other day and water it, again until water runs out of the bottom.
  • On the day’s fertilizer is not used, still water the bales

Week Two:

  • Apply the lawn fertilizer at half the original rate for three days straight while continuing to water it in.
  • After the first three days continue to water daily.
  • At the end of the week sprinkle two cups of a balanced garden fertilizer like 12-12-12 on the bales and water thoroughly.

This amount of nitrogen is necessary to start the composting process as well as preparing the bales for the plant roots. This composting process will cause the bales to reach an internal temperature as high as 125 degrees F, but should be no lower then 75-80 degrees F the day of planting.  
Planting seedings

Planting seedlings

                Create a divot in the bale deep enough to place the roots in, fill around the seedling and other gaps with potting soil, then water gently. This will ensure the small plants are stable and in good position to set their roots. Plant tomatoes or other plants that will become fairly large and require a stake or cage at no more then two per bale. Planting dwarf or compact varieties may also be a good option to conserve space.

Planting seeds

                Place potting soil two inches deep on the top of the bales and spread in out evenly and flat. After the soil is applied plant the seeds at their recommend depth and water then daily until the seeds germinate and emerge.

Care after planting

                Since the bales are above ground and permeable it is important to water them regularly so they do not try out. With so much watering, fertilizer will be used and moved through the bales quickly so it is also important to keep the plants well fed by applying garden fertilizer at least once a week.

               Visit your local Centra Sota Country Store for everything you need for a successful season of straw bale gardening.


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