Straw Bale Gardening Part 1- The Prep

I decided to try growing some of my own vegetables this year. I was planning on building some raised garden beds out of wood but then my  mom told me about  a method of raised bed gardening using straw bales. The idea is to plant the veggies straight into the straw. When using straw bales you don’t have to do any digging. It’s great if you have rocky soil or poor soil quality. Because the beds are raised  you don’t have to do a lot of bending which is good if you have back problems or are in a wheelchair.

I bought my bales at my local feed store for $8 each.  If you don’t have a feed store near you they may be available at your local garden center. You want to make sure you buy straw instead of hay. Hay is what the animals eat and will have the seed part still attached. The seeds may sprout. Straw is sold as bedding for the farm animals.  I think that I paid a little too much for my bales. I may try to shop around a little more next time.

I bought 4 bales and arranged them in a square. I wanted space in the middle to add more soil. Root vegetables don’t grow well in straw. Since I want to grow beets, carrots and garlic I still needed deep soil to plant in where the vegetables would have lots of room to grown downward.  On the sides I’m going to grow lettuce, tomatoes, chard and lots of other yummy stuff right into the bales. When you get your bales arrange them with the straw in a vertical direction. This helps the roots grow down easier.  Add some compost and potting soil to the  top of the bales and water thoroughly. Make sure the straw is in the place you want it before you water it. It will be really hard to move once it’s soaked.  You need to let your bales sit for at least 10 days. The straw is going to decompose a little and the inside temperature is going to get really hot. The heat will kill your seeds or seedlings.  There are some methods of  adding ammonium nitrate to the bales to speed up the process.  I don’t really want to mess with any of that so I’m just going to let it sit.
In the center I piled in layers of soil, compost, and horse poop. I just started digging soil from around the barn and carrying it oven in buckets to toss in the center. I filled the top with good quality soil from the feed store. It took forever to shovel the dirt and carry it. My arms and back  are still hurting. I don’t recommend this part if you have back problems. Just stick to the straw.

I’m going to let it all sit for a while I get my root seeds started in toilet paper pots. My carrots, beets and other veggies I want to grow in the center are all direct sow seeds so I plan on planting these in the next couple of days. I will be documenting my progress here so make sure to check back if you want to see how everything is growing.

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3 Responses to Straw Bale Gardening Part 1- The Prep

  1. Anonymous says:

    I'm getting ready to do this next summer at our home in Eastern Canada. Very rocky where we live. Great idea. Please update when you can.



  2. Anonymous says:

    Starting mine in Alabama now. $2.50 for a large bale of straw. Planting it against a 6 ft chain link fence section to act as a trellis for peas/beans. I think it is going to work great without having to haul in a lot of soil in a raised bed which is required in the area I live in due to prairie mud soil.


  3. Only $2.50 for a bale of straw!? Great deal and good luck!


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