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How to Grow an Organic Straw Bale Garden Easily

Updated on October 18, 2017
ChristinS profile image

Christin is a natural health and wellness advocate with 20 years of experience studying and working in the health and supplement industry.

Growing a straw bale garden is simple, fun and a great way to grow organically without a lot of hassle.
Growing a straw bale garden is simple, fun and a great way to grow organically without a lot of hassle. | Source

Straw Bale Gardening Guide

What is Straw Bale Gardening?

Many people are turning to straw bale gardens as an inexpensive way to grow produce easily, inexpensively and efficiently. Straw bale gardens are easy to start and maintain, requiring much less time than traditional gardens, and make organic gardening easy. Straw bale gardens save time and they also are easier on your body when it comes to maintenance. They are great for people with disabilities or mobility issues who may have difficulties tending regular gardens.

Numerous plants grow well in straw bales including tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, herbs and many other garden favorites. Straw bale gardens are also excellent conversation starters because they tend to be very unusual and distinctive looking. We grow ours in a giant rectangle with other plants growing in the center. We notice people stopping to check out our garden as they drive by.

The Benefits of Straw Bale Gardens

Inexpensive – Straw bales are relatively inexpensive and can sometimes last for two seasons. Even if you only get one growing season out of them, they are still useful as a nutrient rich mulch or compost for the following year. Bales are typically only a few dollars each.

Easy Maintenance – A straw bale garden requires much less weeding than traditional gardens. It is also off the ground, so what little weeding has to be done can be done without the back and knee pain that often comes from weeding a traditional garden.

Resilient – Straw bale gardens, in my experience, can take the elements better. We had a very late May frost this year – a hard freeze that is not typical for this area at all. The plants I had in the ground were more affected by it than the ones in the straw. We have also had an abundance of hail and storms with straight line winds and the plants I have in the bales held up better with no loss. I had some in the ground that were actually ripped out by the wind when the baled plants stayed put. I have no scientific explanation for why that happens – but other straw bale gardeners will tell you similar stories.

Easy to Grow Organically – Plants in straw bales are naturally weed and pest resistant. I sprinkle DTE (Diatomacious Earth) around the perimeter of the plants, but otherwise they resist pests quite well. Plants being up off the ground is a natural deterrent for many pests as well. Weeding is easy and that also makes organic gardening a snap. Organic and straw bale gardens go hand in hand – or they should. There is no easier, or more cost-effective way that I have found to grow organic vegetables.

Disadvantages of Straw Bale Gardens

Space - Straw bales can take up a lot of space if you are wanting to grow multiple plants in a small area. Each bale will only hold at max 2 plants and the bales are approximately 4 feet in length and foot and a half tall. If you are growing on a patio or in a very small area straw bales may not be the best choice for you.

Water – Straw bale gardens soak up a lot of water. In drought-prone areas this can be problematic. When you first prep your bales especially, it requires a lot more water than a standard garden.

Allergies – Many people are allergic to straw and hay and may find that working with a straw bale garden leads to rashes, sneezing, etc. If you are allergic to straw work with a partner who can do the actual planting and weeding. Otherwise, avoid using the straw bales. I happen to break out if my skin touches the bales, but I use good gardening gloves and wear a long sleeve shirt when doing anything directly with the bales.

How to Start a Straw Bale Garden

You will want to get your straw bales a few weeks before you are ready to plant. Straw bales require a couple of weeks of preparation.

Once you have purchased your straw bales and have them placed on their sides, you will want to create holes in the bales where your future plants will go. Each bale should have no more than two openings for plants. Your plants still require space to grow properly. If you are growing something like a Zucchini that vines out and is very large you will only want one opening in the center of the bale.

You can fill the bale openings with a good potting soil if you wish, although it isn't necessary to use soil in a straw bale garden at all! My personal preference is to fill the holes in the bales with a nice mix of compost and soil. I find this provides better nourishment and stronger plants.

After your bales are prepped you will spend the next two weeks thoroughly soaking the bales every single day. This watering allows the breakdown process to begin. As the bales breakdown nutrients are released that will strengthen and feed your plants. You may also notice during this time that the bales go to seed and you will have little shoots of green grass springing forth from the bales and on the ground around them. This is easy to pull so don't worry about it.

Consider investing in heirloom seeds or plants. This ensures you only need to purchase one time. You will be able to keep seeds from your own harvest for reuse the following years. Today, many seeds and plants are bred for only single season use - a trait designed by certain seed companies to increase profit. Fortunately, you can still find heirlooms and then you have full control of what you are putting in your garden - and in your body!

Growing Your Straw Bale Garden

This is actually the easy part! Once your bales are prepped and ready to go you can begin planting. I recommend planting fairly well established young plants. Straw bale gardens tend to have a slower growth rate than a standard garden, so well-established plants will ensure that you get the most for your investment.

Before planting in the straw bales acclimate your plants be setting them outside on top of the bales during the day and bringing them in at night. Do this for several days before transferring them to the garden. (this should be done with any garden)

Once you plant your garden you should soak your plants at the base of the plants very thoroughly. Straw bales are very absorbent and your garden will require deeper watering than a standard garden. The bonus is that straw holds water evenly and you don't have to worry about “flooding” your plants or having them in standing water, which can be just as harmful to a garden as not watering it enough.

Every few weeks you will want to feed your plants. I use organic compost, but you can use plant food or whatever you wish. For tomatoes, I recommend adding powdered eggshells to the soil around your plants. This is a natural way to ensure they get all the calcium they require. It's cheap and it's easy especially if you have chickens or eat a lot of eggs. Because straw bale plants are in little, if any soil – feeding is VERY important.

Weed your garden as needed, however you will find that very little weeding is required and when it is it is very easy since your plants are so high up off of the ground.

That's it – easy, inexpensive, and a lot of fun! Enjoy your straw bale garden!

Organic Pest Control

You'll find that straw bale gardens are less prone to pests, however one product that I do recommend is DTE (diatomaceous earth). Sprinkle it around the base of your plants to naturally kill invaders that feed on the roots and stems of plants.

Have You Ever Grown a Straw Bale Garden?

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Garden Expert P Allen Smith's Segment on Straw Bale Gardening


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    • ChristinS profile image

      Christin Sander 2 years ago from Midwest

      We wait until a couple of weeks before we want to start planting - for us that's approx around the last frost. We'll prep bales in April usually to plant first week of May.

    • profile image

      Robert Schaefer 2 years ago

      I need to know what is the proper temperature (weatherwise), to start effective conditioning of the bales.

    • profile image

      stephanie 2 years ago

      It is vital to condition the bales for two weeks before planting using a high nitrogen fertilizer. Otherwise your harvest will be meager. The bales may use your plants and seeds to get the nitrogen you need. Basically, you're trying to get the bales to compost.

      In addition, if you get a lot of weeds, you're probably using hay instead of straw. There's a big difference.

      I'll be in my 4th year of straw bale gardening beginning in the spring (May) and have been able to expand my mostly shaded vegetable garden with this method.

    • ChristinS profile image

      Christin Sander 3 years ago from Midwest

      Thanks kerlund it is definitely a fun and inexpensive way to grow organic vegetables.

    • kerlund74 profile image

      kerlund74 3 years ago from Sweden

      Sounds like something I would certainly consider to try. Voted up and useful.

    • ChristinS profile image

      Christin Sander 4 years ago from Midwest

      Thanks for reading and voting Sue, I hope you'll give it a try it really is a simple and interesting way to garden. We love straw bales.

    • Sue Bailey profile image

      Susan Bailey 4 years ago from South Yorkshire, UK

      I've never heard of this before. However, when I move to my new house with a garden I may well give it a try. Voted up and interesting.

    • ChristinS profile image

      Christin Sander 4 years ago from Midwest

      Thanks Gail for the votes and the link - much appreciated. I do hope you'll give it a shot. We grew some of the most amazing tomatoes using this technique.

    • Gail Meyers profile image

      Gail Meyers 4 years ago from United States

      Great hub! I have not tried it, but I just might. Voted up and useful (and linked).

    • Gail Meyers profile image

      Gail Meyers 4 years ago from United States

      Excellent hub! I think I'm going to add a link to this hub in one of mine. Voted up and useful.

    • ChristinS profile image

      Christin Sander 5 years ago from Midwest

      Unfortunately no, it has to be straw bales. The straw inside breaks down and nourishes the plants which hay doesn't do.

    • collegedad profile image

      collegedad 5 years ago from The Upper Peninsula

      I wonder if hay would be a better alternative in drought conditions. They would be less porous. Just wondering?

    • ChristinS profile image

      Christin Sander 5 years ago from Midwest

      Thanks for reading and commenting collegedad - strawbales work very well indeed for a variety of plants. The only concern this year is the drought we are having and the fact they require a lot of water. The plus side, the also hold that moisture in pretty well :)

    • collegedad profile image

      collegedad 5 years ago from The Upper Peninsula

      I've grown potatoes in straw, but I never thought of using it for other plants. I'll have to give this a try next year!

    • ChristinS profile image

      Christin Sander 5 years ago from Midwest

      thanks for the comment Rebecca. It really is an easy way to garden and it works very well. I hope you'll enjoy it should you decide to give it a shot :)

    • rebeccamealey profile image

      Rebecca Mealey 5 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

      I briefly heard of straw bale gardening recently on talk radio. Thanks for sharing this information!

    • ChristinS profile image

      Christin Sander 5 years ago from Midwest

      It would be a great way to have a couple of plants on a deck - I would recommend though having some kind of material under your bales since you have to water them so much as you probably wouldn't want wet straw bales to sit directly on your deck for any great length of time. Other than that though I think they look great and are SO easy to maintain. :) thanks for reading!

    • LucidWarrior profile image

      David Cook 5 years ago from Suburban Philadelphia

      Great idea. I have wanted to start a garden on my deck for a long time but haven't found a good solution. I will have to give this a try.

    • Danette Watt profile image

      Danette Watt 6 years ago from Illinois

      Never heard of straw bale gardening before but it certainly has merit, and it's an interesting idea. It wouldn't work for me, though, because as you noted, it takes up a lot of space, which I don't have. Something to keep in mind for the future though.

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 6 years ago from New York

      Good article. Everyone's looking for a way to cut back on weeds.

    • ChristinS profile image

      Christin Sander 6 years ago from Midwest

      RTalloni Thanks for stopping by and I'm glad you enjoyed the hub. I actually did use last years bales as ground cover around other plants and it works beautifully.

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 6 years ago from the short journey

      First, I'm voting up and useful, as well as bookmarking this.

      We were just this week talking about the best ground cover to use next year. Can't wait to show this to my husband this weekend! :)

      Thanks much.

    • ChristinS profile image

      Christin Sander 6 years ago from Midwest

      Thank you! I Hope you enjoy gardening this way. For me, I love it and will likely never go back :)

    • Esmeowl12 profile image

      Cindy A. Johnson 6 years ago from Sevierville, TN

      What a fabulous idea! I will definitely do this next year. Bookmarked, voted up & useful. Thanks!