Straw bale gardening strawberries

Contents

Beginner’s Guide to Straw Bale Gardening

Gardening with straw bales is the answer to any organic gardener’s prayers. If your soil is so poor that amending, or enhancing, it with compost, fertilizers, or leaf mold makes you exhausted just thinking about it, then using straw bales for planting may be the perfect solution.

What is straw bale gardening? Straw bales can be used like raised beds in the yard so that no additional soil is needed. There is a difference between straw and hay, so you’ll want to use straw bales, not hay bales, if possible. Hay is grass and straw is stalk — think grains like barley and wheat after the harvest instead of dried grass.

The bales must be conditioned so that they can act as a growing medium, but once that’s accomplished, you’re good to plant. Just make sure that your straw bales are placed in a bright, sunny location and kept well-watered. If you do, you can grow almost anything in straw bales.

Why Use the Straw Bale Gardening Technique?

Straw bale gardening is one of many options for dealing with poor soil. How do you know that you have poor soil? To begin, have your soil tested by your local Cooperative Extension Office. These tests can determine the pH level of your soil, assess the fertility and health of the microorganism colonies living in the soil, and provide you with useful information on which organic amendments to add.

Some gardeners live in areas of the country where the soil consists of heavy clay or sand that’s difficult to amend. While it can still be amended, it may take quite a bit of work to create loamy soil — the best kind for growing vegetables.

Raised beds are another option. A raised bed vegetable garden is made with boards or stones piled into a box form and filled with soil. Plants are grown inside the bed. The problem with raised beds, however, is that they can be expensive to build and maintain. Not only do you have to purchase the materials to build the bed itself, but if your soil is already poor, you’ll also need to purchase high-quality bagged soil and compost to fill the garden beds. The costs can add up quickly.

Straw bale gardening, also sometimes called hay bale gardening despite the difference in material, uses the bales themselves as both garden bed and growing medium. The result is an inexpensive method of growing organic vegetables.

Where Can I Buy Straw Bales?

Not all bales are made equal. Straw bales should be used for your vegetable garden because straw, unlike hay, does not contain seeds. Hay bales are usually grown and sold as horse or livestock feed. As a result, these bales usually contain timothy and alfalfa seeds, which can sprout into plants when wet. If you use hay bales, chances are good you’ll end up growing hay rather than vegetables.

Straw is weed-free and formed into square bales just like hay. Straw is actually a by-product of the grain industry. Grain is removed from the stalk, and the stalks are then bundled into straw bales. That’s why straw makes such a good garden bed — it’s 100% natural and composts over time, which feeds your plants. It’s also missing the seeds, since the processing methods extract them from the plants.

One thing to look out for is making sure you buy organic straw bales since many farms use pesticides on their crops. If you buy your straw bale from a “big box” store, make sure the bale comes from an organic farm and isn’t sprayed with any chemicals. The best way to get your straw bales is if you know a local organic farmer. Confirm with from the seller that the bale is straw and not hay as they are very similar.

You can start a straw bale garden in the early fall, but spring is the best time to plant vegetables. Check with your local Cooperative Extension for the “frost free” date for your growing zone. This frost free date is the last average date of frost in your part of the country. Most vegetables should be planted AFTER this date. It’s a good idea to build your straw bale garden around that date, so that you’re right on schedule to plant your vegetable garden.

Choose a Location

To build a straw bale garden, you will need space in your yard that receives bright, full sun. Full sun is defined as six or more hours a day of bright, direct sunlight. Although some vegetables, such as lettuce and green beans, can grow in partial shade, most vegetables need full sunlight in order to thrive.

Another consideration when scouting your yard for the best spot is access to water. Once your bales are in place, they’re too heavy to move. This weight presents a challenge, since you’ll need to water your garden regularly. Placing bales near a water source or within reach of your garden hose makes it easier to tend to them.

Equipment and Supplies for Straw Bale Gardening

In addition to purchasing bales of straw, you’ll need some simple equipment to get your straw bale garden started. For an average straw bale garden, you will need:

  • Sheets of newspaper or cardboard to place under the bales
  • A hand trowel
  • A garden hose
  • Organic fertilizer — especially bone meal or blood meal
  • Straw bales
  • Soil or compost if you need to direct-sow seeds

Straw Bale Gardening Instructions

Place a sheet or two of newspaper or cardboard on the ground where you want your garden. The paper should extend several inches beyond the edge of each bale. Then, place a bale on top of the paper. The paper prevents weeds from growing up and into the bale.

Make sure you arrange the bales the way you want them. Leave space between them so that you can push a lawnmower or wheelbarrow among the bales. Once they’re in place, they get heavy when water-logged, and are difficult or impossible to move.

Conditioning the Straw Bales

In order to make the straw bales a good habitat for garden vegetables, you’ll need to condition each bale, which turns it into a growing medium. This is the most time-intensive part of the project, but don’t worry! Nature does most of the work.

  • Days 1 to 3: Once your straw bales are in place, take the garden hose and water each bale thoroughly. Soak it with water. You need to do this once a day for three days to start the conditioning process. The bales begin to decompose. As the microorganisms start to work, the inside of the bale heats up.
  • Days 4 to 6: On days 4, 5 and 6, you will need to sprinkle the top of the bale with fertilizer. Sprinkle each bale with one cup of ammonium sulfate (21-0-0) OR half a cup of urea (46-0-0). The numbers after the name of the material refer to the amount of nitrogen, phosphorous and potash in the fertilizer — an industry-standard measurement. These are high nitrogen sources, and they also speed up decomposition and conditioning. After sprinkling the fertilizer onto the top of each bale, water it thoroughly into the straw. You will tackle this process each day on days 4, 5 and 6.
  • Days 7 to 9: On days 7, 8 and 9, continue using the fertilizer, but cut the amounts in half. Continue to water it into the straw bale.
  • Day 10: On day 10 of the process, stop adding fertilizer, but continue watering the bale to keep it moist.

Check the bale on day 11. If it feels about the same temperature as your hand, you can plant your vegetables. If it feels hot to the touch, water the bale another day and check it again on Day 12. The bale should feel warm, but not super hot to the touch.

Planting Vegetables in Straw Bales

Once your bale is properly conditioned, it’s time for the fun part: planting vegetables!

Each bale can be planted with the following number of vegetable plants:

  • Tomatoes: 2 to 3 plants per bale
  • Peppers: 4 plants per bale
  • Squash: 2 to 4 plants per bale
  • Zucchini: 2 to 3 plants per bale
  • Cucumbers: 4 to 6 plants per bale
  • Strawberries: 3 to 4 plants per bale

You can also grow lettuce and green beans in straw bales, but the number of plants depends on the varieties. Check the seed package. Both lettuce and beans grow easily and quickly by direct sowing methods (planting seeds directly).

Use your trowel to dig into the top of the straw bale. Make a hole about the size of the container your vegetable plant came in. Gently slide the plant out of the container. If it sticks, tap the sides and back of the container to loosen the plant. Don’t tug it by the stem — you can easily break the stem and hurt the plant.

Place the plant, root-side down, into the hole and gently push the straw back into place around the soil and onto the roots. Water it well. Congratulations! You’re growing your very own straw bale garden.

What Not to Plant

Not every vegetable appreciates a straw bale garden. Some do not fare well when grown in straw bales.

  • Corn tends to grow too tall and top-heavy for a straw bale garden.
  • Potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, turnips, and other root crops also don’t grow well in straw bales.

For the average home gardener, a few tomatoes and peppers are enough of a reward. They’re also a lot more flavorful when grown in your very own organic garden than purchased from a store.

Special Considerations: Tomatoes and Vine Crops

Two crops may need additional support: tomatoes and other vine crops such as cucumbers, squash, and zucchini. Tomatoes should be staked so they grow upwards and have plenty of air circulation around the leaves. Tomato cages do not work with straw bale gardens. You will need to drive stakes into the ground. Use a hammer and set the wooden stakes into the ground. After that, you can cut old bedsheets into strips and use them to tie the tomato plant to the stake. Don’t use metal stakes, though, as they can heat up in the sun and scald your tomatoes. Fabric ties are better than twist ties because they’re gentler on the tomato stems.

If you’re growing cucumbers or beans, choose “bush” varieties instead of “pole” or vine varieties. Bush cucumbers and beans grow in a low, shrub-like plant and don’t require staking. If you have seeds for pole beans, you can still grow them in a straw bale, but you will need to stake them just as you would a tomato plant.

Cucumbers, squash, and zucchini can spread down, out, and away from the straw bales, but may be a nuisance if you have to cut the grass between the bales. You may wish to offer them a stake or another support so they grow upwards instead of down and onto the grass.

Straw Bale Gardening Tips

Straw bale gardens can dry out easily, so keep them well-watered. The straw should hold up through one full growing season. Straw bales are held together by two to three strands of rope or metal baling twine, which holds the bale in its familiar shape. Make sure you water your garden every day, except on days when it rains.

Because straw contains no nutrients on its own, you will need to feed your plants frequently. Straw bale gardens should be fertilized every two weeks while plants are young, and every week once they start bearing fruit.

“If using an organic source of nitrogen it is key to know the actual nitrogen content by percentage,” advises Joel Karsten, the author of Straw Bale Gardens. “From my experience the conditioning process requires approximately 1/2-3/4 cup or 4-6 ounces of ACTUAL nitrogen in order to feed the bacteria enough energy to colonize the entire bale. If using a source with 5% nitrogen, this would require using 10 to 15 cups or 80-120 ounces of the source material to get enough ACTUAL nitrogen. Working this volume of material into the bale can be difficult, but is possible. Organic sources with low levels of nitrogen (<5%) make working enough volume into the bales very difficult or impractical. This will slow down or stop the conditioning process and crops planted into these bales will turn yellow and whither after germination from seed or transplanting. The garden will never look good and will not perform well in this circumstance.”

Straw Bale Garden Problems

Most straw bale gardens have few problems, which is why they’re becoming so popular. The most frequently reported problem is dry bales. Again, water is the answer. Keep watering — especially during the heat of the summer months.

Another problem with straw bale gardens is mushrooms. Mushrooms are a sign that your straw bale garden is working as it should be — in other words, that it’s decomposing slowly. If the mushrooms bother you, you can pick them off and throw them out. Never eat mushrooms growing on a straw bale. Some mushrooms are poisonous, and unless you’re an expert at identifying edible mushrooms, don’t eat them.

Try Straw Bale Gardening Today!

Straw bale gardening offers gardeners a great opportunity to try their hand at organic gardening practices without spending a great deal of time or money on soil conditioners. You can scale your garden up or down each year, depending on how many bales you buy and how much you want to grow. Best of all, once the garden is done for the year, you can spread the used straw on your compost pile so that all those nutrients can return to the soil to be used again.

Buy oat straw bales, not grass, for best strawberry growing results

Gardening season is in full swing and there are lots of questions out there. Get answers from Ask an Expert, an online question-and-answer tool from Oregon State University’s Extension Service. OSU Extension faculty and Master Gardeners reply to queries within two business days, usually less. To ask a question, simply go to the OSU Extension website and type in a question and the county where you live. Here are some questions asked by other gardeners. What’s yours?

Q: I want to plant day-neutral strawberries in straw bales next spring. How is the best way to do this?

A: Strawberries are really easy to grow but have some drawbacks. Planting in straw bales is a good idea because they usually drain exceptionally well.

To start, buy oat straw bales, not grass and make sure they are straw and not hay which has many seeds. Also, if possible, buy organic because you are going to be eating the strawberries. If there is some oat seed in the straw and it grows, it is easy to pull out. With grass you will be there all day and the next getting rid of unwanted growth.

Put the bales in full sun and where it will stay permanently. Water the bale for several days, get a composting action started. I usually dig out a rectangular area on top after it is thoroughly wet. Water each day until water comes out the bottom – about three days.

Then dig out 4 to 5 inches in depth and add potting soil and compost along with a small amount of all-purpose fertilizer (check the directions and cut the amount in half). You should also check the pH and if it is too acidic add agricultural lime per the package’s directions (see link I added at the bottom). Adding too much nitrogen in the fertilizer, will make the plant produce leaves and stolons (runners with another plant on the end) and less flowers.

The bale will decompose over time but I have used the large rectangular bales and they have lasted about three years before completely breaking down. I also placed them where I wanted to start a compost pile. That worked well. I am attaching a publication from Oregon State on growing strawberries. – Sheryl Casteen, OSU Extension Master Gardener

Consider ginkgo, hackberry, sassafras, yellowwood when searching for fast-growing large trees

Q: I would like to plant a tree with a broad canopy that grows to 30 to 50 feet, is fast growing and doesn’t need a lot of water once established. It would be best if it could handle global warming, so it should probably be good in the California zone as well as ours. – Multnomah County

A: There are many trees to choose from that meet your criteria – fast growing, drought tolerant, 30-50 feet tall, and resilient to climate change. Most trees are drought tolerant once established, though with warmer summers they often need supplemental water. Looking forward for a tree that can handle the effects of climate change is good, but since little is yet known about how it may affect urban trees on the micro scale, it is best to simply avoid planting trees that are already at the southern edge of their range.

Fast growth in a tree is something many people want, but there is a caution – a fast-growing tree usually also has weak wood compared to one that grows slowly, and can drop branches, and sometimes has a shorter lifespan, too.

An excellent place to start in choosing a tree is Portland Trees, the curated list of good urban trees that the City of Portland publishes. This link is to the list of trees that are recommended for large spaces without overhead power lines.

Trees from this list that you might consider are ginkgo, hackberry, sassafras, yellowwood, and zelkova. Catalpa is especially wide-spreading and fast growing, but does have fairly weak wood, and seed pods that can be messy, if that is a concern.

Some additional things to think about as you choose your tree are what season of interest you would like – flowers, fall color, etc. – and giving it enough space to grow to its full size without radical pruning.

When you plant it, please make sure to remove ALL burlap, wire, or other containment material from the root ball. If the roots are crowded, take the time to unwind and loosen them. If there are girdling roots, cut them out. Then plant the tree so the root flare (where the trunk widens into the roots) is a couple of inches above ground level. If you do these things your tree will avoid the fate of many badly planted urban trees, an early death caused by poor planting practices. – Signe Danler, OSU Extension horticulturist

Clover looking-plant, possibly oxalis. OSU Extension Service

Control wood sorrel by hand weeding and mulching

Q: I have been gardening at my home for three years, and have experienced a spreading infestation of a clover-looking plant. It is now covering my vegetable garden and spreading to other areas of the property. Can you help identify this, and advise on how to control it? I have been pulling it out nonstop, but the small seeds beneath the root are nearly impossible to remove, and they multiply. – Multnomah County

A: This appears to be oxalis. An article from Wisconsin Master Gardener Program discusses control.

“Common yellow wood sorrel is best controlled by hand weeding and mulching. It pulls up quite easily and does not resprout from roots left behind. Try to remove plants before seed pods develop – although this may be difficult as it is good at hiding among other plants, producing seeds before it is ever noticed. Most herbicides are not very effective on Oxalis species. Pre-emergence herbicides, which prevent germination, are the most useful.” – Shawn Van Doren, OSU Extension Master Gardener

More advice from Master Gardeners:

How and when to deadhead flowering shrubs

What’s causing blisters on currant leaves, and how to get rid of them

Is this plant poisonous? How often to water big evergreen trees?

How do you know it’s time to turn on the sprinklers? Ask an expert

Will grass grow in this soggy spot?

How to attract hummingbirds to your garden

When ambrosia beetles move in, how to eradicate horsetail

How Oregon gardeners can help mason bees thrive

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Straw bale gardening is also called bale gardening or mistakenly, hay bale gardening. Whatever you call it, it’s a great way to grow herbs and vegetables. It’s economical, easier on your back, and is great for people with mobility issues. Consider the pros and cons to determine if straw bale gardening is right for you.

If you’re thinking about trying it, follow these tips:

  • Don’t make a hay bale garden. Use straw. Make sure you get straw bales, not hay bales. This is key because hay bales will have even more weeds than straw bales.
  • If you can, put your straw bale garden near a water source. Any garden takes a fair amount of water and it’s helpful to be right near a hose.
  • Try solarizing your bales. If you solarize your bales by wrapping them in black plastic for several weeks before you plant them, you can get rid of most weed and sprouting problems. Take off the plastic before you prep your bales.
  • Be careful of tall plants. By the end of the season, taller plants can cause the bales to decompose and the plants to tilt. You can either grow smaller varieties of tall plants like tomatoes or keep them pruned and have them grow on wider, rather than taller trellises.
  • Make sure you actually have full-sun.
  • Don’t place your bale where water pools. You don’t want your bales sitting in water or your plants will drown.

Equipment and Supplies

You will need these for making a straw bale garden:

  • Straw Bales
  • Fertilizer
  • Potting soil
  • Compost
  • Trowel
  • Seedlings
  • Optional: wire fence

Straw Bale Gardening

Home > Raised bed gardens > Strawbale gardens

Limited space? No soil? Toxic or rocky ground? Spare corner? Edge of drive or yard? Here’s bales of advice for you on the straw bale gardening way.

TIP: Kids just LOVE to climb on these irresistible messy playthings, so if feasible, get an extra 1 or 3 bales and put them out of the garden just for fun.

Straw or hay bale gardening is not to be confused with using loose straw in your garden for mulch or compost.

What we’re talking about here is the whole bale, as it stands, tied with twine and used for planting plants on the top. For how to use loose straw, see No Dig Materials

A note about water. . .

Don’t do straw bale gardening because it sounds like fun. It’s not meant to be a gimmicky way to grow plants; it’s a means to use if circumstances make it difficult to grow plants in soil.

It may be that your straw bale garden the first season will be the beginnings of a new garden the following season… then you can build up your growing levels with compost, soil or lasagna layers later.

Unless you have plenty of natural rainfall, handy waste water, or you recycle or pump the runoff from watering your bales, then straw bale gardening is NOT water wise.

Especially good for those with dicky backs, straw bale gardening needs only someone to lug the jolly bales into place and with a minimum of effort you’ll have a marvel of bounty and beauty indeed.

We can learn from others here. There are timely tips on straw bale gardening that will save you angst. Here’s the hoedown:

The bale is the garden. Put it on your balcony or path if you want to.

Use one or umpteen bales as you need and in any pattern. Because straw bale gardening is raised, it’s easy to work with, so make sure you allow for handy access.

Which straw to use for straw bale gardening?

The best straw bales for a garden are wheat, oats, rye or barley straw. These consist of stalks left from harvesting grain; they have been through a combine harvester and had the seeds threshed from them, leaving none or very few left.

Hay bales for gardening are less popular as they have the whole stalk and seed heads with mucho seeds. They also often have other weeds and grass seeds to cause trouble. Use what you can get locally — it may even be lucerne, pea straw, vetch or alfalfa bales.

Corn and linseed (flax) bales are not so good as they are very coarse, and linseed straw takes a long time to decompose due to the oil residue left on the stalks.

It’s simple to pull out the odd wayward grain seeds with straw bale gardening, but hay bales have tendency to grow the likes of a small lawn! Thus you may need to occasionally give them a haircut rather than try and pull the tenacious new sprouts out.

Hay bale gardening has one up on straw in that it is a nice warm and rich environment with enough nitrogen to continually supply growing plants. Straw is mostly carbon and so nitrogen must be added for plant growth (see further below).

Where to buy straw bales for garden?

Most garden supply centres and nurseries sell straw bales. The big nursery centres often have free trailer use to cart your bales home if you have a towbar and if you need more than one bale that won’t go in your car.

Farmers are your next bet if you live in the country.

Also try animal breeding places and stables as they often buy straw bales in bulk for bedding and may sell you the odd one.

With the popularity of straw bale house building, it’s worthwhile asking at builder’s suppliers for bales for your garden.

Local councils, public road or transport control organisations are also worth a try for buying straw bales for gardening, as they sometimes use bales to buffer traffic and divert rubble from drains etc. If they won’t part with one to you, they should be able to give you a supplier’s contact.

How much do straw bales cost?

Straw bales costs vary from country to country, but your cheapest option is usually going to a farm, where you could be lucky at US$1.per bale. Otherwise prices range from US$2 to $15 per bale. Still good value for an instant little garden!

Arranging your strawbale garden

Put each bale in the exact place, because it’s hard to even nudge these monsters once you’ve got your little straw bale garden factory in full swing.

Just like a normal vegetable garden, your straw bale plants need sun, 4-8 hours if possible, depending on your choice of plants. Leafy greens and some herbs need slightly less sun than vines and tomatoes for example.

If you have a sunny rot-proof wall, you can put your bales against it and grow tomatoes, cucumber or similar up the wall.

A very popular idea for hay bales and straw bales is to make a raised garden bed with the bales as the edge. This limits excessive evaporation from both the garden in the middle and one side of the bale.

If you are starting a no-dig garden and don’t have enough filling to begin with before your compost, kitchen scraps, grass clippings, leaves, mulch or whatever you have, are not ready, then a cheap way for the first year is to buy bales and with a little bit of compost on the top, and a few other ingredients mentioned here, you can get your garden going the first year.

Deter those darn diggin’ moles, gophers, rats or whatever thieves populate your area, by first laying down galvanized wire bird netting before laying your bales down.

Lay the bales lengthwise to make planting easy by just parting the pads of straw. There are two opinions on which side to lay straw bales…

  1. Make sure the string is running around each bale and not on the side touching the ground in case it’s degradable twine such as sisal. The straw is now vertical, cut ends up.

    This means when you water much of it will go straight through the bale and wash away.

  2. Laying your bale or bales with the twine touching the ground (as long as it’s plastic or wire twine of course), means that the straw stalks are horizontal and water will more likely soak in and not flow through the bale and be wasted.

    This method of laying down your straw bale lends itself to using a soaker hose better than the vertical way. If using a soaker hose, which is a marvellous idea by the way, lay it under the twine to stay in place. The steady slow drips of water will find it hard to escape through channels, unlike the vertical method whereby the water channels downwards.

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Starting your straw bale garden

If you start with aged bales of about 6 months or more, they may already have been through their initial weathering and starting to decompose slightly inside. If they have been wet at all they almost certainly would have lost their cool and done their cooking.

If not and they are still new or in pristine condition, they need to do a bit of stewing before it’s safe to plant in them.

Thoroughly soak with water and add more water so they don’t dry out at all for the next 5 days whilst the temperature rises and cooks them inside. Slowly they will cool over the next 1-2 weeks and then be ready for planting.

You can plant when the bales are still warm which promotes root growth. The bales won’t be composting much inside yet, that takes months, but you don’t want that initial hot cooking of your plants.

Some sneaky people speed up the process of producing microbes and rot by following a 10-day pre-treatment regime of water and ammonium nitrate on the top of each bale. But, hey, organic gardeners are a patient lot aren’t we, so let’s follow nature?

Just so you know, the chemical ammonium nitrate (AN) acts as a catalyst. It is high in nitrogen and encourages and feeds microbes which rot the straw so plants can grow. You may be questioned when buying it due to security reasons, especially if you look like a bomb maker rather than a gardener… 🙁

More natural ways that help speed up that all important burn out, are to spread on a high nitrogen organic fertiliser just before the start of your watering process and watered in each day as detailed above.

Remember though that this fertilizing along with the initial soaking will mean that the bales will continue to cook longer and you will have to wait before planting. It ultimately provides a better base and growing conditions and saves you having to be so worried about getting nutrients to your plants as they start growing.

Some materials to use are:

  • A 3cm (1″) layer of fresh chicken manure—double that if aged chicken manure, or
  • Other suitable manures such as turkey or rabbit—5cm (2″) layer, or
  • A covering layer of 2/3 bone meal to 1/3 blood meal, or
  • A very thick layer of milder stuff such as spent coffee grounds.

Also to balance the growing medium, add potassium by sprinkling on a handful of sulphate of potash.

Especially great is urine to add (sneak out at dawn for a… 🙂

Watering a Straw Bale Garden

Keep watered. That’s going to be your biggest task — twice a day if necessary. Straw bale gardening uses more water than a normal garden, so set up a system now. It may be that swilling out the teapot on it each day is enough in your area, or you may need to keep the hose handy.

A soaker hose system set in place is perfect.

A DIY drip feed is another option for when you can’t be there over a hot period. For a DIY, take a large plastic bottle such as soft drink or milk container. Take out thin lining from inside cap and make a tiny hole in cap with a hot needle, pointy scissors or smallest drill bit. Now pierce the thin cap lining separately with 5-6 tiny pin-prick holes and put back inside lid, and put lid back on bottle.

Fill bottle with water and place, cap end down into soil near a plant. Put a few stones in first so the hole doesn’t get clogged up with dirt.

Depending on size of holes the water should slowly drip out over 1-6 days. You can also add diluted fertilizer, such as seaweed or compost tea to this bottle.

Another bright idea is to poke some water soaked remnants of old cloth, (babies’ nappies/diapers to some, or towelling are ideal) down the bottom of the space you plant each plant in before you put soil in. These will eventually rot along with the straw.

If you have room for more than one bale, group them side by side to minimize evaporation from the sides. You should still be able to reach and tend to the plants this way.

Anything you can put on the exposed sides of your straw bales will help conserve water and stop them drying out in the sun. Low bushes or herbs, planks or bricks and so on will work. I don’t believe in buying new plastic, but if you have some already, and don’t mind the unnatural look in your garden, then put that around the sides.

Keep the twine there to hold it all in place for as long as possible, and if it does rot, bang some stakes in at both ends. If your straw bale is on a balcony or concrete, you may need to chock up the ends with something heavyish, like rocks, bricks, boxes or plant containers.

Straw bale gardening — plants to plant

Annuals of vegetables, herbs or flowers will love it. Remember your bales will be history in 1-2 years. Young plants can go straight in. Pull apart or use a trowel and depending on the state of the straw, put a handful of compost soil in too, then let the straw go back into place.

Seeds can be planted on top if you put a good 5cm (2″) layer of compost soil there first.

Top heavies like corn and okra, are not so good, unless you grow dwarf varieties. With straw bale gardening it’s hard to put solid stakes in so big tomato plants are out, although they will happily dangle over the edge.

Each bale should take…

  • Up to half a dozen cucumbers, trailing down, or
  • Squash, zucchini, melons — maybe 3 plants, or
  • A couple of tomato plants per bale with one or two herbs and leafy veggies in between, or
  • Four pepper plants will fit, or
  • 12-15 bean or pea plants, or
  • A mix of the above or any other plants you like.

There’s no limit and why not poke in around the side some flower annuals for colour and companion if you like.

Once a week or more often when your plants are in full growth water in a liquid organic feed, such as compost tea or fish emulsion. Tip some worms on top if you want to use your bales only one season.

If you are using hay bales instead of strawbales, this liquid feed can be spaced much further apart because hay bales have a more nutrient dense environment.

You’ll get one good season out of a hay bale garden, and usually two with a straw bale, albeit with a bit of sag. It makes for great compost or mulch when finished with.

One of the neatest ideas ever, it’s not too late for you to give straw bale gardening or hay bale gardening a go somewhere around your place.

Here are some interesting questions and answers from our forums:
* Pros and cons on the strawbale growing method
* Growing challenges with strawbales

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Hay bales provide an excellent venue for growing produce, even (especially!) for beginning gardeners.

Horticulturist Joel Karsten began growing bumper crops in straw bales after college. Today, this bestselling author’s method has proven successful in nearly every global environment. He even teaches people in impoverished nations how to grow their own produce in straw.

Karsten’s bale technique can help gardeners raise tantalizing tomatoes earlier than others who follow a more conventional path. These easily accessible, affordable, and self-contained straw planters are conducive to growing hearty plants nearly anywhere.

Straw success

Growing up on a farm in Minnesota, Karsten noticed plants that germinated in straw bales grew better and stronger. “I always thought, why don’t people just grow things in there?” Karsten says.

When the soil surrounding his first house in urban Minnesota wasn’t good for growing, he experimented with planting in straw bales. His garden thrived. Word got out about his successful, out-of-the-box agricultural innovation. Demand for more information drove him to write a book, while a Facebook page and website prompted interest from around the globe.

His method proved successful in the most unlikely of places, from Nordic countries and the deserts of Egypt, to right here in the Sierra Nevada. Published in 2013, Straw Bale Gardens is now printed in more than 20 languages, and Karsten states that it’s the top-selling gardening book on the planet.

He says straw-bale gardening can be done practically anywhere, even in small spaces, as long as the bales are stable. Overwatering is difficult, as the bales are natural filters, but bound bales also retain moisture well in dry climates. They generate their own warmth when properly prepped, allowing for longer growing seasons and more plant production.

Since garden weeds largely come from seeds existing in ground soil or manure, the need to weed is dramatically lessened with straw bales.

It’s also an inexpensive, less physically taxing way to garden. Bales usually cost $15 or less each, and this method requires only water, seeds or seedlings, fertilizer, and some potting soil. Raised off the ground and lighter than soil, bales also are easier to tend and transport.

Prepping for produce

To get started, pick up some inexpensive straw bales at a local livestock store or gardening center. Before planting in them, bales must go through a conditioning process for about two weeks. In general, you need a 10-hour-long day to start straw bale gardens.

Sprinkle fertilizer on the top of bales, then add a gallon of water to kick off the conditioning. Organic blood meal is preferred, with alfalfa- or soy-based fertilizer recommended instead for vegans. Chemical, aka refined, fertilizers work as well. Just make sure whatever you use doesn’t contain any herbicides.

On day one of the conditioning process, Karsten tops bales with two cups of organic — or half a cup of refined — fertilizer; he then repeats that on days three and five. Then on days seven and nine, he cuts the fertilizer amount in half. After every treatment, one gallon of water is poured over the top, allowing the nutrients to trickle through the bale. Avoid overwatering, which flushes nutrients from the straw.

Bales will begin to warm internally to about 150 degrees as the bacterial colonization encouraged through fertilization transpires.

On day 10, Karsten adds one cup of fertilizer with equal — or closely balanced — parts nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium, again adding water. He then allows the process to complete for about two days, or until the bale is tolerable to reach into and touch. Get a compost thermometer at your local nursery to ensure you’ve reached 90 to 100 degrees, the temperature range necessary to begin planting, but your hand also is a good gauge.

Once properly conditioned, bales naturally generate heat. Their internal warmth protects roots from cold, resulting in strong, hardy root systems, even in chillier climates. After two years of use, bales can be composted.

Pot-free planting

Once conditioned, add a thin layer of fresh, soil-free potting mix, such as peat moss, to bale tops, then plant either seeds or seedlings. Karsten suggests topping the bales with a drip-irrigation system or a less pricey soaker hose to keep them well hydrated and disease-free. But forego dousing the foliage; wet leaves are Petri dishes for disease and fungus.

For curious novices, Pawl Hollis of Rail City Garden Center in Sparks, Nevada, suggests they “keep it small and simple. It’s so simple to be successful.”

In his years of experience, he has enjoyed great success with growing vining plants such as cucumbers and squash; rooting vegetables including carrots, beets, and sweet potatoes; and upright plants such as tomatoes and peppers. Experiment, though, as these self-contained gardens welcome many other plants and herbs, too.

For cold snaps, Hollis recommends getting and using a frost cloth versus covering plants with plastic, which he says can cause more freezing. Plant uprights and vining plants no earlier than March, depending on your climate, and have foliage protection from the cold available, as these plants are frost intolerant.

The number of plants per bale depends on both bale and plant size. Grow more in a single bale by staggering plants of differing heights. For instance, taller plants such as tomatoes can benefit shade-loving growth below, such as basil, and carrots can grow within the same straw.

Understand that hybrid plants will have far larger foliage structures once grown than heirloom varietals, so think ahead and plant accordingly.

Simplify your gardening and surprise your neighbors this season with a straw-borne harvest. You may never go back to soil again.

For details about straw-bale gardening from horticulturist Joel Karsten or to purchase Straw Bale Gardens or any of his other books, visit Strawbalegardens.com.

*This gardening story comes to us from Edible Reno-Tahoe.

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Straw Bale Gardens Complete – by Joel Karsten (Paperback)

Take your straw bale gardening to the next level–in more places, with new products, and even sometimes skipping the straw entirely–with Straw Bale Gardens Complete.

The reception and enthusiasm for straw bale gardening, introduced in 2013, has proved revolutionary in vegetable growing. Why? Because the bold promises in the book are kept: grow vegetables anywhere, earlier in the year, with no weeding. Gardeners everywhere are excited. Straw bale gardening works!
In just the short amount of time that has passed, the gardening world and Joel Karsten himself have learned even more about how to apply this method in just about any environment: on a city balcony, in a rocky outpost, in a desert, and even in the tundra of Alaska.

Straw Bale Gardens Complete contains all of the original information that has set the gardening world on fire. But it also goes much deeper, with nearly 50 pages of all-new advice and photos on subjects such as growing in a tight urban setting, making your straw bale garden completely organic, and using new fertilizers and conditioning products. There is even information on using straw bale techniques to grow veggies in other organic media for anyone who has a hard time finding straw.

Fans of Straw Bale Gardens will not want to miss adding Straw Bale Gardens Complete to their gardening library. There is, literally, nothing else like it!

Several Master Gardeners took on the challenge of growing Straw Bale Gardens following University recommendations. Dan’s Feed Bin donated several straw bales for the project and Master Gardener’s Paul Riordan, Dan Pickles, Ruth and John Ludwig, Pam Hanson and Mary Stone-McConnell tackled the job. Here are their thoughts, pictures and even a video of one of the projects. Great work all!

Click on any photo to view the slideshow.

Straw Bale Garden Instructions:

To plan your own straw bale garden for next year, check out these links:

From the Portage County Master Gardener Association: Straw-Bale-Gardening

Washington State University: WSU Straw Bale Garden

Extension Service – West Virginia University: Straw Bale Gardening UWV

Ruth and John Ludwig

Upon arriving back at the garden site, John and I unloaded and positioned the bales in an E-shaped formation with the backbone of the shape running in a north-south orientation and the arms running in an east-west orientation. We decided this shape would maximize space utilization and sun exposure while still providing enough room to move freely between the bales for planting, watering, tending, and harvesting the vegetables.

Video of the Ludwig’s Straw Bale Garden: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7k4Q_YbXlIg

My Straw Bale Gardening Experience So Far – Ruth Ludwig

Pam Hanson

I feel this method of growing things is too labor intensive. It requires a lot of extra work. The nice thing was it didn’t get many weeds! I am glad I have had the opportunity to do it, but I have a large enough garden space to work with so will probably never do it again. Thank you for the opportunity to be a part of this program.

Straw Bale Garden – Pam Hanson

Cheryl Shockley

What did you plant? All gourds, zucchini, pumpkin, squash etc., tomatoes, green peppers, jalepeno peppers. Did you like it? What was good ? What was bad? Expense? Love it, cheap, no weeding, nothing bad, will try more bales and try some seeds in April with plastic covering like a tent over it.

Cheryl Shockley’s Straw Bale Garden Results


Mary Stone-McConnell

What pest(s) most concerned you and how did you control? (include disease, weed, insect or other animals) Squirrels and gophers were the main pests. My cat was the control. When the branches reached the ground, I had some damage from slug but was minor. Trimming the branches did the trick.

Straw Bale Results – Mary Stone-McConnell

Mary’s Indigenous Gardens

Paul Riordan

Veggies include zucchini, cucumber, Jack O’Lantern/pie pumpkins, yellow squash, early girl/roma/cherry tomato, basil, oregano, corn, lettuce, beets, broccoli, cauliflower.

Paul’s Straw Bale Gardening Results

Best Plants to Grow in Straw Bales

The great thing about straw bale gardening is that you can grow just about anything in a bale that you can in the ground; however, some plants grow better in bales than others. In this chapter, you’ll learn which vegetables and fruiting plants thrive best in straw bale “soil” and how many of each you can grow per bale.

Plants that don’t do well in straw

The list of straw-wary plants is pretty slim, so let’s start with the few that should be avoided.

Top-heavy plants like standard corn are too tall and heavy—a straw bale may break apart under their weight, or it may topple over. If you do want to grow corn, choose a dwarf variety instead. As the bales naturally raise the plants off the ground by a foot or two, top-heavy plants are at risk of being blown over by the wind (although good supports should help to avoid this).

Photo by Alternative Heat

Running plants, or plants that spread by growing “offshoots” with their own roots, can be hard to manage in a straw bale your first time around. Save these for your second season.

How to grow tomatoes in straw bales

As a relatively costly fruit to buy, warmth-loving tomatoes are a popular choice with home gardeners everywhere. Tomatoes are a member of the nightshade family and are easy to grow in straw bales. Growing them in straw is relatively similar to growing them in earth.

Tomatoes are fantastic straw bale candidates and come in nearly endless varieties. Photo by knitsteel

Tomatoes need full sun and will need support unless you are growing a bushy or tumbling variety with small fruits.

Planting them directly into the bales

Providing it’s warm enough, you should have no problem getting your tomato seeds to germinate and grow if you prefer to plant them directly into the bales. Plant the seeds at the depth specified on the pack, or around a quarter of an inch. However, tomato seeds do need a temperature range of 70° to 80°F (21° to 27°C) to germinate so you may prefer to start them off in pots in the house.

Row of straw bale tomato plants. Photo by Laura Hamilton

Planting from pots

If you are planting young plants from pots, ensure you make a hole deep enough to get all of the roots and an inch or two of the stem into the bale. This is because tomatoes have tiny hairs on their stems, called adventitious roots, which can develop into roots if they come into contact with a growing medium. The result for you is tomato plants with a stronger root system, which can only be good.

Best tomato varieties for straw bale gardening

Start small with the cherry tomato varieties (they weigh less) and, if all goes well, install stronger supports for some beefsteak or brandywine tomatoes for your second season.

Some straw-friendly varieties include:

  1. Sungolds (they’re easy to grow and taste extra-sweet, too!) Photo by Selena N. B. H.
  2. Black cherries (for real tomato flavor in a small package) Photo by Ed Castillo
  3. Carmellos and stupices: they’re great mid-sized varieties that won’t overwhelm your bales.
    Photo by nociveglia

Root vegetables and tubers

Root vegetables and tubers are two great, low-maintenance options for straw bale gardening. They strive in straw bales because their roots can spread more easily than in dirt and their stems have a much easier time making it to the surface to grow into a plant. Root vegetables of all kinds grow best in loose or tilled soil that retains moisture but drains easily—that’s the very definition of straw.

Reinforce your root veggie bales

Make sure you use reinforcements around the bales (like containers or fencing) as the root vegetables’ growth may weaken the bales over time. Wire fencing, wooden frames, and large containers work perfectly.

Raised beds provide extra support for your bales. Photo by knitsteel (cropped)

How to grow potatoes in straw bales

Potatoes, the world’s most well-known tubers, are perfectly suited to straw bale gardening. The huge advantage of growing potatoes in a straw bale has to do with depth. Because the baby potatoes form on the stem, you would normally need to build soil up around them in order to keep them underground. If you plant the potatoes too deep in soil to begin with, the stem may struggle to reach the surface and grow into a plant.

Skip the scrubbing by growing your potatoes in straw. Photo by J.H. Fearless

Keep them covered

With straw bale gardening, you can avoid this problem because the stems can grow more easily up through the straw. Plant your seed potatoes 4-6 inches deep and make sure they are well covered with straw to avoid any light reaching the tubers, as this can turn them green. Keep covering the stems as they emerge, ensuring that only 1 inch is showing at any time.

If that sounds too much like hard work, you can also plant the potatoes at a depth of 16-18 inches and leave them to it.

Potatoes growing in straw bales without reinforcements. Photo by Terri Bateman

Early-maturing varieties such as Yukon Gold or Red Pontiac grow well in straw. Your crop will need a lot less cleaning than potatoes grown in soil – just wipe off the damp straw and you are ready.

Carrots

Photo by woodleywonderworks
Carrots, like potatoes, are easy to grow in straw. They come in many colorful varieties, from classic orange to white, yellow, and purple. Plant them mid-spring and give them 2-3 months of growing time before harvesting. Because carrots are easily bruised, it’s better to pick them with your hands and skip any metal tools. To make this easier, wet the bale shortly before harvest and the carrots will slip free much quicker.

Turnips and radishes

The hardy turnip and radish grow well in full sun and can take as little as 30 days to be ready for harvest. Turnips can be grown well into October in most areas, so they’re a perfect crop to keep fresh food on the table as fall’s chill sets in. Radishes in particular need full-sun areas because, if a nearby plant blocks even some of its sun, the plant will use all its energy to produce leaves.

Fruiting plants

Fruiting plants are excellent candidates for a straw bale garden. Just remember that, if it hangs or climbs, it needs a support. For your first year, avoid extremely tall varieties to avoid the challenge of a weakening bale. Try out the plants below for a great start to your first straw bale season.

Squash:

Yellow squash, zucchini, and other small summer squash varieties are solid (and colorful) options. Make sure you stake them if you don’t want them growing into your walkways. Squash plants need a lot of nourishment to thrive, so condition these bales thoroughly with compost or other nutrient sources before planting.

Squash will flourish in straw bale gardens. Photo by .matter.

Strawberries:

Put their bale in a sunny spot and plant them in the spring, and you’ll have a sweet hay-bale treat waiting for you in a few weeks. Keep in mind that they need eight hours of full sun every day to flourish. For best results in a straw bale, choose a variety that doesn’t produce runners; or, if your plant does, clip back the runners so the original plant can produce more fruit.

Photo by Fabian

Other good options:

Eggplants, peppers, and other nightshades are great choices with a variety of culinary uses. Just be sure to give them stakes or allow them ample room to grow. Eggplants in particular are happiest when they have about three and a half months to fully fruit, so plan accordingly.

Photo by Jim, the Photographer

Leafy greens

Greens, like root veggies, are easy to grow and perfectly suited to straw bale gardens. Try the classic and versatile greens below to make the most of your growing season.

Lettuce

Lettuce is the classic salad green and can be grown in both the spring and fall, but stagger your plantings—it grows quickly. For uninterrupted harvests, plant new lettuce seeds every two weeks. Keep in mind that, if you reuse the bales, the straw may become too loose after 3-4 plantings and you’ll need to replace them. Lettuce grows best with a constant supply of compost and nitrogen-heavy fertilizers, so add some to the bale 2-3 weeks after each planting.

Photo by Dwight Sipler

Spinach, kale, and chard

They’re easy to grow and require minimal maintenance. All three can grow well into the chilly months for year-round nourishment. They’re perfect for salad, sautees, and more, and really help you make the most of your straw bale space. Plant spinach and kale in the early spring and then again in the fall; they tend to lose their delicious flavor when summer heat sets in. Chard is the most versatile of the three: a spring planting will keep you busy harvesting until first frost.

Leafy greens are easy to please in a straw bale. Photo by Jason Bachman

Herbs

Growing your own flavoring and garnish makes the gardening experience all the more fulfilling, and herbs are just as simple to plant and harvest as leafy greens.

Basil

Basil can be used to season a variety of dishes—particularly of the Italian variety—but it shouldn’t be planted until after the last frost of the season. It grows best in full sunlight, and is ready to harvest once the plant starts growing buds.

Basil is the perfect garnish for your garden. Photo by Hirotomo Oi

Cilantro

Cilantro (coriander) grows fairly quickly and can usually be harvested four weeks after sowing its seeds. Like most herbs, it will grow into a healthier plant in full sunlight.

Photo by Wheeler Cowperthwaite

Parsley

Parsley is grown as a spring and summer crop in most regions. The more sun it has, the happier (and more flavorful) it’ll be.

Cruciferous vegetables

Like herbs, cruciferous vegetables are easy growers with a wide array of applications. They usually produce well into the fall and winter to help you extend your growing season.

Cauliflower and broccoli

Cauliflower and broccoli are great in-between-season crops because they can be harvested until at least the start of winter. Plant them as early as late-spring, give them access to full sun, and keep their bales moist, and you’ll have both delicious and versatile veggies into the winter. These plants grow best when their bales are treated with plenty of nitrogen-rich fertilizer.

Photo by Ting Chen

Cabbage

Cabbage is best harvested in late fall, and looks stunning when its leaves burst from a straw bale. Be sure to plant cabbage where it can get at least six hours of full sun each day. Like cauliflower and broccoli, it does best in bales treated with nitrogen-rich fertilizers.

Colorful cabbages are a great candidate. Photo by ccharmon

How many plants should you plant per bale?

The plants you choose will determine how many you can grow in each bale. The seed packet should give you a guide to spacing but, if in doubt, always allow more space than you’d expect when you look at the baby plants, and you can’t go wrong.

You can also grow a mixture of plants within each bale, perhaps a salad mix of tomato, cucumber and lettuce.

Below is a rough guide but do check the seed packet for more details.

Two plants Three plants Four plants Five plants +
Corn (dwarf) Squash

Melon

Okra

Tomato

Potato

Eggplant Zucchini Chard

Spinach

Pepper Cucumber Cabbage Garlic Beet Carrot

Cauliflower

Pea Bean Radish

Annual flowers

Herbs

Lettuce

Spinach

Companion planting – Attracting bees and pest-eaters

In addition to the favorite fruits and veggies that fill your bales, it’s also a good idea to plant some annual seeds into the sides of the bale. Marigolds, nasturtiums, dwarf cornflowers, and borage are all great choices. Not only will they look lovely, but they will also attract pollinators and pest-devouring insects such as lacewings.

Photo by Shane Byrd

Alternatively, you could plant perennial herbs such as chives (also a favorite of bees) or even strawberries which are, of course, grown above a scattering of straw to avoid rotting on the damp earth. Remember to remove perennial plants towards the end of the bale’s life, to avoid them turning into compost too.

Ready to start planting

Now that you’ve picked your plants, it’s time to start planting. In the final chapter, you’ll learn how to plant in a straw bale garden, how to keep your plants healthy as they grow, and what to do when the fruits of your labor are ready for harvest.

Have you heard of the term ‘straw bale gardening?’ It’s a fantastic gardening method where you get the straw bale to begin to compost.

From there, you plant your vegetables within the straw bale, and because they are growing in compost, the plants have a high success rate.

It’s also an easier method for growing a small garden instead of having a garden in the ground. These are all reasons why people are trying this idea.

However, there are some plants which grow better in a straw bale than others. I want to discuss with you which plants you should intend to grow in your straw bales and which won’t be the best fit for this type of gardening.

Here is what you need to know:

Worst Plants for Straw Bale Gardens

There is only one plant which is a definite no-no when planting a straw bale garden – regular sized corn.

The problem with growing corn in a straw bale garden is it will get too tall which will lead to either the corn breaking off from lack of support, or it destroying the straw bale under the weight of the plant.

Also, your corn is more prone to wind damage because of how tall it grows. Add a few more inches to its height by growing it in a straw bale, and you have a real problem on your hands.

To avoid these hassles, it’s a good idea to avoid planting regular sized corn in a straw bale.

However, if you’re new to gardening in a straw bale, it’s advised to avoid plants which sprawl until you become comfortable with this method of cultivation.

The reason to avoid sprawling plants, such as cucumbers, pumpkins, melons, squash, etc., is because they can be hard to contain in a straw bale garden.

You can stake them up to force them to grow vertically rather than horizontally, but the first year or two of straw bale gardening will have the challenge of learning how to grow with less square footage.

Once you get the hang of managing the size of the straw bale, you’ll be ready to branch out into sprawling plants.

Best Plants to Grow in a Straw Bale Garden

There are certain plants which grow better in certain conditions. When starting a new gardening technique, it’s a good idea to know which plants are going to work best using this technique.

Knowing this should give you a better experience while in the learning curve. Here are the plants which grow best in a straw bale garden:

1. Tomatoes

Tomatoes are cheap to grow but expensive to purchase from a store. Therefore, if you can produce tomatoes, you should.

The great news is tomatoes grow well in straw bales. Smaller varieties do particularly well because straw bales have less square footage to work with than the larger types.

However, if you want larger tomato varieties (like the beefsteak tomato), you’ll need to plant less to give the fruits room for proper airflow.

2. Root Vegetables

Root vegetables can be difficult when growing them inground because they need the dirt to be loose enough so they can maneuver and grow deeper into the ground. This isn’t ideal for all soil types.

However, if you grow root vegetables in raised beds or straw bales, the soil is looser and more accessible for the root vegetables to grow in.

It’s important to make sure you reinforce the straw bales with wire or fencing because as the root vegetables push deeper into the straw bale, it could cause the bale to collapse.

3. Potatoes

Potatoes are another vegetable which can be complicated to grow inground. The biggest struggle is keeping the potatoes covered.

With straw bale gardening you don’t have to worry about this. The straw tucks right around the potato plant and keeps everything covered as the plant prefers.

Also, it’s easier for the plant to push down and grow under the top layer of straw because straw bales are more accessible to push through than hard soil.

4. Strawberries

Strawberries love nitrogen. This is why they grow exceptionally well in straw bales. Before the bales are suited for planting, they are hosed down with water and have fertilizer applied to them.

When they are finished composting, you plant in them. This is a great place for plants which need a great deal of nitrogen.

In turn, they grow well. Keep in mind, since everything you plant in a straw bale is an annual if you want excellent strawberry production, choose your varieties wisely and cut new shoots off of the plant to encourage the first shoots to produce more fruit.

5. Eggplant

Eggplants are another excellent option for growing in your straw bale garden. They belong to the nightshade family, and nightshades all seem to do well growing in straw bales.

The plants need space to produce their larger fruits, but they grow vertically instead of sprawl out which makes them an excellent fit for this type of gardening.

6. Peppers

Peppers are another excellent choice for your straw bale gardens. They give a decent harvest, which makes growing them worth your effort.

However, they also grow vertically which makes them an excellent option for a compact growing space such as straw bale gardening.

Plus, there are many varieties of peppers. You could have quite a bit of variety in a smaller gardening location.

7. Lettuce

If you’re worried you won’t get much out of a straw bale garden because straw bales are small, you shouldn’t.

Instead, you should grow plants which will give you variety and also produce high quantities as well. Lettuce is a good option for this.

You can plant lettuce every two weeks to make sure you don’t get flooded all at once. Also, you can grow different varieties of lettuce to keep things interesting in your garden. Plus, lettuce produces a nice harvest too.

8. Spinach

Spinach is a delicious superfood which is expensive to purchase at the grocery store but is very inexpensive to grow yourself.

For this reason, you should consider growing it in your straw bale garden. You don’t need much square footage to have the harvest you desire.

Plus, growing spinach is an easy process which will give you a healthy food for little money.

9. Kale

Kale is another superfood which is excellent for you, and we all should eat more of it in our daily diets. What better way to make sure you eat more of what you need than growing it yourself?

Well, you can with your straw bale garden. Kale is a leafy green meaning it takes up very little room when growing.

This equates to it being perfect for your straw bale garden because you can get a nice harvest in less square footage.

10. Garlic

Growing garlic is easy. It’s great to have what you need at your fingertips at any time because you grow it yourself ahead of time.

With this in mind, garlic is also a smaller crop to grow. It would fit perfectly in your straw bale garden.

Keep in mind; you’ll get a decent harvest as well because plenty of garlic can be grown in a small location.

11. Chard

Chard is another leafy green we all need to take advantage of. What I love about chard is you can also purchase seeds for rainbow chard.

I love eating different colored food because I know I’m taking in more vitamins. You can grow more vitamins in your straw bale garden by merely growing chard.

It doesn’t take up much room but will give you a more significant quantity of produce.

12. Basil

Did you consider making your straw bale garden a herb garden? If not, you need to consider it now.

The reason is basil grows well in straw bales. It has the perfect growing conditions for it, and where basil is compact, it is a great fit for a straw bale.

13. Cilantro

Cilantro is another common herb people like to grow in their herb gardens. If you’re gardening in straw bales, consider adding it to what you’re growing.

Again, straw bales offer the right growing conditions for cilantro, and because it’s a compact plant, it should work out well.

14. Parsley

Parsley is another herb choice for your straw bale garden. Many people like to have their herbs near their kitchen where they can easily access them while cooking.

Well, when growing them in a straw bale, this is still possible. If you love to add parsley to your dishes, plant it in a straw bale garden near your back door.

It should grow well in the bales, as long as it’s getting proper amounts of sunlight, and you’ll still have the convenience of having herbs on hand.

15. Cauliflower

Cauliflower is a plant which likes cooler temperatures. As the weather heats up, cauliflower will begin to die down.

Meaning, you can grow them well in straw bales. They enjoy the growing conditions of the straw. Be sure, however, you plant cauliflower at the right time for your zone.

16. Broccoli

Broccoli is another plant which prefers cooler temperatures when growing. As long as you plant it for the right time with your zone, you should have quite the harvest in your straw bales.

Also, since broccoli grows more compact, you should be able to produce a solid amount for a nice harvest in your straw bales.

17. Cabbage

While we’re talking about plants which prefer to grow in colder temperatures, I should mention cabbage is another good growing option for straw bales.

They love growing in the composted and fertilized straw because it provides the right growing conditions. These conditions are much easier to control in straw bales than in natural in-ground gardens.

Again, as long as you plant cabbage during the right time for your zone, you should have a nice crop.

18. Beans

Beans are nitrogen lovers. They have a hard time growing in in-ground gardens because the ground is naturally deficient in nitrogen.

When you grow beans in straw bales, the conditions are more accessible to monitor and control because of the smaller grow space.

With this in mind, the beans get the desired nutrients and thrive in the conditions. This equates to a more abundant harvest for you.

19. Peas

Peas are another plant which does well in straw bales. You may have to stake them up depending on how high they grow.

However, it takes many pea plants to get a decent harvest for more than eating a few as a snack. If you have enough straw bales, you may have enough to enjoy them.

20. Brussel Sprouts

I love Brussel sprouts. It’s funny to me how they have such a bad reputation, yet they are delicious! If you like Brussel sprouts too, you’ll be glad to know you raise them in straw bales.

Again, these are plants which enjoy cooler temps. Be sure you check your time to plant by the zone in which you live for best results.

21. Beets

Beets are a common root vegetable which you either love or you hate. Regardless, they’re easy to grow in most conditions.

Growing them in straw bales is no exception. If you’d like a hearty crop to enjoy, consider adding beets to what you grow in your straw bale garden.

22. Annual Flowers

Annual flowers are a great addition to your straw bale garden because they take up very little space when growing. They flourish in this type of setting and will make a beautiful garden in no time flat.

Plants to Try Once You Get the Hang of Straw Bale Gardening

There are certain plant varieties you can grow once you have the hang of gardening in a straw bale. They require little extra work but should do fine. Here are the more advanced plants to grow in your straw bales:

1. Pumpkins

Pumpkins sprawl out when they grow. When you feel confident in your straw bale gardening abilities, you could plant them.

However, you’ll only have room for one or two plants per bale (depending upon the size of the pumpkins) because the fruits need room to grow.

2. Squash

Some people say squash grow well in straw bales. Others say the plants are too big for the bales. In my experience, it depends on your personal preference and the size of the bale you’re working with.

However, if you like squash, you can try to grow it and decide if it’s a vegetable you’d like to add to your straw bale garden regularly. Squash yields a great deal of fruit meaning you’ll have a good-sized harvest by only growing one or two plants.

3. Zucchini

Zucchini is related to squash, and the same principles apply. You can try to grow it when you’ve gained experience with raising a straw bale garden.

If you feel like it doesn’t take up too much room for the size of your bale, you’ll probably be happy with the amount of harvest you get from only a few plants.

4. Cucumbers

Finally, cucumbers are another sprawling plant which you can try to include in your straw bale garden after you gain some momentum.

Cucumbers will have to be staked to keep them from taking over walkways and the rest of your garden, but you should get a nice harvest from only growing one plant.

How Many Plants Go in a Straw Bale?

Knowing how many plants you should include in your straw bale garden is essential. As a general rule of thumb, larger plants should only have two of each variety planted in your straw bale.

Meaning, if you’re growing dwarf corn, you’d only want two of these plants in one straw bale. You could plant two of other larger plant varieties until the bale is full.

However, with smaller sized plants, you can add up to five of each smaller plant variety per bale. You could plant five pea or bean plants in one straw bale.

When in doubt, check the packaging for your seeds or plants to see how much space they need between them. You can add additional space between them if you’re worried your plants seem too cramped.

Well, you now know which plants grow well for beginners and those with experience in straw bale gardening. You also know which plants you should avoid and how many of each plant to include in each bale of straw.

But I’d like to hear your thoughts. From your experience, which plants grow best in straw bales and which are the worst?

We’d love to hear from you. Leave us your thoughts in the comment section below.

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