How Straw-Bale Gardening Works

Try this smart and easy way to grow veggies.

Gardeners face all kinds of challenges: poor soil, weeds, space issues and short growing seasons, to name a few. You can eliminate some of them with straw bales, because the bales hold moisture and, as they decompose, they provide a rich medium for veggies.

“The biggest benefit of straw-bale gardening is that the bales heat up as they begin the ‘conditioning’ process, and thus allow earlier planting,” says Joel Karsten, author of Straw Bale Gardens Complete: Breakthrough Vegetable Gardening Method. “The warm root zone means faster, early-season root production and earlier-maturing vegetables.”

Raised bales are easier to reach and work on for those with physical limitations. And they almost eliminate weeding, a benefit many straw-bale gardeners love most. Follow these steps to garden with straw bales:

Pick a Prime Location.

Choose heavy, highly compressed straw (not hay!) bales, directly from a farm if possible. Find a location that gets six to eight hours of sunlight per day. Lay landscape fabric to keep weeds from growing, and arrange the bales cut sides up, with the strings running along the sides.

Condition the Straw.

Two weeks before planting, start “cooking” the bales. Treat them with high-nitrogen fertilizer every other day and water heavily for about two weeks to accelerate
decomposition of the straw inside the bale.

Plant Seedlings or Seeds.

Seedlings can be planted directly in the bales. Just make a hole with the trowel and add a little planting mix to cover the exposed roots. Seeds require a bed of potting soil to hold moisture on top of the bale until germination. If you wish, plant annual flowers or herbs into the sides of the bales to make them more attractive.

Protect and Support.

Position tall posts at the end of each row and run wire between them at 10-inch intervals from the top of the bale. When seeds sprout, drape a plastic tarp over the bottom wire to create a greenhouse for chilly nights. As the plants grow, the wires become a vertical trellis, supporting viny veggies.

Harvest and Compost.

When the season is over, the bales turn into usable, healthy compost for next year’s gardens.