STRAW BALE GARDENING
Benefits of Straw Bales
- Can Be Set Up on Pavement
- Compost Fodder at the End
- Raised beds
- The Straw Bales are conditioned over 10-14 days to start composting on the inside.
- The strategy is to introduce microbes to start the composting, then feed them, then maximize their growth.
- Then plants will thrive because they have all the nutrients they need.
How to Set Up
- The straw (not hay!) bales (unsprayed) are placed on their sides so that the binding is on the sides of the bales.
- This also means that the ends of the straw are usually pointed up and so can take in the water.
- If the bales are lined up, run a soaker hose along the top so that watering is easier.
Timeline for Conditioning Straw Bales
- Day 1 – Fertilize and soak the bales. Sprinkle an organic fertilizer with microbes– like compost, compost tea, or Garrett Juice (www.dirtdoctor.com) on the bales – about ¼ c. per bale – then water the bales until they are soaked.
- Day 2 – Soak the bales thoroughly.
- Day 3 – Fertilize and soak the bales. A good fertilizer with lots of micro-organisms (like worm castings) – ½ c. per bale sprinkled on top and watered in well. You can add some Wildroot mycorrhizal fungi inoculant, too.
- Day 4 – Soak the bales thoroughly.
- Day 5 – Sprinkle on each bale about ½ c. of molasses water (1 c. of non-sulphured molasses in a gallon of water) or ½ c. of dry molasses. Water in thoroughly.
- Day 6 – Soak the bales thoroughly.
- Day 7 – You may notice some mushrooms growing and a sweet smell coming from the bales. Either or both of these signs means the bales are “cooking.” They may also be warm to the touch. Once again, then is a fertilizer day – compost, compost tea (about 1 c. per bale) or worm castings on each bale is called for.
- Day 8 – Soak thoroughly.
- Day 9 – Sprinkle some blood meal, bone meal and wood ashes (N,P,K) on the top of the bales if you have these. A good organic fertilizer will also have a good combination of NPK. And water in thoroughly.
- Day 10 – you can begin setting up for planting.
- a soaker hose laid out on top.
- water by hand.
- once the bales are covered with plant growth, watering can be about every week or two – the bales will hold water very well.
- Transplants – pull some of the bale apart and set the transplant in with the soil in the pot included with the roots, then close up the straw around it.
- Seeds – sprinkle some soil in the area for seeding, then plant the seed(s) and moisten.
- Water – from top until plant roots are down into the composted materials
What to Plant?
- Karsten says about anything, including carrots and potatoes.
- My experience – limited success with potatoes, but tomatoes and squash transplanted have both done well, as have peppers.
- Greens and lettuces
- Avoid tall plants, such as corn or okra – they cannot get root purchase for stability
Washington State University Benton County
Extension advises the following spacing:
- Cucumbers – 4-6 plants per bale
- Peppers – 4 plants per bale
- Pumpkins – 2 plants per bale
- Squash – 2-4 plants per bale
- Tomatoes – 2-3 plants per bale
- poles in either end of straw bales, run a wire trellis from one end to the other.
- The wire can support: plastic over the line to create a mini-greenhouse and use the warmth from the composting actions to start plants early
- trellis climbing plants such as beans, cucumbers and tomatoes
- put shade cloth over plants to shelter them from hot summer sun
And in the End?
- A straw bale garden lasts one to two seasons.
- Then it’s COMPOST! Rich, rich, compost!
- Or mulch for a garden bed!
- And you can start over with new bales.
- This method of gardening was based upon
Joel Karsten, Straw Bale Gardens. Cool Springs Press, 2013. ISBN 1591865506