Straw bale gardening is an ideal way to create a garden almost anywhere. If you have rocky or clay soil that’s tough to dig, drainage issues, a lack of space – whatever – a straw bale garden can get you going quickly.
Straw bale gardening is essentially using hay or straw bales (the smaller, 50 lb, rectangular ones, not the big, round ones you see in a field) as the base for your garden, rather than digging directly into the soil. You can use as many or few bales as you want, in almost any configuration. Straw bales are biodegradable and give you a way to garden without digging.
A popular way to begin is to place four or six bales in a square or rectangular pattern, with an opening in the middle. Place the bales with the cut side up and the strings facing the sides. Putting landscape fabric down before you place the bales will prevent weeds from growing up through the bales, although most weeds will be “choked” out by the bales.
Remember, once you place the bales and put dirt in them you probably won’t want to move them – they’re heavy – so make sure they are where you want them right from the start. Try and obtain bales that have already been aged for several months. If not, soak them with water and let them age for a week or two before using. This ensures that the inside of the bales are starting to heat up and decompose, creating a beneficial growing environment for your plants.
Check your bales’ temperature each day. You may see the temp reach as high as 45 degrees Celsius or more before settling back to a more ambient temperature. Once you see the temperature start to come down, you can plant inside your bales.
Choose plants once your bales are ready. You can grow almost anything in a hay bale that you can grow in the ground. Avoid plants, however, like indeterminate tomatoes or corn that may be too top-heavy and could pull the bale apart as they grow. Bush varieties of many vegetables are ideal for bales, as are vine growers like squash and cucumbers.
If you have chosen a shape configuration like a rectangle, you can pile potting soil in the middle of the bale shape and plant vegetables or flowers there as well. Alternatively, you can fill the space with more bales and simply continue with the hay bale method.
When planting your plants or seeds, simply separate the hay and remove enough to make a hole that will fit the root ball of your plant. Place the plant in the hole, add some high quality potting soil or manure and then refill the hole with the straw or hay you took out. Water and check on your plants regularly. Plants that are grown in hay or straw bales do drain well, so you may need to water more often, especially if the weather is hot and dry.