Straw-Bale Gardening Tips

By Cari Klostermann
Courtesy of America’s Horse Daily

The idea of having fresh vegetables on the table, grown from your very own garden, is intriguing to pretty much everyone. However, the idea of spending hours in the dirt, sweating bullets while you pull weeds and break your back tending to your garden is intriguing to very few.

Gardening doesn’t have to be a chore. With a straw-bale garden, the amount of labor needed is significantly reduced, and the raised height makes it much easier on your back and joints. The best part about a straw-bale garden is it can be grown anywhere. If you live in an area that has poor soil quality, this is definitely the garden for you!
Straw-bale gardening is a great alternative for people who:

  • Have poor soil quality
  • Are not interested in weeding and tilling soil
  • Cannot bend over
  • Have limited space for a garden

Straw-bale gardening is just like any other form of container gardening, but the straw bale itself serves as the container. In this form of gardening, there is no dirt involved. If you have an older bale that never made it into your horse’s stall, you are ready to get to planting. But if you have a newer bale that has not been exposed to the elements, it will need to be conditioned.

When preparing straw bales for planting, conditioning takes about two weeks and should be done where you plan on growing your garden. Position the bale so that the long, skinny side with folded straw is facing downward and the long, skinny side with cut straw is facing upward. This is due to the fact that straw is hollow and you want the water to seep into the straw.

When you first begin the process of conditioning your bale, it will become very hot, reaching temperatures up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. It is very important to keep your bale wet throughout the process to prevent spontaneous combustion.

For the first three days, you want to completely drench your bale with water and make sure it stays nice and damp throughout the day.

Over the next six days, you will want to help speed up the decomposition process by adding nitrogen. The easiest way to do this is with store-bought liquid fertilizer. Simply add a capful, or whatever the directions recommend, to some water and pour it onto your bale every day for six days, still making sure your bale stays damp throughout the day.

On the 10th day, you will go back to just watering your bale on a daily basis. When your bale’s internal temperature is the same as the air temperature, you are ready to begin planting.

Ready to Plant
When it comes to selecting what to plant in your bale, you are free to choose anything that you would plant in a normal garden. However, try to stay away from taller plants such as tomatoes and corn, because it can become top heavy and pull your bale a part. We recommend planting some carrots that both you and your horse will enjoy.

Use the same spacing between plants that you would in the ground. Simply remove some of the straw to create a hole, place in your plant, add a little potting soil around it, and fill in the rest of the hole with the straw you removed.

Your bale will protect your plants from weeds and supply them with some nutrients, but it is important to fertilize and water on a regular basis. Never let your bale completely dry out or your plants will suffer.

One of the benefits to straw-bale gardening is that you can use however many bales you want and arrange them as you please. You can also build boxes for your straw bale to sit in so they have a little more height and are easy to move, plus it’ll give a more refined look.