Hello everyone and welcome back! Today, I am talking about our adventures with straw bale gardening.
We have a 100’ by 150’ square area set up with a fence about 4’ tall. Not tall enough to keep out deer but definitely tall enough for all other animals. To solve the deer risk and save money on fencing, we used 10’ t-posts. The bottom 4 feet have cattle panels and chicken wire. To secure the top 4’ we tied one strand of white batten tape about halfway between the top of the fencing and t-posts. This has worked to keep out the deer and saved us hundreds in fencing supplies.
We decided to try straw bale gardening for a few reasons. First, the soil quality in the pasture where we were planting was in poor shape nutritionally. The time it would have taken to get it ready for plants would have taken us too late into the spring planting season. Along those lines of soil prep, our pasture is really rocky! And after several projects not garden related, we had already experienced how long it takes to clear an area of rocks. Again, we would have missed spring planting. We weren’t sure what plants would need shade and rather than putting shade cloth up in bits and pieces all over the garden, we had hoped to simply move the bales that needed it to a small area we shaded. Water is a premium resource here so we wanted to concentrate the water to where the plants were growing. And we had read the best way to get straight carrots where the soil is rocky is to put them in straw bales.
Straw bales for some crops have worked really well. Carrots, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, eggplant, spinach, lettuces, cabbage and broccoli are all doing well. Peppers, garlic and onions, not so good and we will put those in the ground for the fall garden. I may try squash in bales for the fall garden, perhaps it will be easier to pick off the squash bugs which were brutal this year.
Since we do not currently grow straw it was a little pricey to get set up. We paid $5/bale and did 50 bales. Of course we considered planting our own straw to save money, but that might have to wait for year 2. A farmer we met at the market suggested it would cost less to buy the straw than to plant it since we are not set up with that yet and the pasture still needs a lot of soil conditioning.
This is our first season with our straw bale garden and, so far, these are the pros and cons that we have come across. I’m sure there will be more to come for us but I’d love to hear any other pros and cons other bale gardeners have to offer!
- If you live somewhere rocky, you don’t have to dig up rocks.
- Condition of the soil does not matter! So you can get started straight away (after the bales are conditioned).
- Easier to weed than an in-ground garden.
- No bending over to weed and prune!
- The roots of the plants can spread out and grow more easily than in the ground.
- If you need to move the plants into a shaded area, you can just pick up the bales and move them (takes 2 people).
- It is easier to plant because bales are softer than the ground.
- Easy to water and drag the hose around without crushing plants.
- Uses less water: the bales hold water better and longer than the ground.
- Being higher off the ground helps protect the plants from ground animals (voles, rabbits, etc).
- Provides vertical growing space: you can plant in the sides and the top.
- You can grow straight carrots in straw bales!
- Easier to maintain pest-free plants.
- Conditions the soil as the bales break down.
- Needs more feeding than if in the ground because the bales take up a lot of nitrogen. We use blood meal and compost from our kitchen.
- Not everything grows well in a straw bale no matter how much you feed it.
- You have to buy or plant new bales every year, for some every other year.
- Cost of bales (we paid $5 each and started with 50 bales).
We did have a few emergent situations. Because we did not realize how much we needed to feed bales, we almost lost all of our food. So we used miracle grow liquid for a fast infusion of nutrients, namely nitrogen. Then we switched to blood meal. Typically, in the ground plants can be fed with blood meal monthly, we have to do it weekly. Next time we will probably companion plant. For example, instead of planting 2 tomato plants in a bale, we will do 1 in the middle with bean or pea plants (nitrogen fixers) on the sides. But, overall, this has been a positive experience. We will continue to do a bale garden with certain plants and condition the soil in small patches at a time for ground planting.
If you were considering putting up a straw bale garden, I hope this blog has helped you decide. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us and ask away!
Planting calendar: https://www.almanac.com/gardening/planting-calendar
Joe Lamp’l on straw bale gardening: https://joegardener.com/podcast/gardening-in-straw-bales/
Conditioning straw bales: https://hgic.clemson.edu/factsheet/straw-bale-gardening/