Make A Straw-Bale Garden Your Tune Of The Summer!

If you have failed with other types of gardening, maybe it is high time you tried your hand at straw-bale gardening!You can put together a nice secluded straw-bale garden right in your backyard, on your lawn, or on any of your out-of-the-way spots that get at least 6-8 hours of sunrays.

It’s especially suitable for growers who live in colder northern climes with shorter growing seasons — Did you know that straw bales heat up much quicker than soil, stimulating early-season root growth?

Here’s the step-by-step method that can make you a guru for straw bale gardening in your neighborhood:

Step 1: Source your straw

You can take the plunge and purchase your straw-bales right from your local garden center, but if you want to be on the safe side, it is much better to source them directly from a working farm. And if you want to start an organic garden, the person at the garden center will probably not know how the straw was grown!

To help growers connect with farmers, some people have set up a user-generated marketplace, but it’s still small-scale to be useful for most gardeners. So, keep in mind that the straw is easiest to come by at the onset of fall. If you manage to arrange your straw bale garden before the winter hits, you will be done to plant when springtime comes!


Step 2: Set your bales in place

You should lay down landscape fabric to prevent weeds from growing up through the bales before you set up your bales. Arrange the bales side by side in rows, with their cut sides up.

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Note: The strings that bind the bales should run across the sides, not across the planting surface. In this way, the strings will keep the shape of the bales as they start to soften and decompose.


Step 3: ‘Condition’ the bales

About 2 weeks before you plant, you have to get the bales “cooking.” This means you should wet and fertilize bales for roughly 10 days to start composting the inner straw. For the first 6 days, put down 3 cups of organic fertilizer per bale every other day, and water the bales to push the fertilizer down and thoroughly saturate the straw. On the ‘off days,’ you can simply water the bales.

Hint: Days 7 through 9, lay down 1.5 cups of organic fertilizer each day and water. Day 10 put down 3 cups with phosphorus and potassium – bone or fish meal mixed with 50% wood ash can work like a wizard!

To check your bales, stick your finger into your bales – they should be hot and moist. You will notice some “peppering” (black soil-like clumps) that signals the beginning of the composting that will continue throughout the growing season. If mushrooms sprout up, it is time to rejoice — they won’t harm your plants, but it means that the straw is decomposing as it should.


Step 4: Build a trellis and greenhouse in one

What makes the straw-bale gardening a ‘cool activity’ is that it combines the best practices of container gardening with vertical gardening. It is recommended erecting 7-foot-tall posts at the end of each row of bales, and running wire between them at intervals of 10 inches from the tops of the bales.

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As your seeds start sprouting, you can use the bottom wire to drape a plastic tarp to create an instant greenhouse for those chilly early-season nights. So, as the plants begin to grow, the wire works like a vertical trellis, supporting your squashes, tomatoes… and any other vine-vegetables you choose to cultivate.


Step 5: Time is ‘ripe’ for planting

When you are planting seedlings, use your trowel to separate the straw to make a planting hole, and add some sterile planting soil mix to help cover the exposed roots. However, if you are planting seeds, then cover the bales with a one to two-inch layer of planting mix, and sew into this seedbed.

While the seeds slowly germinate, they will grow roots down into the bale itself. And while you are at it, you can also plant some annual flowers into the sides of the bales, or some remedial herbs. Otherwise, you will have some underutilized growing space, and you will miss the chance to make your garden a whole lot lovelier!


Step 6: Suspicious minds: Look! Weeding is out of place!

In case you lay a soaker hose over your bales, you have pretty good eliminated all your work until harvest time. That’s because your “planting medium” doesn’t contain any weed seeds! There’s one caveat, though — if you did not supply your straw from a farmer (guilty as charged, hahh), there is a good chance that your straw (or, even worse, hay that was sold to you as straw!) contains its own seeds.

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Hint: If your bales start to sprout greenery that looks like grass, you can beat back the ‘Chia pet effect’ by washing the sprouts with diluted vinegar. The “incumbent grass” shouldn’t do any real harm to your food plants, but if you mind the look though, use the diluted vinegar.  And even if you don’t use vinegar, the grass will likely die off on itself from the heat produced by the bale’s decomposition.


Step 7: Harvest after the harvest will take place – it has been secured!

When the harvest season ends, the bales will turn soft, saggy and gray — but that’s exactly what you want from them! Because when you pile the straw together, and leave it like that to compost over winter, you will be richer for a ‘mound’ of beautiful compost to fill and feed all your potted plants and flower planters around the house in the upcoming spring season!

Just remember that straw-bale gardening is one of the cheapest methods you can employ to grow and regrow your kitchen staples,