Straw bale gardening uses agricultural straw as a growing medium instead of soil. The practice has enjoyed explosive popularity in the last few years as gardeners worldwide discover its many advantages.
Advantages to straw bale gardening include:
- Affordability – straw bales cost very little when compared to bags of soil.
- Simplicity – a straw bale garden is easy to start and maintain. With this method, you need only the most basic tools to raise a fine crop of vegetables.
- Practicality – decomposing straw bales are easy to convert into compost for use in years to come. Simply replace them with fresh bales after a couple of seasons.
- No need to weed – yes, you heard us right. A straw bale garden is almost 100% weed-free, relieving gardeners from one of their least popular tasks.
Let’s look at how to get started with straw bale gardening.
Remember: Straw, Not Hay
Agricultural bales are made from either hay or straw. Here’s the difference between the two:
- Straw is the stalks left over after grain crops like wheat are harvested. It’s often used for animal bedding, but by itself, its nutritional value is minimal.
- Hay is dried grass or alfalfa that’s used primarily as animal feed. It’s a poor choice for bale gardening because it contains grass seeds that will take root and choke out your vegetables.
The best straw bales are purchased from garden centers or directly from farmers. Ensure the bales are pesticide-free; on rare occasions, poisons are sprayed on wheat crops. To be safe, you should look for straw bales that are certified organic.
Prepping the Bales for Gardening
As straw rots, it releases nutrients to help your plants grow and thrive. To get the best results from your straw bales, begin by jump-starting the decomposition process. A great time to do this is about a month before your last annual frost.
Start by sprinkling your bales with a nitrogen-based fertilizer such as urea. Once it’s spread evenly across the top, break out your garden hose and soak each bale with 3-5 gallons of water. Keep watering until water begins to flow from underneath the bales. Water daily for a week or so to help the fertilizer saturate the straw.
Planting Your Vegetables
Some straw bale gardeners plant their crops directly into the bales themselves. However, for beginners, it’s usually best to cover the top of each bale with a thin layer of topsoil, compost, and all-purpose fertilizer. This provides a stable medium to place the seeds or starter plants.
Straw bales are great for growing almost any vegetable, including tomatoes. Corn is a different story; it’s high stalks can overwhelm the ability of the bale to support them. Plant this popular vegetable in traditional soil gardens instead.
Daily watering is best for ensuring a bountiful harvest from your straw bale garden. But it’s easy to overdo this when using a gardening hose. That’s why experienced gardeners recommend an irrigation hose connected to a timer. This will lead to better results, and also free you from a time-consuming daily chore.
How Long Do Straw Bales Last?
Straw bales typically last for two seasons before the decomposition process makes them unsuitable for supporting vegetables. But this doesn’t mean that you should just throw them away.
A decomposed straw bale is an excellent addition to your compost pile since its high nitrogen content will help break down the pile’s other ingredients. Simply replace the old bales with new ones and prepare for another successful growing season. It’s as simple as that.
What Else Can You Prepare Your Home And Yard For The Season?
While you prepare your straw bales for crops, it’s also a good idea to get the rest of your home and yard cleaned up and ready for the season. Pressure washing the exterior of your home or shed, clearing your gutters, and pressure washing your patios and walkways, and cleaning windows, will make your time outside even more enjoyable. Let the professionals at Squeegee Squad give you a free quote for residential window cleaning, pressure washing, and gutter cleaning needs!
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Time to Start Gardening
You now know enough about straw bale gardening to get started. You’ll find advanced tips in books, videos, or by simply talking to a fellow gardener.
In the meantime, why not prepare your bales for the next growing season? When autumn rolls around, you’ll have a bountiful crop to harvest and enjoy. So good luck and good gardening!