Straw Bale Gardening In Easy Steps

If you live in an urban area, gardening is a constraining activity. Limited space, bad quality soil and mineralized surfaces are all challenges that a beginner gardener would find impossible to cope with. But do not lose hope, producing some homemade vegetables is still possible. Straw bale gardening is a technique that enables everybody to grow vegetables and plants in his own backtard regardless of the quality of the soil. The plantation is actually done on a straw bale which is becomes overtime a great source of nutriments to the plants.

The concept is simple: sow and plant in straw bales for which the decomposition process (transforming into compost) has already began. It offers then an adequate environment for vegetables: 20° constant temperature, drain aerated space, and disposable organic material. Azote and water are primordial to decomposition. Therefore it is necessary to provide for enough hen droppings and humus and to regularly water the straw. In such an environment, bacteria can find excellent conditions to get their job done.

Choose adequate straw

straw

Pay attention. Straw derived from plants grown for their grains has nothing to do with hay, which is no more than some mowed wild dry grass.

We recommend you to go for some unprocessed wheat straw. If not, oat and barley straw can also do the job. Avoid hay as it is too thin and may contain undesirable weeds.

Verify that bale is tight enough. If it’s not, water and fertilizers will simply get through the straw and won’t be of any use. Put the straw bale in the sun with wisps laying vertically. This should enable better water penetration to future roots.

You can get some straw from the farmers nearby you. Of course, they will be more than happy to sell you the old bales they can no more use. In fact, this is excellent for you too : the oldest the straw bale is, the better as decomposition gets easier.

Install the bale and activate straw fermentation

straw bale garden

Photo credit: knitsteel via Visual Hunt / CC BY-SA

Make sure you put the bale in its definitive location. As you water it, it will become so heavy you won’t be able to move it.

Straw bale location vital. Make sure it is north-south oriented. This orientation is very benefic as it allows for maximum lighting in the morning. Sunlight dries early morning dew that accumulates during night. Keep in mind that moisture can cause considerable damage to foliage as it stimulates a considerable number of parasites and diseases.

North-south orientation also guarantees balanced growth of the vegetation. Morning sunlight bathes one side of the foliage while afternoon sunlight bathes the other side. If you choose a east-west orientation, only one side benefits from the sun during all the day which allows it to develop. This won’t be the case for the side that is continuously in the shadow.

The first step to good fermentation is to water well the straw bale. Repeat it until the water penetrates well. This operation can take 3 days.

There are two ways to activate fermentation:

  • Continue watering during one week while adding less and less fertilizers each day.
  • Put the straw bale in a suitable plastic tarp. Water well and put enough fertilizers. Add a layer of compost and confine the straw in the tarp.

In no more than 10 days, the fermentation has already reached its peak and the temperature is now gone down to 20°C. Your plantation support is now ready to receive seeds and plants.

What vegetabes straw bale gardening suits best?

Tomatoes, pepper, eggplant, cucumber, squash do all grow very well in straw bales.

Leafy vegetables can also grown in a straw bale. You can thus go for endive, lettuce and spinach.

Avoid carrots to which this mode of gardening is not suitable.

Start gardening

All you need now is to put the seeds on a layer of compost. Place the plants in holes you make in the straw using a transplanting trowel.

Straw needs to be constantly wet. As such, daily watering is important. We highly recommend to set up a drip irrigation system. Also, add fertilizers weekly in order to enhance plants growth.

Generally, you can use a straw bale during 2 years after which strings tend to start loosening.

Pros and cons of straw bale gardening

Pros are obvious:

Gardening is possible in all kinds of soil.

No soil labor is needed: it permits to plant without having to labor the soil. This allows for great gain in time and effort.

It is very rare for your straw bale garden to be overwhelmed with weeds.

Also, the gardening tool being elevated, it is excellent especially for those who suffer from back problems.

Cons are non-negligible nevertheless:

It is water demanding. If you do not have a system that permits you to use rain water, better avoid the activity.

It is also necessary to have an excellent source of organic fertilizers. This means that you need to be there practically every day as the gardening needs special and regular management.

Equipment

Straw bale

straw bales

Go for heavy voluminous straw bales. They are better compressed and do not loosen easily.

Verify if the straw is well threshed. It is the case most of the time, but it can happen that ears are not well separated which causes the whole bale to start sprouting.

As we said earlier, make sure it is not hay which is largely marketed and more expensive.

Fertilizers

natural fertilizer

You can use lawn fertilizers. It is perfectly suitable for your straw bale garden. You will need around 1 lbs. per bale.

The three digits formula written on the bag corresponds to the product dosage. For example, a 29-0-4 formula means that the fertilizer contains 29% azote (N), 0% phosphor (P), and 4% potassium (K). Go for products containing no less than 20% azote as it enhances bacteria development inside the straw bale.

If you are practicing organic gardening, you can use some natural fertilizers like dried blood, feather meal, roasted horn, or like in picture above, some cow dung. All of them rich in azote. You might need more than 1 lbs. when you use synthetic fertilizers (around 3 lbs.). This is because synthetic fertilizers are more concentrated in azote.

You can also go for vermicompost. You can obtain it by implementing red worm farms. This will allow you to get some excellent concentrated compost using this process. If the method interests you, make sure you check our guide explaining it.

T-shape Profiled fences

You can use them in case you desire to elevate a trellis above the straw bale.

Profiled metallic fence posts are robust and exist in two shapes. T-shaped are the best ones. They are available in garden centers and in DIY stores. They are an excellent investment as they last very long (for many years). Certain types contain a welded base for stabilization keeping the fence from falling once you plug it in the soil.

Lumber

Acquire some lumber to maintain fences upright and conveniently spaced when you stretch iron wire. Without this piece of wood on top, fences would likely tilt down under the tension.

Iron wire

If you get straw in the form of rows, get as much as 8 times longer iron wire. It must be strong enough to resist under the weight of the growing plants. Don’t forget to use gloves to protect your hands and fingers.

Porous pipe

porous pipe

Photo credit: knitsteel via VisualHunt / CC BY-SA

The porous pipe distributes water evenly. It is useful in avoiding a number of fungal diseases as it avoids excessive watering of foliage. It is also an excellent tool to make some saving in water bill.

You should use a long enough pipe. In fact, the pipe should have the same length as the straw bale.

Porous and perforated pipes are not the same. Perforated pipes eject fine water jets along a narrow grass strip while a porous pipe lets water slowly get in the straw. Porous pipe is better for straw bale gardening.

Connection pipe

This is to connect the porous pipe to the water tap. For that, use some good quality garden hose to prevent leakage.

Let’s conclude with an important warning. Birds will surely appreciate very much your garden’s products. As the scarecrows our parents used to have are not very effective, the best way to birds them away is to use an adequate bird banger. A sparkling strip is excellent for the job. It reflects a great amount of light and makes noise with every minor airstream or wind. Several types are out there, try to get the one that suits best your situation.

Enjoy your journey!!!

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