Straw Bale Gardening

19 May

Place bales with stems upright and vertical, so cords don't touch the ground

Space plants as you would in the ground.

Eddie and I like to experiment with new plants and growing techniques. Last year we tried to grow “upside down” tomatoes, a concept that flies in the face of nature and turned out to be a dismal failure.

This year we planted a small Straw Bale Garden with tomatoes, cucumbers, summer squash and basil. A sort of raised bed method, this seems like a great idea for us folks who find it harder and harder to get down on the ground to seed, weed and feed. Actually, it’s not getting DOWN that is so difficult…it’s getting UP that hurts.

In addition to easy access, the straw bales hold heat, moisture and nutrients quite effectively, although they do have some special requirements. I did some online research and found excellent advice on how to grow a Straw Bale Garden. Here are the basics.

1.  Start with as many bales of oat or wheat straw as you want and arrange in any pattern you like. Be sure the straws are vertical with cords not touching the ground. Do not use hay as it has too many seeds and you’ll find yourself frantically weeding the bale.
2.  Soak the bales. They will heat up as they begin to compost. This “cooking” will last about ten days and then the bales should start to cool down enough to plant. Do not fertilize at this point or they will continue to cook.
3.  Once the bale has cooled you can transplant your vegetables or flowers by using a sharp trowel to dig out chunks of the bale…taking care not to cut the cords holding the bale together. In these openings, add enough compost or potting soil to surround your seedlings, add more soil to the top of the transplant and water thoroughly. Don’t crowd your plants…use the same spacing as you would in the ground.
4.  This method requires frequent watering and fertilizing. We installed a small drip system on a timer to water our bales for 10 minutes every day. Plants should be fed once a week or once every other week with fish emulsion, compost tea, or a balanced liquid fertilizer. I’m going to try Miracle Grow on mine…though its not technically organic.

Here are a couple of sites I found where you can read more about this space-saving, stoop-saving gardening technique.

Doug Green’s Beginner Gardening
No-Dig Vegetable Garden
Nichols Garden Nursery

I’ll keep you posted on how our experiment works out. Hopefully better than the “upside down” tomatoes!

Hasta pronto!


3 Responses to “Straw Bale Gardening”

  1. Kate Warthen May 23, 2010 at 2:40 pm #

    Kudos to you, Lisa and Ed. This is so great.
    Lisa, you have always been the great advocate of gardening and organic gardening techniques. I’m so happy to see you sharing your knowledge and enthusiam for the art.

  2. Dave Korpi September 13, 2010 at 1:43 am #

    Lisa and Super Ed!

    Cool blog and info! Dang.. You have an awesome garden and I totally LOVE green beans. Straw Bale House and now Straw Bale gardening! Totally cool! Why not alfalfa and have a higher content of good stuff for the plants??

    • ruminski September 15, 2010 at 5:26 am #

      We are TOTALLY re-engineering the garden next spring. Come and see how we use alfalfa mulch and no-till methods! Ruth Stout rules!

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