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How to Start a Straw Bale Garden

James Whitestraw bale gardening

If your homestead includes a pasture to support larger livestock like sheep, goats and cows, you might be considering harvesting and baling your own hay to support these animals during the winter. You can also bale your own straw so you have a constant supply of fresh bedding for your barnyard friends. Baling your own straw and hay is a great investment in the long run.

If you’re like most people, though, you may find that you have more bales of straw than you know what to do with after a while. Fortunately, from decorations to construction, there are many uses for straw bales. One of the best ways to recycle your unused straw, though, is to start a straw bale garden.

What Is a Straw Bale Garden?

A compact, rectangular bale of straw can be used as a cheap and convenient planter for vegetable plants and flowers. Straw bales can be easily set up anywhere thanks to their light weight, and it’s much quicker to set up a straw bale garden than to dig new garden beds, especially in areas with heavy clay or rocky soils.

Best of all, the hollow straw stems act as a wonderful insulator that allows your straw bale garden soil to warm quickly in the spring. You can get an early start on planting without worrying about freezing and thawing soil. Straw bales also drain well because they are above ground level, making them an ideal spring planter.

How to Start a Straw Bale Garden

To get started, choose a sunny location and place your hay bales sideways so the twine holding them together runs along the sides rather than across the top of the bale. This will keep your planting area clear of obstructions and help hold your bales together as they start to decompose.

It’s actually the decomposition of the straw that creates a rich environment for your plants, and you want to encourage it. To do this, prepare the bales for planting by sprinkling each bale with two to three cups of a balanced, organic fertilizer and watering well.

Water the bales every day, and add the correct amount of fertilizer every day for the first week. During the second week, continue to water but cut the fertilizer in half. After 10 to 14 days, you should notice the bales starting to break down, and you should feel the heat if you poke a finger inside.

Planting the Plants

Once the bales have cooled off and are and starting to turn dark brown or black, you are ready to plant. Transplanting seedlings is easy — just separate the straw with a trowel and toss in a handful of potting soil to keep the roots nourished and protected. Then, tuck your seedling in.

To germinate seeds, cover the bale with an inch of seed starting soil before sowing. Water everything well, and you should see plants taking over your straw bale as spring progresses.

Best Bets for Straw Bale Gardens

For easy care throughout the season, set up a trellis for peas and beans when you plant. You can also run a soaker hose right across the top of a line of bales for easy irrigation. Straw bale gardens require little weeding and care once established, and after the growing season, you have a jump start on a new, fertile compost pile. 

If you have extra straw bales, save them until the spring and give straw bale gardening a try. This is the ideal way to make sure nothing goes to waste on a homestead and to add one more sustainable trick to your repertoire for green living.