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Garden on Straw

Try gardening in straw bales, which is like planting in a big block of compost. Get tips on how to grow above ground.

| August 2019

We use bales for beans and summer squash.

Our biggest, sunniest garden area has nice soil, but tomato plants won’t grow there because our neighbor has a huge black walnut tree, and black walnut trees give off a toxin called juglone in the soil. So one year Dad and I tried growing some tomatoes in straw bales above the soil so the plants wouldn’t absorb the toxin. Unfortunately, our experiment failed because those tomato roots went through the bales into the soil.

Gardening in a straw bale is like gardening in a big block of compost! Here’s how to set up an above-ground garden.

Plan Your Garden

Figure out how many bales you need for your garden and where you want to put them. One bale is big enough for two tomato, squash, or pepper plants, or for several bean plants. You can use them to create a new raised bed or put them along the edge of a garden that’s already there. Set the bales out about two weeks before you want to plant them. It doesn’t matter if the strings that hold the bale together are on the side or the top.

Prepare the Bales

If you are using new bales, you want them to be wet throughout and starting to decompose before you plant into them. Water them well and sprinkle them with a high-­nitrogen fertilizer such as a lawn fertilizer or blood meal. Do this three or four times over a two-week period, adding lots of water to the bales each time. The nitrogen feeds the microbes that help decompose the straw. (Nitrogen is the first of the three numbers that is shown on a fertilizer package; for example, blood meal is 12-0-0.)        

A straw bale is like a big sponge that absorbs water and anchors your plants.

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