As the weather gets warmer, it becomes time to break out your garden plans and start creating a beautiful outdoor area. Plus, we have good news for everyone! Getting a bountiful harvest is as easy as can be if you use the right materials. Try a beautiful straw bale garden this year to get the best of both worlds!
You may be wondering, what are straw bales? They’re basically biodegradable containers. The hollow structure of the straw does a great job absorbing water so your plant gets the moisture it needs.
Straw bales are also the perfect height for a raised bed, and they’re cheap and easy to gain (sometimes free). So really, what’s not to love?
If this excites you, here are some outstanding tips to help get you started:
1. Make Sure You Have Access to Straw Bales
Before starting with straw bale garden prep, make sure that you have access to straw bales. Straw is easily identified by its hollow structure.
Isn’t hay the same as straw? Is there a difference between hay vs. straw bale gardening?
Good question! Straw is the spent stalk of grain and differs from hay, which is comprised of dead grasses.
Choosing the correct product will ensure an easier breakdown of the bale, which is needed to create primo-growing conditions for transplants.
According to Joel Karsten, a pioneer in bale gardens, there are a couple of drawbacks to using hay, like the awful sewage smell from decomposing nitrogen and a stronger likelihood of weeds. On his website, strawbalegardens.com, he states:
Hay is a term used to describe baled grass or alfalfa that is fed to livestock as fodder or food… If the grass is cut late in the season the seed heads may be mature enough to sprout. Imagine what happens to a bale filled with viable seeds that you now water and fertilize.
You end up with a chia pet for a bale, with sprouts all over… Hay also stinks a bit more than it decomposes. Like the high nitrogen grass clippings you forget in your mower’s collection bag for a couple of weeks…peeeeyeeeew!
2. Prepare Your Beautiful Straw Bale Garden Site
Once full of life and thriving, your bales will become heavy, so make sure you position them where they will get proper sunlight.
A pleasant feature of straw bales is they can fit virtually anywhere, and it’s not that hard to have a raised straw bale garden.
Just remember, wood and water are frenemies; attracted to each other, but with a damaging influence on your straw garden. After your site is picked out, lay down a barrier to prevent any weeds from growing up through your bale.
You can usually find something lying around the house such as cardboard/newspaper, an unused tarp, or landscaping fabric if available.
3. Keep Your Eyes On The Twine
Straw bale gardening problems include breaking down the straws. This will compromise your plants and prevent this from happening. Make sure that you secure them properly.
When Laying out your bales for planting, make sure that the twine is running horizontally along the side of the “bed”. Doing it this way will help keep the bales intact throughout the growing season as the straw breaks down.
4. Condition your Straw
How about fertilizer for straw bale garden? Conditioning is the most important step to ensuring abundance in your straw-bale garden.
This process takes roughly 2 weeks, so plan to do this ahead of your intended planting day. If you’re about how to put straw bale garden fertilizer, don’t worry because our friend Nicole at moderndayfarmer broke it down into fool-proof directions:
1.) Water thoroughly/soak beds every day for at least 10 days.
2.) Sprinkle 3 Cups of fertilizer on days 1, 3, & 5
3.) Sprinkle 1.5 Cups of fertilizer on days 7 &9
4.) Sprinkle 1.5 Cups fertilizer mixed with 1.5 Cups phosphorous on day 10.
Continue watering for the remaining 4 days and you should see the straw decompose. The hay will turn black in some spots and become hot to the touch throughout the conditioning. Once the bales are cool to the touch, they are ready to be planted.
5. Plant Party
This is the best part! We know you’re excited to start planting! Once you’ve got your bale conditioned, it’s time to plant.
If you are working with transplants, simply create a space wide enough for the root ball by wedging the straw aside with your garden trowel. But what if you are sowing from seed?
You can start by covering the planting area with peat-based moss about 2″ deep, then plant as instructed.
6. Remember What Not To Plant
You only want to plant annuals in your bales. This is because the bale breaks down over the season and becomes compost, and your perennials won’t enjoy being transplanted all the time.
In addition, tall plants, like corn and sunflowers, won’t survive in straw bale gardens. These plants require soil stability to support themselves and should be planted in-ground or in permanent beds.
7. Give Plenty of Water
Remember that straw loses moisture relatively quickly, so you want to make sure they never go thirsty.
You can always do this the old-fashioned way and pull out the garden hose. But if you want a better alternative, then you can set up an automatic watering system.
These can range from very expensive to almost nothing, depending on your preference and willingness to tinker. An effective system can be achieved on the cheap with soaker hoses and switch valves like Kitty Baker did here.
8. Fungus Among Us
If notice that mushrooms start popping up in your bale garden in abundance, rejoice! Don’t worry about them!
Mushrooms are a sign of health where straw-bale gardening is concerned. The small root-like structure of the mushrooms, known as mycelium, helps to break down organic matter and turn it into rich compost your plants will love.
9. Feed Your Plants
Straw bales are not nutrient-rich resources for plants, and as the compost and fertilizer added in the conditioning phase get used up, it is important to add more so your plants have enough “food” to produce well.
Fertilizer is your best friend. Adding fertilizer every other week should do the trick. As always, water it well to help push the nutrients into the straw and soil. If you are a 2-in-1 type of person, try this recipe from Professor Rot and you’ll be happy you did!
10. Add Black Gold (AKA Compost)
It’s usually a sad affair when your growing season reaches its end, but straw-bale gardens yield you a heap of treasure at the season’s end.
Can you guess what happens? That’s right, it comes in the form of compost! By this point, it’s ready to use as additional fertilizer for the plants that are still thriving.
How cool is that?
You can also let it continue to break down over winter and your rough-looking heap will become a pile of beautiful, loamy soil ready to plant.
Trying to plant in a beautiful straw bale garden is another skill to learn. We’re pretty sure you’ll love learning new ways to plant and cultivate your farm.