How to Grow Veggies in Straw

comments (0) November 30th, 2015

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jgthegardener jgthegardener, member
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Sometimes gardening within your natural environment just isn't possible. Many would-be gardeners find themselves facing roadblocks such as rocky and undiggable soil, limited space or even toxic dirt. When presented with seemingly impossible odds some people just give up, accepting that a garden isn't in their future.

For those of you feeling hopeless, there is a light at the end of the tunnel -- straw bale gardening. Growing in straw bales creates raised gardens accessible to gardeners in almost any situation, and getting them ready can be done in a few simple steps. Here's how:

Getting Your Straw

Straw is easiest to come by in the fall, but that doesn't mean you should run out and get it from just anywhere. Sourcing straw directly from farmers instead of gardening centers helps ensure that your bales will be organic and free of seeds.

Choose a Location

Finding the perfect location for your straw bale garden is paramount. Once you place your bales and begin to water them, they'll become extremely heavy and moving them safely will require some serious muscle such as a forklift. A generous amount of sunlight is important to any garden, and straw bale gardens are no exception. Choose an area that gets several hours of sun each day to encourage your plants to grow.

    If your bales are in a grassy area, be sure to place cardboard or several layers of newspaper underneath to prevent grass and weeds from growing up through the bale.

    Cardboard and newspapers are biodegradable and encourage worm activity. Both of these are good things for your garden.

Position the Bale

Turn the bale with the narrow side up, strings facing out on the sides. One side of the bale will have cut straw and the other will have straw that is folded down. You want to make sure to put the cut side up to create the best growing surface, because hollow straws let moisture penetrate the bale.

    Positioning the bale with the strings on top can create problems for plants trying to break through the surface, and the strings can break, causing your bale to fall apart.

Condition Your Straw

Conditioning your straw is necessary because the inside of the bale will get very hot as it begins to decompose. This excessive heat is no good for your intended plants. This process takes about two weeks, but can vary based on how quickly your straw starts to break down.

    To get your straw ready, begin by watering thoroughly for three days, keeping the bales damp.

    After the first three days, begin adding liquid fertilizer for the next week in addition to the daily watering. Straw doesn't have the same nutrients that soil does and needs a little boost from us.

    On the tenth day, cease the use of fertilizer and go back to simply watering, using a compost or meat thermometer to monitor the heat inside the bale.

    When the temperature levels out and reflects the temperature of the outdoors, your bale is ready for planting.

Choose Your Plants

Bale gardens are good for growing almost any annual, and while you can grow from seed if you add compost soil, young plants can go straight in. Herbs will do especially well in this makeshift raised garden. However, there are a few things that won't thrive in a straw bale garden:

    Tall or top-heavy plants such as corn, okra and indeterminate tomatoes need additional support from stakes or trellises and can start to break the bale apart with their weight. 

    Running plants like sweet potatoes are harder to grow in bales. 

Plant and Upkeep

To keep your bale garden healthy, make sure to water regularly to keep the bales damp and fertilize once every one or two weeks to provide nutrients missing from the straw. Now that your bale has been put in place and conditioned, it's time to plant. Grab some gloves, a trowel and some planting mix and get to work.

    To plant seedlings, use your trowel to separate the straw and create a hole deep enough for the root ball of the plant. Add some plant mix to cover the roots and then pack in the straw you removed. 

    To plant seeds, cover the bale with an inch or two of plant mix and sow your seeds into this. As the plants grow, their roots will grow down into the straw bale.

    To utilize every bit of the bale, try growing some flowers or herbs into the side of the bale, using a surface that would otherwise be wasted.


While your neighbors may find the bale gardens unsightly, you can be sure their opinions will change when you bring over a basket of fresh produce. Straw bale gardens are an ideal solution for gardeners living in places that aren't garden friendly. Simply plop a bale down wherever you have space and sunlight and let your garden grow.

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