Growing a Garden in Straw Bales

My straw bale garden 2 weeks after I planted the seedlings.

By Kelly Braun, Btweens Co-Founder
This summer I planted a garden in straw bales instead of in dirt in the ground.  My friends thought I was nuts!  I saw the idea on the internet and thought it made a lot of sense and I just had to try it. 

My backyard is small and the dirt is hard clay.  We also don’t get much rain in the summer.  It takes a lot of work and compost and gardening soil to get a vegetable garden going in those conditions.  Straw bales cost less than garden soil.  I discovered other benefits too.  I did not have to weed and I did not have to get down on my hands and knees to take care of the plants.  Best of all the snails that usually try to eat my plants did not crawl up the prickly straw bale.

The first step is getting a straw bale.  Your local garden center might have them.  Then you treat it with a high nitrogen fertilizer and water for about 2 weeks.  This turns the straw into a rich, organic growing material.  Then you add some regular fertilizer and water for a few days and you are ready to plant your seedlings into the straw bale. 

Here is my straw bale garden 3 months later. You can see the huge leaves of the yellow squash plant and all the vines of the watermelon plant.

I did not have much luck starting from seeds in the bale but the seedlings did great!  The biggest mistake I made was planting too many plants in the straw bale.  Next summer I will space the plants out a little better. 

I’ve just removed all my summer veggie plants and have planted broccoli and cauliflower in the bales.  It will be interesting to see if I can grow 2 seasons of crops in the same straw bale.

I am definitely going to do this again next summer too!  I will post step-by-step instructions on how to grow your own straw bale garden in the Spring 2011.  Until then, think about what types of veggies you might like to grow in your own straw bale garden.