Straw Bale Gardening

Our yard is very small; a small city lot that doesn’t allow for a lot of space for plants. Since our space is limited, I have made a vow rid myself of as much grass as possible, and fill the space with productive plants. With the space we have, this can require some creativity and planning.

It’s amazing what we have already been able to pack into our yard, including apple trees, a plum tree, romance cherry bushes, elderberries, raspberries, strawberries, a flower garden, and three raised vegetable garden beds. We built the most recent bed a couple weeks ago. For less mechanically inclined, raised garden bed kits are the way to go.

Raised garden beds – straw bale

I love having the raised beds which prevent the encroachment of grass and make weeding much easier. We built our most recent garden bed last week, and instead of hauling bag after bag of dirt to fill it, we decided to try our hand at straw bale gardening There are many books available for this type of gardening that explain the process in detail, but overall it’s very simple.

To begin we purchased two straw bales from our local landscape store which fit well in our frame. We fertilized and watered the bales for two weeks prior to planting. This begins the composting of the straw within the bale, and heats it up.

Planted straw bale garden

Planted straw bale garden

Once ready for planting, I cut small holes in the bales to make room and filled with a small amount of dirt in order to support the roots initially and to prevent seeds from dropping too far down into the bale or being eaten by birds. Only a very small amount of dirt is needed.

I planted a couple eggplant starts in one bale, and planted green and yellow zucchini seed in the other. In the extra space in the raised bed below the bales, I planted cucumbers, winter squash, peppers, as well as sprinkled dill seeds around.

Zucchini sprouting - see the grass and mushrooms on the left?

Zucchini sprouting – see the grass and mushrooms on the left?

The bales did sprout some life of their own as well. Small amounts of grass-like straw seedlings popped up. This is common as there are still some seeds left in the straw. It’s not usually an issue, as these can be trimmed with a scissors once they get too tall. The bales do take on a chia-pet appearance at first. If hay is accidentally used, which contains all the seeds, the sprouting will be significant. One of our bales also sprouted inky-cap mushrooms. This indicates that there is composting happening within the bale and is a sign that the nutrient level is good.

When the year is over, we will break up the composted straw and use this to fill our garden bed, which is much cheaper than hauling bags of soil, and better for the garden as well.

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