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Showing posts with label Gardening. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gardening. Show all posts

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Straw Bale Gardening- Easy Raised Beds

What Is Straw Bale Gardening?

In this article, I will cover how to get straw bales and how to layout a straw bale garden.  My next article is all about how to condition straw bales to get the ready for planting.

Straw Bale Garden- with Bales Staked in Place
Straw Bale Garden- with Bales Staked in Place
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

If you want to learn all about straw bale gardens, you can learn everything from planning through harvest:

A straw bale garden is a type of raised garden where plants are grown in straw bales.  The straw bales decompose, so plants can grow in the straw bales rather than in soil.  Straw bale gardening has several advantages.  The straw bales provide a raised surface for plants to grow, which makes working in the garden easier with less bending.  There is almost no weeding with a straw bale garden.  Wheat or oat straw contains almost no weed seeds, and the decomposition process while conditioning the bales heats up enough to kill most weed seeds anyway.


So if you want a raised bed style of garden, but without the trouble of building raised beds and filling them with soil, a straw bale garden might be a good way to get a quick and easy garden going.  I recently moved to a new house and with spring coming around it is time to start the garden.  I decided to try straw bale gardening as a quick and easy way to get a garden going without the need to break sod or build raised beds.

How Much Does Straw Bale Gardening Cost?

Of course you'll need to get straw bales to make a straw bale garden.  I went down the list, calling local home improvement and landscaping supply stores looking for straw bales.  Earl May had straw bales, but they were $9.99 each.  Yikes!  I found that Thiesen's, a farm supply store, had straw bales, but they only had 15 and they were $8.99 each.  I did see some straw bales selling on craigslist for $5 each, but some of these were pretty far away.

Finally, I thought to call a nearby farmer who has a shop selling vegetables to ask if he had straw bales for sale.  He did, and the price was $5.  I asked for 25 bales.  So the cost of straw bales was $125 to get my garden started.  You can have a much smaller garden- if you have a small space, you can use a couple bales on your patio to grow some tomatoes or other vegetables.

I bought a pickup truck load of 25 straw bales for my straw bale garden
I bought a pickup truck load of 25 straw bales for my straw bale garden
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher
It is recommended to put down landscaping fabric under the straw bales to prevent weeds from coming up.  I had a bunch of landscape fabric that was in the garage when I bought my house, so I got this for free.  You could use cardboard that you can get for free if you ask for boxes at grocery stores.  I used cardboard under the raised beds at my last garden.

Another supply that you'll need is a way to stake down the bales and to provide a trellis for some of the taller plants.  I got a bunch of wire fencing and fence posts of all sizes that came with the property, so this is free for me.  You can buy wooden stakes at home improvement stores for about $1 each, or you can buy metal fence stakes for about $3 each.

You also need to use fertilizer to condition the bales before planting.  I have not bought the fertilizer yet, but I don't think this will be very expensive.  It is recommended to use high nitrogen fertilizer like ammonium nitrate (34-0-0) or ammonium sulfate.  I'm going to guess this will cost about $15.

You will need something to plant in your straw bale garden.  We have started plants growing from seeds in indoor growing trays.  We also plan to plant some things from seeds on the straw bales.  You can put some soil on top of the straw bales and start seeds right on top of the bales.  I think we spent about $40 on items to plant in the garden including the seeds and the starting trays.  You could get by for less, depending on what you plant.

You can plant seeds on top of straw bales
You can plant seeds on top of straw bales
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Starting plants from seeds to plant in straw bales
Starting plants from seeds to plant in straw bales
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

If you have rabbits or deer around, you may need a fence around your garden.  We have placed the garden close to the house and we have several dogs, so hopefully we can get by without a fence.

It looks like the cost of our 25 bale garden is going to be around $200.  I hope to get a lot of fresh vegetables from the garden- much more than $200 worth...  We will compost the straw as it breaks down and use it in future garden projects.

Materials Required for a Straw Bale Garden

  • Straw Bales
  • Landscape fabric (or free cardboard)
  • Stakes or metal fence posts
  • High nitrogen fertilizer
  • Trellis material
  • Plants and seeds
  • Fence- optional

Straw Bale Garden- Before Planting
Straw Bale Garden- Before Planting
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Steps to Start a Straw Bale Garden

  • Plan your garden layout.  Straw bales are about 3 feet long and about 18 inches wide.  Determine how many straw bales you need.  Choose a sunny location.
  • Find straw bales.  Check local stores, farmers, and craigslist.
  • Put down landscape fabric or cardboard to block weeds.
  • Arrange the straw bales.  Set the bales so that the strings are on the side.
Straw Bale Garden- Rough Layout Before Staking the Bales
Straw Bale Garden- Rough Layout Before Staking the Bales Down
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher
  • Stake down the bales.
  • Condition the bales- soak them in water and apply high nitrogen fertilizer.  Conditioning takes about two weeks.
  • Plant in the bales.  You can dig small holes in the bales to plant seedlings, or coat the top of the bale with soil and plant seeds.
I plan to add some taller metal fence posts on the ends of some of the rows of bales to make a trellis for taller plants.  I'll wait to see where we plant things before installing this.  I may use some fencing or wires to make the trellis.

In conclusion, a straw bale garden can be a quick and easy way to get a garden going.  Plus, you get the benefits of working with raised beds, but without the trouble of building raised beds and filling them with compost and soil.  Check back to see how our straw bale garden turns out.

Next Step: Conditioning the Straw Bales before Planting


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