Straw Bale Garden Update: Success!

straw bale garden

Ladies and gentleman, straw bale gardening works. I left town for a week earlier this month and, during my absence, the vegetables in the straw bale garden exploded in size. The Tromboncino squash on the left, is threatening to envelop the entire yard.  The tomatoes are equally vigorous and covered in ripening fruit.

straw bale garden zucchini

Zucchini is on the menu.

While it takes an input of outside resources in the form of straw and fertilizer, straw bale gardening is a great solution for beginning gardeners or for those cursed with bad soil. And the skunks that have decimated my previous vegetable gardens are unable to get up on the bales.

I’m considering trying another straw bale garden during our winter season. And I’m also pondering building boxes to put the bales in to make the garden look a bit neater.

Compare the straw bale garden to the depleted raised beds in our front yard:

depleted vegetable bed

I’ve talked to a lot of people about straw bale gardens since we started ours. Some things I’ve heard from other gardeners:

  • Some straw bales may be contaminated with herbicides. Do a bioassay before planting. Here’s some instructions (scroll down to the end of the article).
  • One gardener I met did not know that the bales need to be prepared by adding nitrogen–you can’t just plant straight in the bales.
  • Once the bales have been prepared you need to add fertilizer periodically. I’ve been adding fish emulsion every two weeks.

How is your straw bale garden?

And thanks again to Michael Tortorello whose article “Grasping at Straw” inspired us to try straw bale gardening.

Share this post

Leave a comment

22 Comments

  1. Just curious–did you put the resources and thought and energy into the depleted raised bed as you did in the straw bale?

    Did you pee on the straw bale or transport urine to the bale? Since human urine repels skunks, do you think that the skunks decided to not bother your grubs or vegetables and go where it smelled better, less dangerous?

    Skunks can definitely get onto a straw bale.

    The vegetables growing there certainly look beautiful.

    • Hey PP,

      No, the raised beds did not get the attention they deserved.

      And I used a combo of blood meal and a bit of human urine. I had a bit of skunk problems at first, but they seem to be ignoring the bales.

    • You were right, though. Vegetable gardening really is mostly about the attentiveness and focus of the gardener. That’s why those front beds look so bad.

  2. Mine are doing great as well. I started mine about a week after you did, but planted in it later than you (I live in Iowa and May was cooler than normal), so my plants aren’t quite as big, but pretty close.

    One thing I noticed, is that your bales do not look as if they are much shorter in height now compared to the start. My bales were leaning this way and that especially on the ends. I gently pushed down on all parts of the bales, making sure the plants went with the straw, which solved the leaning issues. My bales are now about half as tall as they were at the start. I used a combo of blood meal and urine to prep the beds (about 50/50).

    • Two of my bales are starting to lean. The others seem to be holding up better. And I thought they would shrink more too. Might be a factor of climate–don’t know where you are, but it’s pretty dry here and things don’t degrade as fast.

  3. You guys have now convinced me to do this next spring. I am a renter and although I’ve been given permission by our kick ass landlord to dig up as much sod as I want – I SUPER don’t want to. I was gonna do lasagna gardening, but that’s a lot of manure, compost and soil to bring in, as well. Just thinking about it was making my sciatic hurt…

    Straw bales won. And when we move, I’ll just throw them in the back corner of the lot where all the other detritus exists. Problem SOLVED. Beauty, dude.

    • Interesting idea, but I don’t think straw would wick up water as well as peat moss does. But don’t let me stop you from trying it!

  4. This is encouraging. Almost every home I can afford just happens to have a history of lead and arsenic contamination. Another bonus is that leafy greens won’t get muddy during heavy storms. I dread getting lettuce through my CSA for this reason.

    • Arsenic is particularly bad. Lead and zinc are two of the reasons we tried it.

  5. Up here in Michigan my first straw bale experiment is an unqualified success! Wish I’d grown more (I only have six) and planted some squash.
    I am harvesting basil, cilantro, bush beans, baby eggplants and the tomatoes are just starting to ripen up.
    My bales are slumping a bit now too, and not looking quite as tidy as they did two months ago.

  6. Pingback: The Friday Five: My Picks of the Week (July 15th – July 19th, 2013) | Jeff Parker Cooks

    • Unfortunately, no. I asked at the feed stores and they did not no where it was coming from. I guess I lucked out.

  7. After much research (straw bale/vertical gardening)I am finally ready and sooooo excited. I also started vermicomposting a month ago, but that’s a story for another time.

    I am repurposing an 8×10 chainlink dog kennel on concrete slab and will be removing the plastic roof (keeping the 2×4′s). Kennel is in full sun and close proximity to the house/water supply.

    My seedlings are about 3 wks. old and coming up nicely. (Tomatoes, peppers, cuks, garlic and various flowering companion plants and of course, sunflowers.

    I just picked up a dozen straw bales yesterday and will begin the process of conditioning. My biggest question was which way to lay the bales (I believe you addressed this) and decided that the stubby side should go up. In other words, the cord holding the bales together is NOT on the top or planting portion of the bale. PLEASE CORRECT ME IF I’M WRONG!!!

    The other thing I had to finalize was which organic fertilizer to use in the conditioning process. I decided to SECRETLY collect my urine and use in conjunction with a decomposed leaf/grass and daily watering. PLEASE CORRECT ME IF I’M WRONG!!!

    Thanks for all your great information.

    • Peepeeponics! I oriented the bales with the non-string side up. It looks like someone else in this thread tried it the other way and it worked for them. I think the risk is that the bales will loose their integrity towards the end of the growing season. But it looks like we have a report here that it will work either way. Let me know what you decide and how it works for you. My straw bale garden worked really well.

  8. Debbie this is an old blog post so I don’t know how many responses you’ll get.

    My research led me to believe there wasn’t much of a difference IRT bale orientation. (I researched the heck out of this last sporing!) I had a successful straw bale garden last year putting them string-side-up. I don’t think it makes much of a difference, really. The point is to get the bales decomposing and straw blade orientation doesn’t have much bearing on that.

    I didn’t use urine, although my dogs hiked their legs on the bales I am sure. :o) I used organic blood and bone meal and water. I also had controls (plants in the ground and in containers) and with the exception of the okra, the straw bale yield was definitely superior to the controls.

    Don’t overthink it!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


9 + 9 =