Straw Bale Garden: What I Learned

straw bale garden before and after

Straw bale garden–April on the left, November on the right.

The straw bale garden I started this spring has been one of the most successful vegetable gardens I’ve ever planted. In fact it’s still producing well into November. Here’s what I learned from the experiment:

  • Plants that suck up a lot of nitrogen, like squash, do well in a straw bale garden.
  • My tomatoes flourished but, due to the high nitrogen, made more leaves than fruit. I’m not saying you shouldn’t plant tomatoes in straw bales–results will be better than in poor soil, but it’s hard to regulate the amount of nitrogen when prepping bales.
  • Stake the bales. They will fall over eventually. I knew this but was too lazy to actually do it.
  • Straw bale gardens are a great option for those cursed by poor or contaminated soil.
  • I’ve got lot of bales to compost!

My future in straw bale gardening
I’ve decided to continue straw bale gardening on a smaller scale. I’m going to build some raised beds and fill them with soil, but I’m leaving room for two bales to grow nitrogen hungry crops, principally squash. I’m also planning on building a box to hold those bales so I don’t have to stake them every season.

Like most things in life it’s not an either/or proposition. You can have a conventional vegetable garden and save some space for straw bale gardening. I think the two compliment each other really well.

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21 Comments

  1. I grew my first straw bale garden this year. It produced the best, and most, eggplant I’ve ever grown. The squash was also fabulous. I think the peppers would have also done well if they hadn’t been overrun by the squash and eggplant.

  2. I also had good luck with eggplant. And, I should have mentioned the squash overrunning problem! Better spacing might have helped.

  3. I am going to try this in the wood pallet boxes that hold stone and tile. Got several for free and was going to line them with landscape fabric and fill with soil but using straw bale is a much easier idea, but what about weeds from the hay seed?

  4. This was great information! I am so glad you shared all of this as I plan to do this next year. I am very excited to give it a go! Thank you!

  5. Have you tried a combination of straw bale and lasagna beds? I was thinking starting the soil of my (new) raised beds somewhere along the lines of a combo, so that as I create the ‘lasagna’ layers, I would be using a lot of straw in between each layer. Any thoughts?

  6. congrats on your success, looks great! my straw bale attempt this year was a fail, but i think that perhaps cucumbers may not have been the best choice. i should have gone with a squash.

    • My first strawbale garden last spring produced 3 cucumbers a day! INSANE!!! I had sooo many I was giving away to neighbors! I live in Ojai, CA. I purchase 6 more bales for this years winter harvest, and today I start planting! Yey!

  7. I used a 3′ x 4′ x 3′ h. planter box, stuck a bale in the middle, short side down, put about 2′ of soil mixed w/ compost on the sides. I then planted squashes in the bale, bush beans on the west side, asparagus and parsley on the east side. Got spaghetti squashes & kabochas from the bale, more than two can eat, about 10 lbs. of beans, continuous parsley, and young asparagus, which will continue to grow. The box was oriented north – south in the yard.
    At the end of this season, I’ve planted peas where the beans were, as well as beets and chard, integrating some of the decomposed straw, and I’ve interspersed the whole box with garlics. I’m still eating parsley, and where critters have dug up grubs, I’ve planted more garlics.
    I’m still getting kabochas, and the bale now has garlics.
    I had another bale with squashes but it was a stand alone. W/o the help of the soil in the box, it did not fare as well; it was too dry. I would need to use more bales for it to work. I am definitely thinking of using it on a hilly slope, if I can figure out a way to prevent the whole lot from sliding! Any ideas on that?

  8. I just read the Straw Bale Gardening book on my Kindle for PC, and am planning to experiment with it in the spring, so I’m glad to read practical feedback! Thanks for the advice about staking!

  9. Seriously though I am going to try a straw bale garden this year and have my bales. Just waiting for the Frozen Tundra of Iowa to thaw so I can set up my garden!!

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