Straw Bale Garden Tour Part I

In this vide we take you into the backyard for a tour of our straw bale garden.

We started rotting the bales in late April by adding blood meal. In May we added a balanced fertilizer and started planting the bales. In the video you’ll see the veggies we planted in early June.

The soaker hose you see comes from Home Depot. I’m pretty sure it is this stuff.

Every other week I add some fish emulsion to a watering can and hand water the plants to make sure they have enough nutrients.

Leave your questions in the comments.

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  1. Blood meal is fine, so is fish emulsion. DON’T FORGET THE URINE! It’s free, it works the best and it’s there every day. It will really crank up your transformation process.

    • You’re right! Erik forgot to mention the urine. He made many “offerings” to the bales when they were rotting.

  2. Thanks for the video! Where do you get your straw bales? Also, your garden got me thinking. I just built raised beds in my back yard. Rather than have a bunch of soil trucked in I wonder if I could use your technique and build them up with straw bales, grass clippings etc. that will rot and break down over time, thereby creating my own composted garden soil. Any thoughts?

    • Wade – check out lasagna gardening…or even hugelkultur…but I think what you are speaking of is more like lasagna gardening – with layers.
      I am doing that on our land. we attempted tilling the first spring we had bought it and about killed ourselves. the land was neglected for about 15 years and ravaged with invasives, weeds, and crazy vines…so I lay down cardboard and then have just been building up from there – grass clippings, leaves, newspaper, plants harvested from our ponds (pondweed stuff) etc. I did add some compost year that I got very cheap from the local prison…they have a program there and create compost and mulch and sell it.

    • Hi Wade. We’re thinking along the same lines–using these bales to build soil.

      Instead of doing the whole straw bale routine again next season, we’re thinking about using the rotted straw from this round to make compost to fill raised beds. What we plan to do though, instead of composting in place, is to transfer the straw to an enormous compost pile, add nitrogen (greens, pee, seed meal, whatever), and let it cook a little more before using it in beds. Even rotten, the straw medium is enormously carbon-rich, and that can steal nitrogen from your plants — so you have to be careful. As PRB said, you should check out lasagna gardening techniques if you want to try to do it all in one place.

      This is all an experiment, so we might change our minds! Whatever we do, though, we’ll document it.

    • Thank you prb and Mrs. Homegrown for your information. Had not heard of lasagna gardening but after researching a bit this seems like what I had in mind. Thanks also for the reminder regarding keeping a healthy nitrogen/carbon balance. Doing things unconventionally is great but you can’t forget the basics, and your website is a constant reminder of that. Thanks!

  3. I enjoyed seeing you straw bale results. I hope you will do updates. I am definitely storing this info in the back of my mind for future reference. I have some places in my yard where it would be great to try this. Do the bales dry out quickly or are they now compacted enough to keep moisture? How often do you water? Do you plan to reuse them?

    • The bales hold water far better than we thought they would–though we’re not in the dog days of summer yet. I’ve heard of people in dry climates buttressing the bales with dirt for extra insulation.

      They get a daily drip session now. I’ll have to ask Erik to chime in on the exact timing, because I don’t know what he’s got the timer set to. When the plants are getting started, they get top watering too.

      If what we’ve seen in our research holds, the bales will decompose over the course of the summer — they lose their structural integrity. I can’t speak from experience, so I don’t know if you could squeeze another round from them. Right now we plan to use the bales to make lots and lots of compost.

  4. I want to watch the podcast, but I don’t know how to turn off the music that plays when I go to your site.

    • Hi Cindy,

      I’m not sure what you’re experiencing on your end. There’s some music at the start of the video, and then it cuts to Erik talking, so it’s all part of the same soundtrack. Are you hearing music over his talking?

  5. Just curious – how important do you think it is to get organic straw? I read that they spray conventional straw quite a bit.

    • If you can find organic straw, it would be a good thing. We don’t have much choice about our source. Our primary concern is not whether the bales are strictly organic (because I’ve pretty much given up on notions of purity) but with the specific problem of persistent herbicides. These are horrible herbicides which don’t break down, but can pass intact through an animal’s gut, or through the composting process. If the straw in your bales was sprayed with that stuff, you’ll end up with stunted plants. It can be hard to find out whether or not the straw has been treated this way, so one thing you can do is a test — go to this page:

      It explains the problem of persistent herbicides in more detail. At very the bottom you’ll find instructions on how to do a bioesssay by growing beans, and watering some of them with tea made of your straw. It’s easy — but it takes some patience to wait for the results. Best to do it well in advance from when you hope to plant your bales.

  6. Thanks – that’s helpful. We are part of a CSA – I’ll ask the farmer about sourcing unsprayed straw. He may know.

    • Yep, you really need to get that info straight from the farmer’s mouth. Good thing you’ve got a contact.

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