Strawbale Gardening

I came across strawbale gardening last year but it was too late in the season to try it so it went on the back burner and waited for this year.  The idea is simple.  Put some dirt (about4″) on top of a straw bale, stick a plant in it and let it grow.  The dirt supplies the nutrients and the strawbale acts as a giant sponge holding and supplying water.  It also breaks down over the course of the season and supplies some nutrients as well.  Supposedly you can get two seasons out of a bale.  When it is spent you just compost it!


Strawbale gardening is a perfect solution for people who don’t have traditional garden space available to them.  Bad dirt?  No dirt?  No problem! You can even stick it on pavement and grow away!  If you are a renter you could try this and just toss the bale or compost it at the end of the season.  It seems like this method would be perfect for our climate as the water holding capacity of the straw ought to let you get away with much less frequent watering.

Ready to try?

There is a little bit of prep involved but not much.  The bales have to be “seasoned” for planting.  I’m trying two bales as an experiment this year. I partially buried them just to hold them securely and maybe retain a bit more water.  This is a totally optional step.  The bales will collapse somewhat as they decompose so I’m hoping this helps hold them together.   I also set up drip irrigation on top since I had a line running nearby.  You can hand water or automate as you please.


You need to keep them wet for a while so that the composting process can get started.  It will get warm inside the bale for several days and then cool back down.  I did this for four days, wetting the bale twice a day.  Stick your finger in the bale.  Feel how nice and warm it is?  That’s gazillions of micro-organisims going to work for you.


Next, put a sprinkling of blood meal (an organic fertilizer) on top of the bale to add nitrogen and help with the decomposition process.  Keep wetting the bales, I went down to once a day.  After a week or so the bale will be cool inside.  Now it’s ready for dirt.

Dirt frame

I made a little frame out of scrap lumber to hold the soil in.  My frame is 3 1/2″ high and a little smaller than the perimeter of the bale.  Use whatever you have on hand.   I filled it with dirt that had been amended with horse and chicken manure.

Strawbales with frames

That’s all there is to it.  Now you get to plant your strawbale garden.  I’m trying a couple tomatoes in one and a few Hubbard squash in the other.  The tomatoes are starts in soil blocks that are getting transplanted.  They will go inside walls o’ water to give them a jump start on life.  The squash are getting started from seed.

Tomato plant

Hubbard squash

We’ll check back in with them later in the season and see how they are doing.

Finished garden


What?  You can’t get enough of us?  Well do we have options for you!

 You can subscribe to Mike and Molly’s House through our RSS feed or email.

You can also follow our Facebook Fanpage , join us on Twitter, see what we are up to on Google + and see what cool stuff we follow on Pinterest.  

 Like what you see here?  Spread the word to your friends and family!





  1. Posted May 18, 2012 at 6:54 am | Permalink

    my turn to say, “Next year”. Worth planning for! thanks for reminding me!

    • Posted May 20, 2012 at 8:53 am | Permalink

      Good luck!  You could also try planting a fall garden of greens later this summer.

  2. Posted May 18, 2012 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

    Could one not simply buy the bales the Autumn before, then leave them out over winter with a bit of blood and bone/bonemeal on top? This way it would be perfectly ready for spring, and all you would have to do is make some pockets, fill with soil and plant…

    • Posted May 20, 2012 at 8:52 am | Permalink

      I thought of that too as my bales have been out in the weather for a few years but they definitely heated up when I watered them.  I guess our rainfall isn’t consistent enough to thoroughly soak them.  I

  3. Posted May 19, 2012 at 7:58 am | Permalink

    Looks good, Mike.   I have a couple bales in the backyard, but I’m going to use them for mulch and compost ‘browns’.

    • Posted May 20, 2012 at 8:49 am | Permalink

      They work great for that too.  I have a surplus of brown composting stuff.  I’m looking into getting food waste from a local restaurant so I can have more green stuff.  I’m also wondering if I need an extra chore in my life…

  4. Jprewitt6
    Posted May 19, 2012 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    I thought straw did not have nutrients to give to the plants.  How does this work?

    • Posted May 20, 2012 at 8:46 am | Permalink

      The straw is composting so it’s releasing nutrients.  Mostly the plant feeds from the upper roots so it’s getting nutrition form the dirt on top and water from the straw below.

  5. Posted July 11, 2012 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

    My first year bales (in NC) have disintegrated unevenly and until I started adding a lot of fertilizer, the plants were doing nothing … MAJOR potassium deficiency in the tomatoes (purple leaves). The examples I was following made no mention of the top layer of dirt … so I added a couple inches of wood-based compost.  I did this this year because I moved here in September and I needed a quick start in order to have a garden at all (too many tree roots to dig / till and not enough time to build raised boxes) but I will never willingly garden this way again. Even with generous amounts of bagged fertilizer, things are looking pretty lame. Hope you are having greater success.

    • Social
      Posted July 11, 2012 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

      Oh, I might mention that orienting the straws vertically = instant drainage. Yes, the water is free to go deep into the bale; but it is also free to exit the other side. .Take your irrigation tube away for a few days and see what I’m talking about … the straw does not retain the water.

      • Posted July 20, 2012 at 6:46 am | Permalink

        My straw bales are breaking down unevenly as well.  The tomatoes are not having much luck in the straw but the Hubbard squash is loving it.  It may be a matter of picking the right plants or getting an earlier start to mature the bales longer.  I’m not ready to give up on the system yet but dirt is working better for me too. 

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>