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!

Strawbales

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.

Strawbale

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.

Watering

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

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