Thursday, February 11, 2016

Straw Bale Gardening - The Easy Way to Garden on raw land?

straw bale vegetable gardenExciting things are happening in my life.  One of them being moving to the homestead of my dreams this spring.  17 acres of forest and meadow to work with and turn into a homestead with a garden, orchard, and pastures. One of the things I want right away is a garden.  I haven't had one in over two years due to moving and miss growing my own food like other people miss going out to the movies, or getting their nails done.

step 5 resizedOne of the drawbacks (benefits?) of developing raw land for a garden is that you are starting from scratch.  You have weeds, rocks, and questionable soil to contend with.  Backbreaking labor tilling the soil (unless you have a tractor)  and getting it ready for planting.  I have allot of experience doing this as I would just get a garden going and then my ex husband would lose his job and we would be moving again!  I was always saying goodbye to my hard work and dreams of a big bountiful well established garden.

Not to say that I didn't get a harvest.  I luckily have a green thumb and have managed to do well even in the first year of any new garden by choosing my plants carefully.  But any avid gardener will tell you that the more years you have a garden going, the better it will get.

We will be strapped for time and labor this next gardening season because we will be building a cabin on the property.  Most of my time and energy will go into that.  So I started looking at less conventional ways to garden in the hopes of having something started for a small harvest.

straw bale garden trellisWhere we are going to be living presents several challenges.  We are going to be living in the mountains with a short season and cool nights, garden predators (aka deer) abound, the ground has never been developed and is full of large rocks.

After looking at many options (most too expensive)  we decided on using straw bale gardening.  I was sceptical when this gardening technique started up for one simple reason.  When straw bales, or any other organic matter composts or breaks down it lets off heat and carbon monoxide in large quantities.  This will actually kill your plants and seedlings.  But after reading about straw bale gardening I found out that you "condition" your bales before planting.  Which simply put means starting up the composting process a few weeks before planting.  Problem solved!

Everything about straw bale gardening looks ideal.  The bales can be planted with almost all vegetables, it creates a raised bed so less stooping and bending, it is naturally weed free, bales are cheap to even free and easy to move, you can easily create trellises and even cover your plants for early planting or protecting from frosts/predators.  And after the growing season the bales will be more than half broken down and can either be worked into the soil or left on top to keep weeds down.

Here are several links to starting a straw bale garden.  As well as how to condition your bales before planting.


  1. Never could see why straw bale when hay will work just as well if not better. If you have to buy the straw, around these parts the price difference is not that much. Hay just has a better value overall.

    1. Grass or alfalfa hay contains weed seeds which will come up in any planting. Also the price difference can be significant if you are buying 20 or more bales. Also straw bales are a waste product that can be utilized usefully. Hay is important food for animals that is better used to feed livestock.

    2. Straw can also have weed seeds. Would have to disagree about straw being a waste product. Cow manure is considered a value addition to the garden. I am just saying get all the value out of the hay instead of some going to the cow. You would not have to add as much fertilizer if any to condition the bale of hay. Wrap that bale in dark plastic and cook the weed seeds right on out of there.

  2. don't use hay--weeds galore.

    also make sure the farmer you buy straw from has not sprayed his hay fields with herbicides. they persist everywhere and can cause incurable damage to your foods.
    jury still out on long term ills for people and animals eating foods raised on contaminated straw.

    same for manure. animals fed hay from sprayed fields have feces with persistent weed killer in them.
    catastrophic for foods planted in soil amended with the manure.

  3. listen, plant your understory fruits now--honeyberry, pawpaw and they can grow while you build the cabin. get a head start on fruit and nut trees and vines, because they take so long to produce.

    1. An excellent idea Deborah! And one I was already planning to do!

  4. I have been very interested in this- I can't wait to see how you do. Sounds like the way to go in a new garden especially if you are busy. Just the thought of no weeds has me extremely interested!

  5. I've been following you for a while now and not saying anything. But I to have found out using hay or straw will get you weeds. The best way is to use cow or steer manure. My mother in-law has done it for years and very good turn out's. You have a lot of land to work with so maybe getting cows will get you the best results.

  6. I was interested in this technique but I read that it required a lot of water. Some of the set ups showed overhead spray rigs and the gardeners talked about watering daily. I'd like to see your results.



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