Have you ever wanted to build a raised bed for your garden but didn’t have the materials or enough money? Gardening in straw bales is a cheaper and eco-friendly alternative. It may sound unusual but it’s extremely effective and reduces the amount of labor it takes to garden.
Straw is cost effective: Straw bales are cheap. You can get them from your local feed store or farmer. Straw (not hay you feed to animals) is animal bedding and usually ranges from four to six dollars for a large bale. They should be yellow in color and free of mold.
It is Versatile: Location is actually one of the easiest things to work out when you are using straw. You can put a straw bale almost anywhere the sun shines for most of the day. If you do not have any room in your yard you can even put them on the concrete of your driveway. You can also stack them and grow your garden vertically. Simply plant your plants on the sides of the bales instead of the tops.
Make sure to prepare your straw: Place your straw in the desired location (make sure you don’t want to move it because they are heavy when wet!) You want to put a sprinkler on them for the day and thoroughly soak them. Be sure the leave the strings holding them together on. One the second day cover the top of your bale with a high nitrogen source (I use my own composted manure from chickens) and gently water it into the straw. Let it sit dry the next day and then continue to water your straw for the next one to two weeks. Within a few days your straw should start to decompose on the inside and heat up. Do not plant your plants until the straw goes through its hot cycle and starts to cool down (about two weeks).
It is Simple: Planting is easy. You can top your straw with some soil and direct sow your seeds or you can transplant your plants. Use a screwdriver to pull out enough straw for your root ball. Make it somewhat larger and add some extra soil to give the roots an easy place to grow. I use the extra straw I pulled out as a water saving mulch around the base of the plants. Water heavily until your plants are well established. Then you should be able to water every few days. Straw stores an amazing amount of water!
You should be able to grow three large plants or up to eight smaller ones per bale. You can also plant herbs on the sides. Straw makes its own compost as it breaks down but you should gently fertilize through the season. Planting in straw means you can also plant sooner and grow slightly longer if you have a short growing season. The straw generates heat as it breaks down. A simple frame with plastic cover will give you a self-heating miniature greenhouse. At the end of the year cut the strings on your straw and add it to the compost pile.
Straw is an extremely easy way to garden in tight spaces. They are raised off the ground for easy access; virtually eliminating the need to weed, are cheap, and good for the environment. What do you use for unique gardening techniques? We would love to hear about them in the comments section.
Jessica Wick is one of our very own E3Live employees, she enjoys teaching her three children about organic gardening, has a horse, a goat, 2 dogs and a flock of chickens that also love E3Live!