Straw Bale GardeningApril 26 2017
Straw Bale Gardening is great form of organic gardening that is a cheap alternative to raised bed vegetable gardening. Perfect for any keen gardeners with:
- Limited space
- Poor soil
- Mobility issues
Straw bales are relatively small, compared to traditional container gardens. They can be placed on any surface – concrete, ashfelt, sand, grass … anything! And they’re naturally raised, making them easier to maintain for anyone who has trouble bending or squatting.
Straw has a wealth of micronutrients locked away inside each stem. With a little bit of help to kick start the decomposition a straw bale will provide your vegetables with high levels of nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus, iron and manganese. Great nutrients for your plants that come as a natural part of Straw Bale Gardening.
A straw bale garden is in a state of continuous decomposition creating compost on the go. This also naturally heats your plant’s root space which encourages faster growth. In temperate climates, like our lovely Bellarine, Straw Bale Gardening means you can begin planting early and extend your vegetable growing season. In fact, because they form a compact garden bed, straw bales can work well in a small green house or covered porch for all year around vegetable growth and harvest.
Straw is also terrific for the water wise since it absorbs and stores water. Keep this in mind to ensure you don’t over water!
It gets better!
Straw bales offer excellent protection against infestation and disease. You’re essentially working with virgin soil that is naturally free from weeds, unwanted vegetation and viruses, such as “blight” which is carried by soil. Also, being up high increases air circulation. This prevents a build-up of mould and mildew. Up higher, it can be easier to quickly identify insect pests and intervene swiftly.
“How do I begin?” you ask.
Start with a straw bale. Wallington’s stocks inexpensive straw bales all year around. You can use Hay, which has more nutrients, but it’s also more expensive and can contain unwanted seeds.
Place your straw bale on cardboard to soak up any excess water. Some people even construct purpose build containers to keep their straw bale gardens looking good. Or you can place your bale into a conventional raised garden bed. It’s up to you. Because the straw will contain all the nutrients your garden needs you can place the bale (and cardboard bedding) on any surface including cement, paving, lawn or soil.
Position the bale on its side with string running around the outside to hold it together. Straw bales have one side cut and the other folded. You need to have the cut side up to absorb water and fertiliser.
Make sure the bale is in the position you want to keep it in for the season. Once it starts decomposing and absorbing water it will get very heavy and almost impossible to move.
Once it’s in place, position a soaker hose across the middle of the bale. This is the most efficient way to ensure your garden maintains the right moisture level.
Preparing the bale for planting can take a few months. Anticipate a minimum of 12 days. If you skip this stage and fertilise after you’ve planted, the straw will get too hot for your seedlings and kill the roots.
Choose a high nitrogen fertiliser, something that will create heat in your straw bale garden. If you are using compost or chicken manure, you’ll need to mix it 50/50 with something high in nitrogen like blood meal or a commercial mix.
Days 1-3 Soak the bale and keep it wet.
Days 4-6 Water in a full dose of fertiliser, calculated on an area of ½ m2. Make sure the bale stays continuously wet.
Days 7-9 Water a half dose of fertiliser and continue to keep the bale wet.
Day 10 Ensure the bale stays wet and monitor its internal temperature until it stabilises with the outside air temperature. You can measure the temperature with a thermometer or guestimate by sticking your fingers into the bale – this method is accurate enough for vegies.
It can take anything from a few days to a week for the temperature to stabilise.
Now it’s time to plant.
You can plant directly into the straw, or create a small hole with a trowel and fill with potting mix. The potting mix can help give seeds something to settle in so they don’t drop through the bale. If you are transplanting seedlings it is best to plant them in along with some of their potting soil.
From here on keep the bale moist with your soaker hose. You don’t want to over water as this can cause nutrients to wash away. Add an occasional does of fertiliser if you notice your foliage beginning to yellow.
If your bale starts to loose form or begins to collapse, you can reinforce it with garden stakes and chicken wire or string. If you’re straw bale garden is on a hard surface you can use bricks or besser blocks to support it.
Any vegetable you can grow in soil can be grown in straw bale gardening. Plants that grow high, such as tomatoes or corn will need to be well staked as the straw offers less support than soil. Avoid planting perennials though since your straw bale will only last a couple of years at the most before it collapses. The old bale makes excellent compost for a conventional garden.
Wallington’s stocks straw, fertiliser, soaker hoses, seeds and potting mix! So we’ve got everything you need to get you straw bale gardening for spring. (We can even give you some old cardboard!)