Straw bale gardening is a great way to grow a variety of crops in places with little, poor, or no soil at all. Easier to construct and less expensive than raised beds, Straw bale gardens are a great way to grow fresh and organic crops almost anywhere.

The first thing you must do when constructing a straw bale garden is acquire your straw. Straw can be purchased at most garden supply stores but if you are able to it is best to purchase straw form your local farm. This not only ensures that you know how the straw was grown but also supports your local farms as well. In addition to this getting local straw ensure that you are actually purchasing straw not hay. Some companies will dilute their straw with hay or just sell 100% hay as straw. The difference is hay contains seeds while straw doesn’t. This means that down the line your straw (or hay in this case) bale garden could start sprouting unwanted grasses and weeds.

Once your Straw bales are acquired you can begin to layout your garden. Each bale will act as a bed to plant crops in. The number of bales and arrangement you use will depend on the space you have available. When setting down your straw bales you want to make sure that the string holding the bale together is running around the perimeter of the bale and not across the top over your growing area. The great thing about straw bale gardens is that they can be as small as a single bale on a porch or deck. All the way up to rows and rows of bales in a backyard.

If the straw bales are planning to be placed on grass or soil it is recommended that you place down a sheet of weed plastic or a layer of mulch underneath each bale. This will prevent weeds from sprouting and growing into the straw bale during the growing season. If the bale is going to be placed on concrete, a deck or porch, or soil with nothing growing you do not have to worry about this step.

Know that the straw bales are setup and have anti weed material underneath as needed it is time to construct optional trellis. If you plan to grow plants in your garden that prefer vertical growth like tomatoes, squashes, beans, and other vine vegetables then a trellis is needed over your straw bale garden to support these plants. For straw bale gardens that were constructed on soil the easiest way to construct a trellis is to hammer a post into the ground at each end of the straw bale. Make sure this post is about 6-7 feet higher than the top of the straw bales. After the posts are hammered in at opposite sides wire is run across from post to post in 10-12-inch increments starting 12 inches from the top of the straw bales. Repeat this for as many straw bales you plan to grow vertical growing crops.

People who are growing on concrete or deck or porch face the issue that you cannot hammer a post into the ground. In this situation the best solution is to construct posts with pvc pipes concrete and some old beach pails. First mix the concrete and fill each beach pail with concrete until about an inch from the top. (If you do not have a beach pale any large bucket will work as long as it will be heavy enough with concrete to support plants without tipping over) Once the pails are filled with concrete place the pvc pipe into the pails and let harden. You then have 2 portable posts that you can place at either side of the straw bale and the run wires between like explained before.

Now that the straw bale gardens are all set up and ready to grow it is time to condition the straw bales for planting. This must be done approximately 2 weeks prior to planting and ensure that the bales turn into a perfect soil condition for growing. To condition your bales, you will need fertilizer/compost and water. This fertilizer/compost can be homemade or store bought but if store bought you must get organic fertilizer. This is usually a mixture of manure, worm castings, rice and other natural minerals. You want to avoid chemical fertilizers for this application. For the first 6 days, 3 cups of fertilizer should be added to each bale. Then water must be sprayed overtop the bales to push the fertilizer into the bales and saturate the straw. From days 7 to 9 cut the amount of fertilizer per bale in half while still continuing to saturate the bales with water.  On day 10 increase the amount of fertilizer back to 3 cups per bale and then saturate with water. At this point you should be able to stick your finger in the bale of straw and feel heat. This means that the straw inside is decomposing and is becoming soil for your plants to grow in.

Now that the bales are conditioned they are ready to be planted in. If you are planting from seedling create a little hole in the straw bale with a garden shovel and place the seedling in. Use some potting soil to fill in the hole and pat down the seedling into the straw bale. If you are planting from seed you must first cover the top of your straw bale with about 2 inches of potting soil. Then you can plant your seeds in the potting soil as usual and when the seed grows its roots will find its way down into the straw bale.

Once your crops are planted you are essentially finished with your straw bale garden. Weeding is not an issue as there are no weed seeds in the straw bales and none will grow up from the ground beneath it. The only maintenance required from now on is watering. If you want to take the extra step and install an automatic watering system you will have yourself a self-sufficient garden that will produce crops for you all growing season.

After the growing season has ended and all your plants have been harvested the straw will be gray and soggy. You can either dispose of it or if you are able to it is recommended that you keep it and let it compost through th winter. This means that next year you will have a mound of organic compost to use