Start a Straw Bale Garden (Complete How-to)

have you thought about growing in a

straw bale or maybe you've never even

heard of straw bale gardening

hi I'm gardener Scott and I discuss

everything gardening so that you can

become a better gardener today I'm going

to give you all of the steps you need to

know to start a straw bale garden


a number of years ago Joel Carsten

graduated from the University of

Minnesota with a Bachelor of Science in

horticulture and with that and his

experience from growing up on a farm he

was observing how plants grow around

broken-down old straw bales and he came

up with an idea that he experimented

with over a course of about 15 years

until he came up with the idea for straw

bale gardening and his book straw bale

Gardens became a pretty big success

he has since come out with this book

which is straw bale Gardens complete and

I'll put a link to it below it has all

of the steps you need to know to

actually start growing in straw bales

now it's not as easy as you think and

what I'm going to show you over the

course of this video are the steps that

are recommended by Carsten in his book a

straw bale garden starts with bales of

straw and this is the first important

piece because you don't want hay bales

or alfalfa bales it needs to be a straw

bale because of what the material is

when a farmer harvests a crop like wheat

or barley or oats they only want to

harvest the tip of the grain and all of

the stock and the rest of the plant is

just thrown out the back well that's

what straw is this is the unused portion

of big crops like that it has very few

seeds and it's made up primarily of the

stock of those plants as in other plants

the stock is the transport mechanism for

water to get up to those grains that

will be harvested but after this has

been discarded it dries out that

actually works to our benefit

because each of these individual stocks

of straw are hollow and through

capillary action they will absorb and

retain water that is ad

after they've dried out and that's a

huge benefit in straw bale gardening

because when we wet these bales they

tend to stay wet and so the plants that

will be growing in these bales have

almost a constant supply of water and

because of the way that the bales are

put together on one end you'll be able

to see some of these hollow stalks that

will be poking through the bale this

becomes relatively easy to see because

on the other end of the bale you see

very few of the ends it's just the

flattened stalks as they bend the stalks

to put the Bale together on the sides of

the bale you'll see how all of the

individual stocks are running a parallel

so you won't have that folded piece and

you won't have the tip the reason you

need to know this information is because

there is a specific way to place the

bale when you start your straw bale

garden you want to make sure that the

side with the open ends is up

the flat side of the bail is on the

bottom the stocks are running vertically

and those open tips the hollow pieces

are on top of the bail it's important to

point out something that's a little

unique about these specific bails

normally when you buy a straw bale the

twine will be on the side of the bale

where you see the long vertical stalks

and that holds it all together but

occasionally you'll get bales that have

been rebelled and I think that's what

happened with these bales because it's

pretty obvious that the long vertical

pieces run up this side and the open

ends are on this top but the twine

wasn't put in to match what's usually

normal so still look for the open ends

for the top and if that means that the

twine is gonna be on the top well then

so be it one of the greatest benefits to

planting and straw bales is that you can

have a straw bale garden anywhere I have

them right here in open ground in my

developing garden but you could just as

easily have your straw bales on a

driveway or on top of gravel or maybe if

you've got a lot of tree roots you could

put them on top of the roots these are

essentially little raised beds and the

plants that will grow in here will stay

within the confines of each of these

individual straw bales so feel free to

be creative if you want a garden but you

haven't decided yet to build a raised

bed just by placing one of these bales

you can get a head start on the season

and start growing and that brings us to

one of the biggest problems with straw

bale gardening you can't do it overnight

these bales require preparation about

two weeks and if you live in a very cold

climate it can be longer than that

and here's why we're not actually

planting in the straw but we're planting

in is the composted straw so over the

course of the next two weeks or so I'll

be adding a lot of water and a lot of

nitrogen fertilizer to begin the

decomposition of the straw within the

middle of these individual bales and

it's that composted material that will

supply some of the nutrients that the

roots need now straw itself doesn't have

a lot of nutrients which is where the

fertilizer comes in the nitrogen will

benefit the bacteria that are necessary

for decomposition and then the other

components the other nutrients within

the individual fertilizer will help feed

the plants will start that breakdown

today on day one by wetting these veils

completely with water and adding

fertilizer and this is why the

orientation of the bales becomes

important because with the open ends of

those individual stocks facing up

they're more likely to start absorbing

the water right away and because the

stalks will be running parallel with

each other within the Bale the water can

easily see between the stalks and

completely saturate the inside of these

bales to jumpstart the decomposition of

the straw I'm using an organic dried

blood this is a 1200 fertilizer that

first number being nitrogen and that's

what I need now it's going to take a lot

of nitrogen to get this straw

decomposing this is a three pound box

you might have a four pound bag

well it's recommended that each of these

bales is going to need five pounds of a

nitrogen fertilizer I'm starting today

with this I'll probably drop about half

of this box in this initial application

and then over the course of the next

couple weeks I'll be adding more

nitrogen to get that bacteria active

and actively decomposing I'll sprinkle a

fair amount of this dried blood on the

straw bale and then I'll water it in

you can use just about any type of

fertilizer that you want as long as it's

high in nitrogen and this is not a time

for slow release fertilizers we really

want this to jumpstart and this bacteria

to start working right away and the way

to do that is by using a fertilizer that

can dissolve and work its way into the

Bale pretty quickly

on day two we're just going to add water

and make sure that these bales are

completely saturated Lily of course is

interested in the dry blood but she

hasn't tried to disturb these bales yet

on the third day you want to add

fertilizer again and you could use the

same fertilizer you started with today

I'm mixing it up a little bit and I'm

using a fish fertilizer this is a 5-1

one and I'll mix it according to the

directions and then pour it over the

straw bales and for day four I'll just

water again just like day two on day

five I'm using the fish emulsion

fertilizer again and I'll give the bales

a really good soaking of this high

nitrogen fertilizer on day six you

probably guessed we just water

the bales but then things begin to

change on day seven day eight and day

nine you'll want to add more fertilizer

but about half as much each day and then

that'll take us to day 10 on day ten you

want to transition back to full strength

fertilizer but now rather than focusing

on a nitrogen-rich fertilizer we want a

balanced fertilizer and that's a

fertilizer where all three numbers

are about the same like a 10 10 10 or 20

20 20 this fertilizer is an 18 18 21

that's close enough I want to point out

that you don't have to use just organic

fertilizer use what you have or use what

you have access to mix it as the

direction state and then add it to the

bales on day 11 just go ahead and water

the bales again but get your seeds and

your plants ready to go

because we're going to start growing on

day 12 you also want to get some potting

soil mix and it's better if you find one

that has some fertilizer in it because

as the plants grow that extra fertilizer

is going to make a difference because

remember there isn't a lot of nutrition

in these straw bales other than the

fertilizer that we've been adding and

we'll continue to add these 12 days of

preparation are completely based on

Karstens recommendations there is

flexibility in how you choose to do it

if you're in a very cold region it might

take longer I've actually had a few days

with snow on top of these bales so I've

given my bales a couple extra days so

that they could thaw out for my freezing

weather if you've got a very hot climate

that you're doing this in you might be

able to get started in ten days because

the process will definitely be faster

and don't be surprised if you don't see

some plants already beginning to grow

because there might be some seeds left

behind from when this straw was

harvested just pull up the little shoots

that have started to grow and this is

also a nice indication that this Bale is

indeed ready for your seeds and your

plants by following that 12 day

recommended cycle or longer you're more

likely to have any seeds that are in

these bales sprout so there's a good

reason to follow Karstens recommendation

at the 12-day point or later now we can

go ahead

and put some potting soil on top of

these bales about an inch or two is good

and I'll just spread this potting mix

all the way to the edges of these bales

you're probably thinking after all of

this work over twelve days why do we now

need to add potting mix well it's

primarily for seeds because you can grow

both seeds and plants in the straw bales

but the straw by itself even with the

fertilizer is not enough to ensure seed

germination so that's where the potting

mix comes in if you're going to just be

transplanting you don't need the mix but

I do find it to be beneficial I'm

putting some kale into this straw bale

and planting it is not much different

than planting in any other soil bed you

just dig a hole but this time we're

digging into some really nice moist

straw that has started to decompose you

have your hole you take your plant and

you put it into the hole now this is why

I think some of the extra potting soil

can be beneficial because when you put

it into the hole this young transplant

has some soil to grow into right away

I've got a lot of roots in this because

I've been growing it downstairs for a

while but now I just place it into the

hole and I'll take some of the rest of

that potting soil and put it around the

plant and there's the first of my kale

to go in this straw bale in this straw

bale I'm going to be planting some

radishes and you just sow the seeds

exactly how it tells you to on the seed

package these seeds go 1/4 inch deep and

the rows should be 8 inches apart so I'm

going to do it just like I do in any

their bed I'm going to just give myself

an area for the seeds to go about a

quarter inch deep and then I'll start

sowing the seeds it doesn't have to be

exact because I'm planning on coming

back and thinning and then I just cover

up that row do another row and do the

same thing as the roots of these seeds

begin to grow they'll go down into the

straw and get all the nutrients they

need there's really no limitation on

what seeds you choose to so in your

straw bale garden

I'm putting lettuce into this bale and

I've put them in just like I would in

any of my other raised beds you can grow

peas you can grow squash you could grow

anything you want just treat this like a

raised bed with soil already in it just

as with any other bed you want to be

sure and water well after transplanting

or sowing your seeds and while the bale

itself will help retain the water longer

the top is still going to dry out in the

hot Sun so be expecting to increase your

water needs when these plants are young

just to keep that top surface nice and

moist some of this extra straw you can

actually put it on top of this potting

mix to act as a mulch to cut down on

some of that watering when the Sun is

particularly hot

do anticipate the height of the plants

that you'll be growing in these bales

because they're suitable for anything

after I harvest the kale and the radish

and the lettuce I'll be growing tomatoes

and cucumbers well they're going to

require a trellis so I'm using one of my

tomato trellises in the future for the

upward growth of those plants don't

think that you're limited by growing in

a straw bale this is just a place for

the roots to grow but as the plants grow

up do anticipate that you're going to

need some type of trellis to support

those plants there are some issues that

you need to be concerned about it's not

all good the first being the cost it

seems like this would be a really

inexpensive way to garden and it can be

if you can find a good source for your

bales but look at all the fertilizer

that had to be used to get these bales

ready it's going to take more fertilizer

during the growing season in a bed where

you've already got good soil you're not

going to need that much fertilizer and

you need at least six of these bales to

reach an equivalent area of about a 4

foot by 8 foot bed I do suggest when you

go to your ranch or farm stein or to

pick up the bales to ask about old bales

not only are they more likely to have

any seeds in them already have sprouted

but they're usually sold at a discount

because a lot of the people with horses

that are buying straw want new straw and

not old straw you can't grow up to the

edge of these straw bales like you can

in the ground or in a raised bed because

the outside is going to dry out and you

need to keep the plants closer to the

middle you can try putting them closer

together and that helps but that does

lead into the potential problem for

rodents building nests within the straw

so if you have a rodent problem do

consider that but even after they've

been planted they're still portable you

can move them around to other areas as

necessary and one of the best benefits

for me and a primary reason why I grow

in straw bales is for the soil improve

think about all the fertilizer that's

working its way down through these bales

so the soil underneath is already got

more fertilization than any other area

of my garden and at the end of the

season when these bales have mostly

decomposed I'll break them apart and

spread them over the soil and that'll

act to improve a larger area of my

garden I love that benefit I do think

that straw bale gardens are better for

gardeners have a little bit more

experience just because of some of those

issues but even if you're a brand new

gardener and you want to try it

well the straw bale Gardens Complete

Book gives a lot of information on how

to start the seeds and care for the

plants and even build your own bills and

trellises so it could be something to

check out if you have any questions by

all means let me know in the comments

below and if you learn something from

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I'm gardener Scott enjoy gardening