Straw Bale Gardening

This week’s Local Look story featuring Truck restaurant includes a description of the new straw bale garden installed on the premises by propriater, Nancy Roper.  In keeping with that theme, we decided to make this week’s Garden Tip all about straw bale gardening. straw-bale-planting-pepper-web

Straw bale gardens are inexpensive, easy to build and can be placed just about anywhere that gets at least six to eight hours of sun a day. Here are some basic methods and tips from Joel Karsten, author of Straw Bale Gardens and Nicole Controneo Jolly of Modern Farmer and How Does it Grow.

  • Source your straw: You can purchase bales from the local garden center, or directly from a local farm. Straw is easiest to come by in the fall. Straw is better than hay (which is full of seeds). 
  • Position your bales: Arrange the bales side by side in rows, with their cut sides up. The strings that bind the bales should run across the sides, not across the planting surface. The strings will help keep the shape of the bales as they start to soften and decompose.
  • Condition the bales: Two weeks before you plant, you have to get the bales cooking. This means wetting and fertilizing the bales for roughly 10 days to start composting the inner straw.
  • Build a trellis and greenhouse in one: Straw bale gardening combines the best of container gardening with vertical gardening. Karsten recommends erecting seven-foot-tall posts at the end of each row of bales, and running wire between them at intervals of 10 inches from the tops of the bales. As your seeds sprout, you can use the bottom wire to drape a plastic tarp to create an instant greenhouse for those chilly early-season nights. And as the plants begin to grow, the wire works like a vertical trellis, supporting your cucumbers, squash and assorted viney vegetables.
  • Planting: If you’re planting seedlings, use your trowel to separate the straw in the shape of a hole and add some sterile planting mix to help cover the exposed roots. If you’re planting seeds, then cover the bales with a one to two-inch layer of planting mix and sew into this seedbed. As the seeds germinate, they’ll grow roots down into the bale itself.
  • After the harvest: When the harvest season ends, the bales will be soft, saggy and gray — but that’s exactly what you want. Because when you pile the straw together and leave it to compost over winter, you’ll have a mound of beautiful compost to fill all your pots and planters in the spring.

Also, be sure to click here to check out this simple instructional video on Straw Bale Gardening: Start to Finish.  

Happy straw bale gardening, Bedford!