Straw or hay bale gardening is not to be confused with using loose straw in your garden for mulch or compost. What we’re talking about here is the whole bale, as it stands, tied with twine and used for planting plants on the top.
Especially good for those with dicky backs, straw bale gardening needs only someone to lug the jolly bales into place and with a minimum of effort you’ll have a marvel of bounty and beauty indeed.
We can learn from others here. There are timely tips on straw bale gardening that will save you angst. Here’s the hoedown:
The bale is the garden. Put it on your balcony or path if you want to.
Use one or umpteen bales as you need and in any pattern. Because straw bale gardening is raised, it’s easy to work with, so make sure you allow for handy access.
A note about water. . .
Don’t do straw bale gardening because it sounds like fun. It’s not meant to be a gimmicky way to grow plants; it’s a means to use if circumstances make it difficult to grow plants in soil.
It may be that your straw bale garden the first season will be the beginnings of a new garden the following season… then you can build up your growing levels with compost, soil or lasagna layers later.
Unless you have plenty of natural rainfall, handy waste water, or you recycle or pump the runoff from watering your bales, then straw bale gardening is NOT water wise.
Which straw to use for straw bale gardening?
The best straw bales for a garden are wheat, oats, rye or barley straw. These consist of stalks left from harvesting grain; they have been through a combine harvester and had the seeds threshed from them, leaving none or very few left.
Hay bales for gardening are less popular as they have the whole stalk and seed heads with mucho seeds. They also often have other weeds and grass seeds to cause trouble. Use what you can get locally — it may even be lucerne, pea straw, vetch or alfalfa bales.
Corn and linseed (flax) bales are not so good as they are very coarse, and linseed straw takes a long time to decompose due to the oil residue left on the stalks.
It’s simple to pull out the odd wayward grain seeds with straw bale gardening, but hay bales have tendency to grow the likes of a small lawn! Thus you may need to occasionally give them a haircut rather than try and pull the tenacious new sprouts out.
Hay bale gardening has one up on straw in that it is a nice warm and rich environment with enough nitrogen to continually supply growing plants. Straw is mostly carbon and so nitrogen must be added for plant growth.
Where to buy straw bales for garden?
Most garden supply centers and nurseries sell straw bales. The big nursery centers often have free trailer use to cart your bales home if you have a tow-bar and if you need more than one bale that won’t go in your car.
Farmers are your next bet if you live in the country.
Also try animal breeding places and stables as they often buy straw bales in bulk for bedding and may sell you the odd one.
With the popularity of straw bale house building, it’s worthwhile asking at builder’s suppliers for bales for your garden.
Local councils, public road or transport control organisations are also worth a try for buying straw bales for gardening, as they sometimes use bales to buffer traffic and divert rubble from drains etc. If they won’t part with one to you, they should be able to give you a supplier’s contact.
How much do straw bales cost?
Straw bales costs vary from country to country, but your cheapest option is usually going to a farm, where you could be lucky at US$1.per bale. Otherwise prices range from US$2 to $15 per bale. Still good value for an instant little garden!
Arranging your strawbale garden
Put each bale in the exact place, because it’s hard to even nudge these monsters once you’ve got your little straw bale garden factory in full swing.
Just like a normal vegetable garden, your straw bale plants need sun, 4-8 hours if possible, depending on your choice of plants. Leafy greens and some herbs need slightly less sun than vines and tomatoes for example.
If you have a sunny rot-proof wall, you can put your bales against it and grow tomatoes, cucumber or similar up the wall.