STRAW BALE GARDENING
The Grange way!
Straw bale growing is a gardening method used for raising vegetables and herbs directly on a bale of straw! Straw is preferable over other baled grasses, (orchard, timothy, etc) because they tend to have more weed and grass seeds.
There are advantages to this type of gardening.
1 – The bales are not permanent and can be added to the compost pile at the end of the season.
2 – No digging or soil prep is needed which means they can be grown on hard rocky surfaces with success.
3 – Weeds and garden pests will be held to a minimum.
The bale should have two to three strands of twine holding it together. Choose the area that will provide the most amount of sun exposure as well as water accessibility. You can lay down landscape fabric to help prevent weeds from below.
Once the bales are set, water thoroughly and keep moist. This is important as the bales will start to create heat as they decompose.
Sprinkle the top of each bale with one cup of Ammonium sulfate, (21-0-0). This speeds the decomposition process. You can use organic nitrogen such as blood meal or fish meal but it will take longer to start the breakdown process of the bale.
Sprinkle ½ cup ammonium sulfate on top of the bale.
Note – Although keeping the bales moist throughout the entire process is a critical, make sure not to over water which will leach out all the fertilizer and nutrients.
Feel the heat on top of the bale. If too hot check every day until the bale cools to around 99 degrees or lower.
The bales should be ready for planting in about 3-4 weeks.
There are two ways to plant the bales;
1 – Create pockets 3-4 inches deep and fill each with planting soil. The number of pockets will vary depending on what you are planting. This works well for plant starts
2 – Put a 3 inch layer of planting soil on top of the bale and plant directly into it. This method works well for seeds
Watering is very important to straw bale gardening as the water moves through the straw quickly.
Drip irrigation hoses with timers can be very effective and take a lot of guess work out the process.
A regular fertilizing regimen should be established to replace nutrients being used by the microbes to break down the bale.
Nitrogen is normally the fastest to go. A lack of nitrogen will result in the plants turning yellow, (chlorosis)
We recommend using a good organic fertilizer such as Gardener & Bloome specific to the particular crop, i.e, tomato vegetable, bud and bloom, etc.
Fertilize every 3 weeks and water in lightly so as not to wash the fertilizer off.
Weed control is usually not a major problem as the bale is above the ground surface and any that take root in the bale can be easily picked off.
Ground dwelling insects such as cutworms and root weevils will not be a problem as the bale is usually used for only one season which breaks their life cycle.
Other harmful pests can be controlled by the use of Bon-neem, pyrethrins, or beneficial insects.
At the completion of the growing year the bales can be recycled in the compost pile or simply worked into the existing soil.