HOW TO EASILY GROW VEGETABLES IN STRAW BALES
How to Easily Grow Vegetables in Straw Bales
We've added a couple more raised garden beds to our vegetable garden area so we can free up space for the more long term plants such as our organic ginger. We go through a lot of ginger, mainly using it dehydrated for adding to our chai mix, but we also use it fresh in smoothies and cooking.
How to start your straw bale garden
We made a frame up from old corrugated iron that we already had lying around. This isn't necessary for straw bale gardening, but in our sub-tropical location we sometimes (when not in a drought!) have a wet season so we are hoping this will protect the bales from getting too wet and rotting down too quickly. It should also help them keep their shape as sometimes they will warp sideways as they are rotting down. We filled the new beds with whole straw bales placed cut side up, with the baling twine left in place to help keep them together. Filling a garden bed with straw bales is a much cheaper alternative than buying soil in, and they are perfect for planting annuals in.
Fertilising the straw bales
We run a line of old alpaca poo and Organic Extra fertiliser down the middle of the straw bales and then water in well before laying out the drip irrigation hose. We are often pressed for time in the mornings, so being able to simply turn the tap on and water the whole veg garden is one less thing we need to worry about!
Irrigating the straw bales
Once the irrigation hose is in place, we strategically pin it down over the bales, ensuring each plant will have it's own space and will receive adequate water. We cut up short pieces of fencing wire, fold in half and push them into the straw bales to hold the irrigation hose in place.
Planting in straw bales
After around two to four weeks, depending on how often we water, the bales will start to rot down and we can begin planting out our vegetables.
To do this, we simply make a small hole in the straw by hand, add a handful of good potting mix and plant the seedling. Seeds can also be planted this way, but as we have problems with pests digging them up and eating them, so we find seedlings do much better.
How long will straw bales last?
How long the straw bales will last depends on a few factors, but basically the hotter and wetter it is, the quicker they will break down. We tend to renew ours every six months, using the old bales as a beautiful mulch on other garden beds or leaving them where they are, complete with the dead or dying annuals in them, to compost down in situ. We will add another layer of straw bales over the top and start all over again. Eventually, the space will fill up with composted straw and we will have ourselves a new raised garden bed. It's a slow process, but that's what slow living is all about!
What can you grow in straw bales?
All sorts of plants can be grown in straw bales, the only exception being most root vegetables (except for potatoes) and perhaps larger, sprawling plants like pumpkins which get too heavy. We have successfully grown zucchini and cucumbers in a single line of straw bales, planting one plant in each bale and training the plant to drape towards the ground. Strawberries love straw bales, and as they are not an annual, we will replant them into new bales when the old bales rot down too far. We do the same with the silverbeet and anything else that is still thriving.
Even peas can be grown in straw bales. We made up a trellis using star posts at each end of the bale, and strung baling twine in between for the peas to grow on. Worked a treat!
Pests and disease in straw bale gardens
As opposed to traditional soil garden beds, using straw bales and renewing them every season means there is less chance of disease and pests building up. As we grow everything organically and don't use any sprays, this is a real bonus.
Photo by Yoal Desurmont on Unsplash
How to choose straw bales suitable for gardening
Always source your straw bales from a reputable supplier who does not use pesticides, you don't want to be growing healthy vegetables in a straw bale sprayed with chemicals!
Oh and make sure to ask that the straw bales are seed-free, or they'll end up growing into nice big hairy bales of grass that will outdo any vegetables you might plant. Trust me! #thevoiceofexperience 😩