The Pros & Cons of Straw Bale Gardening
If you’ve never heard of straw bale gardening, the concept might sound crazy. You might even ask with astonishment, “You mean you want me to plant vegetables in a straw bale instead of the ground?”
Ok, wait, just hear me out.
This technique allows you to grow a garden virtually anywhere. If you want to garden in your driveway, you could.
What is Straw Bale Gardening?
First, you might be asking what exactly is straw bale gardening. In short, you take a straw bale, condition it, then add fertilizer and water. At this point, it becomes a raised bed. You then add plants to it to grow either vegetables or any plant you’d like really.
This concept of having a temporary garden in this unlikely vessel of a straw bale is as aesthetically pleasing as it is innovative. Those successful in the endeavor will stand by it, but those who miscalculate or do not condition their bales correctly quickly swear it off.
There are definitely some advantages to this, but let’s weigh these against the disadvantages. Here are the pros and cons.
Low cost. Tell my story. Horticulture can become costly. And for my own intent and purpose, I want to make the endeavor one that feeds me rather than taking money out of my pocket.
Straw bales are great for those without adequate garden space. Most people don’t have a huge backyard, which makes strategic utilization of small spaces necessary. You can grow veggies, herbs, or whatever you like with straw bales without cultivating or digging. And the bale can be placed anywhere there is sunshine—no soil-based pathogens or pests.
You can put a straw bale garden anywhere sunny. That said, it's not a good idea to put bales on any wood you care about, such as a deck, because their constant dampness could cause it to rot. But you can garden in a driveway, empty lot, or rooftop, provided the roof can handle the weight. The bales hold a lot of water and get heavy.
Warmth for an extended growing
Another great feature of the straw bale is that they generate their own warmth allowing you to extend the growing season.
Less pain and more gain
One of the best features of this protocol is no digging. That also means no backache. Gardening in a straw bale is easier on the back. As a naturally raised bed, it’s easy to harvest and care for plants without bending over—no weeding or digging.
Bales are easy to manage. This has to do with the small-scale aspect of them. You can control everything because you are creating a micro-environment. Soil doesn’t offer this to the same extent.
Ok, here’s the best part...
High success rate
This process has a significant amount of success because there is a higher germination rate. This has to do with the fact that there isn’t a possibility of overwatering. Also, if you don’t plan on gardening in another capacity, you don’t need to invest in tools.
What’s great about the bales is that they decompose after repeated watering, adding even more nutrients as the process continues. Mushrooms and molds may grow, but these are not pathogens and will not harm the plant.
The concept of a temporary garden is exciting, and you can be successful, but there are more things to consider before you begin this process.
Weeds will grow but of a different variety. Straw bales already contain seeds, so this is something you’ll have to look out for.
This isn’t a fun process. Sprinkling urea, blood meal, fish emulsion, or compost/manure tea on straw or hay bales for days isn’t ideal.
Also, you’ll need to know where you want the bales before they get wet. Wet bales can be heavy and challenging to move afterward.
It is difficult to overwater straw bales because the water runs through them quickly. But for this reason, they require a ton of water. This is something to beware of.
Bales can cost up to $10, depending on the size, so you’ll want to consider this, mainly because you can only grow a few plants in each one. And they are only good for one season.
Bails tend to disintegrate during the season. This depends in part on the type of twine you choose.
If the plants you put in the bales are too tall, they can become unstable and tip over.
Potential to Contain Toxins
Straw can be sprayed with herbicides (which contain the chemicals aminopyralid, clopyralid, picloram, or aminocyclopyrachlor), which can harm your garden plants. You don't want a toxic straw in your compost pile, either.
How to condition the straw bales:
- Add one-half cup of urea with water
- Wait a day and water again
- Wait another day and add urea again
- Wait a day and add water again
- For the next three days, add one quarter-cup of urea to the waater
- Wait a day, and then add fertilizer
Now you’re ready to plant!
The idea here is to create some decomposition before you add the fertilizer.
Should you do it?
It’s a fascinating alternative to soil gardening, but it is certainly not a better one overall. If you’re in a place where you cannot access good soil, or there are contaminants in the ground, this might be a suitable option.