Straw Bales…The 8th Wonder of Gardening

Planning and planting season is among us! Snow is starting to give way to mud that will soon be green grass and warmer temperatures. I look out my window and see rows of straw bales in the back corner of our yard with a dusting of March snow on them. They are calling out to me…and they want plants.

Listen to the blog post by going to our Podcast page.

I love to garden. My grandpa and my dad had/have gardens. Flowers, vegetables, you name it. Grandpa’s yard was like a massive oasis in the middle of a city. Flowers everywhere. A creek running through the middle of the yard with a bridge to cross. The back part of the yard had the vegetables and a swing set. The tulips in spring and sneaking peas and cherry tomatoes when he wasn’t looking was my favorite part. My life goal is to have a garden like his. I have so much to learn.

Honestly, I didn’t start loving gardening until I was in my late 20s. Pulling weeds from the flower beds and watering the vegetables are now relaxing. It’s a joke in our house. “I’m going in the back to water the garden,” translates into “I’ll start in the garden and as I bring the watering cans to the front I’ll see some weeds and pull them, slowly working my way around the whole house. See you when the sun sets.” It’s a space where I can let my wander and disappear from the craziness of daily life. 

I love flowers, but let’s talk about vegetables. My favorite question to be asked is, “Your garden grows in what?”

Straw bales. 

I’m telling you it is the best way to grow plants! We have gardened this way since 2014 and it’s almost fool-proof.

Top 10 reasons why I love straw bale gardening:

(listen to the podcast for extra info on each)

  1. It’s easy and cheap.
  2. No digging or tilling.
  3. It’s a biodegradable raised garden.
  4. They usually last two growing seasons.
  5. Almost no soil borne diseases.
  6. Plant directly into the bales…no dirt!
  7. Straw bales retain heat often allowing for longer growing season and (in my experience) larger plants.
  8. Can’t over water (shout out to all the over-waters).
  9. NO WEEDS! Though once I had a couple bales that sprouted a couple weeds. They pulled right out!
  10. Compost!!!

This gardening idea was suggested to me by a coworker. Basically, you get bales, begin the composting process over the course of a few weeks, and then plant. Not going to lie, the first few weeks are the hardest and easiest all at once. It’s a series of water and nutrients to break down the bales. If you don’t stay on top of the composting the first two weeks, the garden may not be a success. I found this out last year in the craziness of the pandemic. Tip: Don’t assume because you used the bales the year before, you don’t need to start the compost process again!

At first the thought of setting up and maintaining this was intimidating. Thank goodness for the Straw Bale Gardens book! It walks you through every step and even gives you layout and companion plant suggestions. I can’t say enough good things about this book.

We’ve grown our garden from six bales the first year to 18 bales the third year. This year we will have 12-15 bales. We always have great intentions for planting seeds indoors, but that is often a crazy time for us and we end up buying plants from a small local organic farm (former student of mine) and seeding the rest directly in the bales. We’ve had great success with just about everything we planted. Carrots are the one thing I can’t get to grow in bales. The greens are tall, but the carrots are only two inches long. I was shocked that sweet potatoes worked so well, though a little thinner than I would like. Tomatoes, peppers, and green beans are always winners. One year our cherry tomato plant got 7ft tall!

There’s still so much to learn about gardening. Each year it evolves. Look for garden updates throughout the year as I love to share and learn from you. What do you think we should plant this year?

Learn more about straw bale gardening:

Published by Jessica Norwood

Lover of all things creative and enjoy soaking in the world around me. I love the earth and admire how everything functions on it.

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