Saturday, February 26, 2011

Straw Bale Gardening - Part 1: The Setup

I'm attempting a vegetable garden for the first time ever this year.  Gardening has never really been my idea of fun in the past (ask my parents who were always trying to get me to help out in the garden as a kid), but it's time to suck it up.  Buying organic produce can get expensive and there no reason why I can't grow some of my staple vegetables.  I elected to try straw bale gardening when I heard about it because of its pure simplicity.  Before straw bale gardening and I became acquainted, I was stressing out about the lack of space in my backyard and the lack of quality soil.  Problem solved (I hope).

With straw bale gardening, the garden is the bale!  With water, a nitrogen source, and time, the bales begin to "cook" and provide a nutrient rich environment that continues to compost during the gardening season.  Straw bale gardening has numerous advantages such as:
  • you can garden on top of non-gardening surfaces (cement in my case)
  • it provides an extra raised bed so you don't have to bend over or kneel
  • it is a cheap alternative to other garden soils ($5/bale in my case)
  • they are an excellent source of compost at the end of the season
Normally the bales would take months of watering to start composting.  Since it's already the end of February, I'm speeding up the process of microbe building and rot by adding a phosphorus and a nitrogen source.  I didn't want to buy commercial fertilizer with nitrogen because I'm trying to do everything organically.   I told my wife she had an option of bone and blood meal, or collecting our urine : )  She wasn't to keen on the idea of urine so bone and blood meal it is. 

After placing my bales where I wanted them in my yard I mixed up a 2 parts bone meal and 1 part blood meal mixture. 

I'm not exactly sure how much of this I'm supposed to use (remember this is my first time gardening), but I ended up spreading the amount you see in the picture above, over 3 bales or so.

By the way, these bales became like giant lollipops to my dogs as soon as they were covered in bone and blood.  I spoiled them long enough to take a picture of the event. 

It looks like my white dog is about to tear into me if I come any nearer, but actually he's just trying to do something with the straw he managed to get stuck in his teeth.

After the bone and blood meal was laid I hosed down the bales really good to mix it in.  It's important for me to keep the bales nice and wet for the next week or two to make sure the bales are nice and cooking (composting).

To make life easier I decided to go with a drip hose that connected to my automated watering timer system.

Hopefully, that's it.  Sometime in the next two months I should be ready to start planting my seeds.  Wish me luck.  I realize this was the easy part.

* We linked this post at Simple Lives Thursday at GNOWFGLINS *


  1. What a great idea for a location without soil! I'm going to share this on my Facebook page.

  2. @kris: Thanks Kris for your willingness to share my post. I just checked out your blog too and it looks like you have some good gardening tips. I'll be sure to use it to help me with my new gardening endeavors.

  3. I'm looking forward to following your garden progress!

  4. @Heidi: Thanks Heidi! I'll try very hard not to let you down : )

  5. Hey, I've done straw bale gardening for 3 years now. You may want to check some pics of ours and decide how you are going to trellis your plants. We ended up using a raised bed which the bales sit down in. As the season progresses your bales will start to fall apart and mulch down. You can check the pics out on our blog Peace.

  6. @Monty: Hey Monty. I just checked out your blog. Awesome stuff man! Your straw bale gardens look great and are definitely something to aspire to. I was hoping my bales wouldn't fall apart too much because of being against the block wall. Guess I'll find out with this year's experiment : )

  7. Hey Regis, it took us a couple of years of experimenting to figure out what works best. I'll follow a long with you - got any new pics? What did you decide to plant in yours? I will say since you used blood meal etc your bales will probably break down a lot slower. Mine last year didn't get enough sun and decomposed very slowly- tomatoes did ok, but peppers not so good. This weekend getting ready to plant corn - we'll see what happens, who knows.. may get a couple meals worth. Peace