Straw Bale Gardening
for Growing Vegetables in Small Spaces
Straw bale gardening is
great for growing vegetables in small spaces, for people who have
houses surrounded by concrete aprons, or for those who just can't bend
Straw bales have lots of
uses, other than the usual ones. We can use straw bales for cheap
seats, we can use them to decorate our farm shops, use the straw to
build scarecrows and even houses, and we can also create
a straw bale
garden for growing vegetables in small spaces!
Imagine a garden that is
simple to make, requires less bending, doesn't involve heavy digging,
or weeding, or even much watering. Have you ever wanted to have a
vegetable garden but you didn't have any soil, or you live in a place
where space is limited? Straw bale gardens can be the answer to all of
these, and more!
What is the difference between Straw Bales and Hay Bales?
Although at a first glance there doesn't look to be a
difference between staw bales and hay bales, but there
you are ever wanting something to use in your garden as a mulch then
you should be looking to use straw. Hay has more weed seeds than straw
and straw is more resistant when wet and doesn't become a moldy mess as
hay does when it becomes wet.
So make sure when you want to create your straw bale gardens that you
are getting straw and not hay.
What you need for Straw Bale Gardening?
So how do you grow a straw bale
garden? Well, the basics, of
course is that you need some straw bales. The best type to
lucerne or soya bean nut. However, straw and sugar cane
mulch is just as suitable. You will also make sure that you have a good
soil mix. We suggest you mix your own using bags of compost, along with
some chicken manure, and a handful of dolomite and blood and bone.
Certain vegetables do a
lot better being grown in straw bale gardens like this. Those that are
more successful are seedlings like tomatoes, green, red and yellow
capsicums, eggplants, lettuce, cucumber, basil, parsley, mint, spinach,
beetroot, turnips, etc.
Straw Bale Gardening and What to Plant
Just like growing
vegetables conventionally, where you position your straw bales they
must be where your vegetables will be getting at least 6 hours of sun a
day. Place the straw bales on the ground so that the
string is around
the sides, rather than the top. Now, taking a thick
stick (a sawn-off
broom handle is perfect for this), jam the stick into the straw bale
it about until you have a hole that would accommodate the size of a
Each straw bale should be able to hold 8 such
holes. If you are planting lettuces 8 holes is fine, if you are
planting tomatoes, then you will need to reduce the number of holes to
give your plants space to grow in your straw bale garden.
There are some fundamental
permaculture principles that are worth noting, so that perhaps you
might think of converting your garden into something more sustainable.
Fill up the holes with
your compost mix and sprinkle a handful of chicken
pellets over the
entire surface of the bale. On top of that sprinkle a handful of
dolomite, followed by a final layer of compost
to a depth of 10 cm. Now
water well, using a gentle spray, soaking the straw and soil without
washing the soil away. You could also finish off with a good soaking of
a seaweed liquid manure.
When straw bale gardening
avoid burning your seedlings. Hold off from planting
seedlings until the following week. This will allow your
straw bale to
settle and for the fertilizers to be absorbed into the bale. The
following week, plant your seedlings into the deep holes that you
created originally. Bury the seedling a little deeper than you would
normally do, to allow for shrinkage of the straw bale which
as it breaks down over time. Water in well, feed with some seaweed
manure and stake any plants like tomatoes.
Keep the plants moist and
feed once a week, to every 10 days with a
solution of seaweed liquid
manure to keep your plants healthy. You can add a tablespoon of
dolomite to the bales every alternate week to keep the compost sweet.
Another way to use your
bales for straw bale gardening is to use them as a frame-work for a no-dig
garden. Build your garden in the same way using
layers of newspaper etc. as per the instructions I gave you.
At the end of the growing
season, take your straw bale gardens, dismantle them and add them to
the compost heap or use as a mulch for your garden beds.
Making a Homemade Straw Bale Cold Frame
bales to make
a cold frame can be done very quickly and easily. The
straw bale cold
frame is put together using a double-walled panel of polycarbonate on
top of the straw bales. Both materials are good insulators and unlike
glass the polycarbonate doesn't break as easily and the ribs between
the layers helps diffuse the sunlight evenly.
Polycarbonate panels can
be bought at home centers or greehouse supply firms.
Use 12 straw
bales and place
4 straw bales on the front and back rows end to end and 4
straw bales for the side rows edge to edge. This now gives you the
overall area of your homemade cold frame.
You can leave the cold
frame like this if you are building it off your deck or a concreted
yard. However, if you want to place this cold frame into your
garden then dig around the edges to show you where you need to dig.
Remove the straw bales and
prepare the soil by allowing more sun into your cold frame.
This can be done by
removing more soil from the front line so that your polycarbonate panel
will be slowing down to catch more of the sun.
The bed in the middle of
the straw bale frame where you will place your seedlings should remain
A straw bale cold frame covered
with wood when the weather gets really cold
Place the bales back onto the soil, place your seedlings inside and
cover the area with your polycarbonate panel. If the weather turns
nasty you can use some wood to cover up the opening until it warms up.
If the weather heats up you prop up the polycarbonate panel using a
couple of pieces of 2x4.
During the spring, after you have planted out your seedlings either
directly into more straw bales for your straw bale gardens, or planted
elsewhere, you can use the bales for mulch and store the
panel out of the sunlight so it doesn't spoil.
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