Straw Bale Gardening

Straw bale gardening is easy, fun and  you to improve the soil while you decide what you what to do with a patch of ground. I’ll be planting a few bales at our annual Nichols Garden Nursery “Plant Day” this coming Saturday, May 16th. Varied crops will be growing for months since I plant greens, tomatoes, peas, beans, and peppers. When I plant peas and beans I always use legume inoculant so I don’t need to supplement with fertilizer. “Legume inoculant” allows these plants to utilize atmospheric nitrogen with nitrogen rich root nodules. Sounds complicated but works beautifully and results count.

Welcome our new straw bale blogging partner, fellow garden writer, Patsy Bell Hobson from Cape Giradeau, MO. She’ll also be growing a straw bale garden and I’ve included a link to her blog “Oh Grow Up”. You can follow two experienced gardeners living in very different environments using straw bales. See the  link to her site on the blogroll to the right of this page.


Last week I was in Anchorage, AK and spoke to University of Alaska Master Gardeners on Container and Small Space Food Gardening and  on straw bale gardening. I hope these Master Gardeners  ask questions and report their results. Anchorage was warmer and sunnier than here in Western Oregon. I think the incomparable beauty of Anchorage and the surrounding area shall be forever imprinted in my mind.

After talking with gardeners and growers from this area I realize the need for short season varieties that get off to a fast start. We’ll be looking for these characterics in our summer trials. It’s not only Alaska needing fast maturing varieties but gardeners from Montana to Maine who persevere and grow great gardens. It’s May and we are all eager to once again experience the joy of gardening.

7 Responses

  1. Jon,
    This will work for your planting bed. Consider spreading alternating layers of compost and or soil and straw in the box made of bales. I assume the bales are already tied and if so there is no need to re tie with wire unless the twine is a natural fiber. Synthetic twine lasts the life of the bale and jute or other natural fiber breaks down in a few months. I am getting three years from my bales, first and second year is for standard vegetables gardening and the third year I grow potatoes. The longer the bales are used the lighter they become which is why good secure twine is important.

  2. This is my first year planting in hay bales. I’ve planted pumpkins, watermelon and cukes.

    They are all growing well, but they aren’t lush and green…they seem quite yellow.

    I cut holes in the bales for some of the plants, using compost in the hole.

    For the seeds, I just opened a space in the bale and dropped the seeds in.

    I did use some Osmocote around the plantings as well.

    Any suggestions of what can be added to give greener growth?


    • I think you should fertilize with fish emulsion and perhaps do a foliar spray of MaxiCrop or other liquid seaweed. This should give them a boost. If the color doesn’t improve then continue with the maxicrop at recommended intervals.

  3. Yes, this planting method is used successfully by many. It differs from my method which doesn’t require a large amount of garden aoil. It will certainly insulate and probably reduce water usage. Metal baling is not seen in my part of the country and is new to me. No reason that it won’t work. I simply advise not using natural twine which breaks down much faster than synthetic twine.

  4. I do continue to do straw bale gardening and am frequently asked for updates. Our potatoes from three year old very porous bales have done very well and I think we’ve made maximum use of our bales. I strongly recommend growing peas and beans in bales as long as you use inoculant. My biggest concern now is keeping my bales from becoming a salad bar for the neighborhood deer. I’ve used Plantskydd, a blood based product that doesn’t wash off in the rain…ok for young tomatoes and peppers not for my salad greens. Those I cover with polyspun fabric or bird netting and peg these covers into place. As I explained in an earlier post fertilizing is important and I have tendency to under fertilize. Greens and pretty forgiving of this and peas and beans with inoculated roots don’t need additional fertilizing. It’s a great way to plant a crop and imprive your garden soil at the same time.

  5. Hello all. I am very interested in bale gardening but I don’t know how it is started. Is soil used? How is planting done? Can I use this method in south Louisiana? Thank you very much, Angela

    • Yes, you can use this anywhere in Louisiana. I use compost or potting soil on top of the bale as a seedbed. If you have a soil borne disease or problem like nematodes you don’t want to introduce it to your new bales. Actually, my preference is potting soil, when I’m growing beans or peas I use inoculant as that lets these plants utilize the nitrogen in our air. This season, liquid from my new worm composter will be my first fertilizer of choice.

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