We experiment with straw bale gardening. I continue to love their convenience and the fact that it’s possible to grow a crop while you improve your soil. Here is some of what I’ve recently learned, some is good some not good.
My peas and bean crops continue to be sensational as long as I use Legume inoculant. The bales don’t have this natural bacteria that fixes nitrogen and keeps the foliage green and plants productive.
Tomatoes and Peppers need steady fertilizing and a planting hole within the bale filled with compost or potting soil to grow a strong productive plant.
Garden greens of all types seem to thrive. I think it takes cabbage family transplants about a week longer to establish than when they are planted in the ground. These plants are often said to prefer a “tight soil” and I think we see an example of that in this case.
Cucumbers have produced moderate results and, again a deeper larger planting hole seems the key to success.
However, beware of finding a possible snake in this Garden of Eden. This is an herbicide sometimes used on wheat, barley, oat and other crops. The substance is Clopyralid, it does not readily break down and passes through an animals gut pretty much intact. The resulting manure will act as an herbicide. Some of the Clopyralid product names are Stinger, Reclaim, and Transline. When purchasing bales ask, if any of these products were used on the field. I think asking questions is your first defense. I live in a farming area and it is possible for me to directly inquire.
The problems with Clopyralid became known when grass clippings and other contaminated plant material went into community composting projects and what was supposed to benefit gardens had a residual herbicide effect. Besides asking about the history I’d suggest sowing some inexpensive sunflower or lettuce seed on the prepared bale before planting. If they germinate, start growing and then show damage it may residual herbicide. Since I recently became aware of these problems I’ve tried to learn as much as possible so I could write and speak about this when discussing straw bale gardening.
If you do find or suspect your bales are contaminated do not add this to your compost. Take photos and plant samples to your local extension office and ask them for a recommendation.
This summer we used our collapsing three year old bales to grow potatoes. We enjoyed a beautiful disease free, clean crop.