How to Straw Bale Garden - Straw bales on a blue background

How to Straw Bale Garden

Have you ever wondered...

How to straw bale garden?  It's possible that this is the first you've heard of it.  That's ok, that's why we wrote this article.  With that said, let's take a look at the benefits you get from choosing to garden with straw bales:

More...

  • No weeds (If you prepare the bale properly)
  • Raised up off the ground (easier on the back)
  • Bad soil? NO PROBLEM!
  • You can plant about 2 weeks earlier (due to the warmth inside the bale)
  • Straw bales hold water well
  • You can't overwater the bale (excess water just runs out)

How Do I Condition (Prepare) My Straw Bale?

A blue sky with partial clouds and a straw bale

Before you can get your plants into your new straw bale, you've got to get it ready.  The first thing you need to do (as crazy as this might seem) is to feed the "critters" inside the bale.  By "critters," I mean the microbes; the bacteria and fungi.  See that biology class you took -- or are taking -- is finally coming in handy.

You need to feed the microbes with the missing ingredient within the bale: nitrogen (now your chemistry class is coming back to you).  You have a few options for your nitrogen source.  We'd love it if you chose an organic source.  To help "close the loop," your first option is your own urine.  WAIT!!! Don't go run right out and start urinating on your bales.  You want to dilute the urine 7 parts water 1 part urine.  Of course, some of you may not find this option appealing.  So let's give you an alternative

Girl reading a book with a disgusted look on her face

"That's nasty!"

Pro Tip: Placement Matters


When you place your bale on the ground in it's final location and begin to condition it, you will want to keep the "cut side" up.  This means that the individual straws will be perpendicular to the ground.  This makes it easier for the roots to grow down into the bale.

Milorganite is a fantastic organic option for you to consider.  Wait until you find out what it's made from (see video below).  You really want to have something that has at least 5% nitrogen.  Resist the temptation to use coffee grounds as it won't have enough nitrogen.  Anything that has an herbicide or prevents germination should also be avoided.  So, you should sprinkle about a half of a cup of milorganite to each bale (spread evenly).  Then water it until it's good and soaked.  Don't go too crazy with the water.  You'll just leach out all of the nitrogen you just put into it.  See our "Pro Tip" below.  Do this on day 1, 3, and 5.

What's Milorganite and where can I find it?

I could provide you with a link to a website that would provide me with a commission, but I'm not going to do that here.  The price at your local big-box store is much better.  You can always go that route or (even better) support your local mom & pop hardware store instead. 

Can I start my plants from seed?

Short answer, yes!  But you will have to take a few things into consideration.  Do not just plant the seeds into the bale.  You'll want to cover the surface of the bale in about 1 inch of something like potting mix (do not use soil from your yard/garden unless you LOVE weeds).

If you have starter plants (transplants), you don't need the potting mix.  Just use a hand shovel and open up a space by rocking it back and forth.  Follow it up with a watering.  A drip irrigation system or a soaker hose would do nicely here. 

Pro Tip: Avoid a Very Common Mistake...


Do not overwater.  Yes I know, we said that you can't over water.  True, the excess water would just run out of the bale so you're not likely to get root rot from overwatering.  The main reason you don't want to overwater is because the water will take vital nutrients with it as it runs out of the bale.  

Will my new bale attract mice?

You would have to be making a critical error to have mice take up residence in your bales.  A wet bale is no place for a mouse.  So you can expect two things if you don't water your bales enough:

Mouse on a white background
  1. Mice and possibly other creatures will find a new home in your bales
  2. The plants you are trying to grow will likely die​

Moles and voles?  Place hardware cloth underneath the bale.  This will prevent those rodents from tunneling into the bale from below.

How do I support my new plants?

Some of the plants we grow for food really like to climb and/or could use extra support due to the weight of their fruit.  Use metal fence posts placed at the ends of the bale.  At the top of the posts you will need a rigid cross-member (say a 2x4 or 2x2).  Then use electric fence wire to put cross supports for your tomato plants and vines.

Need more on how to straw bale garden?

We hope you have enjoyed this how to article on how to straw bale garden.  If you feel like you could use a more step-by-step system to follow, consider this title below (it was written by the man credited with creating the technique):

Honest Lives Matter Too!

In an effort to be completely transparent, I want to let you know that I have an affiliate relationship with some of the companies whose products or services I recommend. This means that, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission or credit if you decide to buy any of their products or services.

See Our Disclaimer​ for more details.

About the Author Neil

I am a husband, father of 3, and a full time educator. I take my passion for sustainability from at home in the garden with my family to school with the children in the community. Through awareness, change can come. Will you change with us? We'd be happy to have you.

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12 comments
Phil says last year

Hi there,
Thanks for the very interesting and informative article on this type of gardening. Its a great system and one that is easily constructed and very easy to maintain, I’m sure.
I like the garden myself and I was happy to read this tutorial and see all that this post has to offer.
It’s a novel way of gardening and I also see that there are some great benefits from this method of gardeningIt’s also a very inexpensive method, I suspect.
Best wishes on your gardening adventures,
Cheers Phil Browne

    Neil says last year

    My favorite part about this is that the bale becomes amazing compostable materials throughout the growing season. Thanks for leaving a comment.

joe says last year

Neil
I have never heard of straw bale gardening sounds very interesting.I am surprised that the plants will grow in the bale.It would have to be a straw bale, not a hay bale right? I think a hay bale would grow more than the plants themselves. Do you have to continuously fertilize?

    Neil says last year

    I’m glad you found the technique new and interesting.  You’re right that the bale needs to be straw as a hay bale will include seeds.  After the bale is conditioned in the beginning phase, the compost that forms within the bale should be sufficient.  It is wise to always monitor your plants and supplement as needed.  Thanks for your comment Joe!

Hailey says last year

Hi there,
Thanks for the very interesting and informative post!
This gardening system sounds so easy to do and very easy to maintain! Sounds like a great project to do with the kids while they are on school holidays!
I will have to give it a go!
Thanks again for the information, it was a great read!

regards Hailey

    Neil says last year

    Agreed Hailey! It’s perfect for the kids to help out with.  Those straw bales can be quite heavy though, so be careful when lifting them.  Thanks for leaving a comment with us.

Kegan says last year

Wow, thanks! We’re actually looking at making a scene-change from the city out into the country, tips like this seemed like a novelty but it”ll totally come in hand when we’re out on the plains of our new cottage abode.

Very interesting that you have to water the bales, I would have thought they were bone dry by the looks!

    Neil says last year

    There’s something to be said for having lived a city life. It helps us to see things in a different perspective.  I wish you the best of luck in your transition to another phase of your life.  Perhaps the straw bale gardens will give you a way to get up and growing quickly if your soil isn’t quite ready when you arrive.

doug says last year

I have had many gardens over the years and never heard of this. I actually built a greenhouse in my back yard a few years ago when I lived on Long Island NY. I used straw in the early spring when I planted just as a covering.
But what a great idea this is. Now that I am in Colorado, I will use this method next spring when I start an organic garden. I still have to clear the land.
I like the Milorganite you suggest. I have added you to my favorite list so when its time I can come back, refresh myself and get some of the fertilizer.
Thanks for all the information Neil,
Doug

    Neil says last year

    You built your own greenhouse!? That’s fantastic. I imagine living in New York, that it came in very handy for extending your growing season. My wife and I love Colorado: the beautiful scenery, the sense of freedom, the open spaces. We often dream of some nice acreage in a place like that. Good for you! We really appreciate that you would add us to your favorites and take a moment to leave a comment. Until next time!
    -Neil

Irma says last year

Thank you for this informative post! I read about straw bale gardens a few years back, and how successful pretty much everyone is who has one.
I remember telling a friend to use straw around his strawberry plants to keep slugs off, and he was surprised that strawberries can benefit from straw! There are so many uses in the garden for straw, and making raised beds is just one of the better ideas!

    Neil says last year

    You’re right! Straw can be a versatile resource for gardening. Used as mulch to help retain moisture or to keep grass seed protected while it germinates, composted into rich black compost, or even as raised gardens. Depending on where you live, you can get them quite affordably. Near me, they’re on the high end of the spectrum as far as cost goes. Thank you for leaving us a comment!
    -Neil

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