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