Strawbale gardening is an easy and rustic type of container gardening and raised bed gardening combined – but is it right for you?
Why Strawbales May Be Best
Strawbales are a simple gardening medium, and simple can certainly be best for several reasons
Strawbales can be positioned on concrete, on porches or balconies, or in any spot that wouldn't normally be suitable for gardening – no yard necessary.
When soil is contaminated or toxic, or otherwise rocky or sandy and unsuitable for planting, strawbales can be used instead.
The height of strawbales (more so if they are stacked) can make gardening easier for anyone with a bad back or joint problems.
Strawbales are generally inexpensive and easy to use, not requiring elaborate frames, expensive containers or extra equipment for effective gardening.
With so many reasons that make strawbale gardening easy and fun, why not give it a try?
Types of Bales
Different bales can be used for strawbale gardening, but generally grain bales are best – oats, wheat or barley. These grains are already threshed and the remaining straw has few seeds that could contend with desired plants. Standard hay bales, on the other hand, include a wider variety of grasses or legumes and can sprout more weeds. A garden could be started with just one bale or several, and bales can be arranged to meet any space or size requirements or restrictions.
Strawbales can be purchased from several sources. Local farmers may be willing to sell a few bales at a very low rate, or even to trade for other materials. Stables, nurseries, garden centers and feed stores may also have bales for sale, for as little as a dollar or two each to as much as $10-15 per bale depending on the size and quality of the bale. The highest quality is not necessary for strawbale gardening, and in fact older bales that have begun to decay can be a better choice because they are more seasoned and will provide better nutrients as a growing medium.
If you do buy a fresh, recently bound bale, it will be necessary to season or cure the bale before it can be used for gardening. Wet the bale thoroughly, allowing it to soak and heat up for several days. Adding organic material such as compost or manure can help the bale be even better for gardening. Keep the bale moist for 1-4 weeks, gradually allowing it to cool slightly while the center of the bale begins to decay and become richer for growing seedlings.
Setting Up Your Garden
While a strawbale garden can be set up on a driveway, deck or any other surface, it should be positioned in a space that receives 4-8 hours of sunlight each day so the plants get adequate light for vigorous growth. To minimize intrusive weeds or burrowing pests, put the bales on top of a thick layer of newspapers, cardboard or landscaping fabric. If more than one bale will be used, group the bales together to minimize evaporation through the bales' sides, keeping water where it is needed most. Because a strawbale garden requires more water than traditional gardening, be sure your bales are near a hose or spigot for easy watering. The bales can be laid so the straw is either horizontal or vertical – there are benefits to either arrangement, and seedlings will grow no matter which way the straw is lying.
Tips for Your Strawbale Garden
Once your garden is set up, it's just a matter of "planting" seeds or seedlings in the rich straw, keeping them appropriately watered and tending the bale regularly to keep the garden thriving. Weeding is generally minimal though some weeds may need to be pulled from the bale, and the same sorts of thinning and other tending tasks are required as they are in any garden. To make the most of your strawbale garden…
Add compost or fertilizer as needed to provide proper nutrition for young plants, especially when the garden is first started. Adding organic material directly to each planting hole can be particularly effective.
Water the strawbale garden 1-2 times each day, or even more frequently during the hottest weather. Positioning the garden so it is watered by sprinklers or using a soaker or drip system can be helpful.
Consider using stakes, cages or trellises to provide adequate support for taller or heavier plants, or choose dwarf plant varieties. Strawbales do not provide the same firm structure for plant growth that dirt will.
Be creative with using strawbale space, including poking flowers or herbs into the sides of the bale to maximize growing space. This will also minimize water loss and give your garden an even more unique and fun appearance.
Turn used strawbales into mulch or compost after the growing season, or work broken down straw into the soil to nourish flowerbeds or other gardening areas.
Strawbale gardening can be a fun, easy way to add gardening space to your yard – whether you have a yard or not. With just a single bale, you'll be amazed at how much gardening you can actually do, and you'll be hooked on this unique and clever gardening technique.
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