Complete Guide To Growing Vegetables In Straw Bales
There is no doubt about it, gardening, can be hard work! Growing vegetables in straw bales however is not! The good news is that it does not have to be hard work and there are many different ways to grow excellent vegetables with the minimum of effort.
However I will not lie to you – minimal effort is still effort! And like most things in life the more you put in to it, then the greater will be your reward.
In this article you will find the complete transcript plus pictures and video for the book ‘Growing Vegetables in Straw’ written by myself – James Paris. The only difference is the range of pictures and videos I have included here. If you like what you see but would like the full copy, you can also purchase it here – other wise ENJOY!…
This book is all about one of the fastest growing (pun intended!) gardening methods making the headlines at the moment, and the reasons for this are plentiful as we shall see.
A Brief History of Growing In Straw Bales:
Growing vegetables in straw of hay is not a new idea. In fact many ancient civilizations including the Aztecs and the Egyptians are recorded as using this concept. The Picts and Celts of early Scotland also grew vegetables in their ‘middens’ which typically consisted of piles of straw bedding from the animal pens.
After the invention of the baling machine in the 1940’s (this produces the small rectangular bales), the opportunity arose for the modern concept of straw bale gardening that we see today.
This technique was used to grow vegetables commercially in the USA in the 1950’s. The idea was taught in Europe throughout the 20th century. And more specifically by a Polish professor Tadeusz Pudelski (1926–2012), who published details off, and taught this at Poznan University of Life Sciences in and around 1971.
In effect the idea behind Straw Bale Gardening is not new. What we have now I would call a modern slant on a very old and established idea – and it works!
With that said, I believe the idea behind growing vegetables in straw (or indeed hay) bales has ‘come of age’ at this time for a number of different and very relevant reasons – not the least of which being environmental considerations.
Straw Bale gardening:
The concept of growing vegetables in straw bales may seem a little strange if you have never come across the idea before, but it has many advantages over traditional row gardening, and indeed several advantages over the popular Square Foot, and Raised Bed gardening techniques.
So why should you consider growing your vegetables in straw bales? Here are just some of the top advantages that straw-bale gardening enjoys..
Straw Bales – The Cheapest Way To Grow:
One of the biggest expenses involved in setting up a Raised Bed garden or Square Foot garden for instance, is the cost of the growing medium.
This involves creating a suitable soil by compost, peat and vermiculite (depending on your preferences). All of these materials – especially the vermiculite – can be quite expensive.
On top of this you will have the expense required to build the structures whether they be built from timber or concrete block or whatever – it all has to be paid for.
Container gardening also requires a good compost mix, plus the cost of the containers themselves, unless of course you are recycling tires, pots, or broken pails to act as growing containers.
Am I ‘dissing’ Raised Bed or Square Foot gardening methods? Definitely not – just check out my author page and you will see I have plenty material promoting them!
However it pays to look at all the options available – including straw-bale gardening – if you are to get the best out of your gardening efforts, and indeed choose the technique that best suits your particular circumstances.
You may well argue that ‘dirt is cheap’ and that growing vegetables in the ground is even cheaper than using a straw bale? The fact is that ground suitable to grow excellent crops does not just ‘happen,’ unless you are one of the fortunate few to occupy land that is exceptionally productive for whatever reason – usually because it has been well looked after by previous owners!
The vast majority of the time, the soil has to be worked and nurtured if it is to produce good crops. This means the addition of nutrients through either organic means (the best) or through chemical fertilisers (not recommended).
On a side note here…Chemical fertilisers feed the plants, while organic fertilisers feed the soil – which then feeds the plants over a prolonged period. This is the more natural and preferred method for growing healthy vegetables.
Back to cost…The reason that the straw bale gardening method does not require much in the way of compost or soil (more on this later), is that as the bale decomposes it produces its own compost.
This means that over the growing season it is continually feeding your vegetables as it decomposes into mulch. “Unless a seed falls to the ground and dies…” Ok, maybe a little out of context – but it nevertheless could be conceived as a form of sacrificial giving on the part of the straw bale!
All in all, the only cost apart from a few handfuls of compost and your seeds or plants is the bales themselves. Which at around $2.00 per bale depending on your local supply, is definitely not expensive compared to the methods just described.
Fertiliser is indeed required to give your bale a boost in the early stages especially. However I will show you how to get a plentiful supply of free organic fertiliser in later chapters.
So why should this method be so productive? There are a few reasons for this.
(a) As mentioned, as the bale itself rots down it produces or creates its own compost or mulching material. This in turn feeds the plants, along with the free organic fertilisers you have added along the way.
This gives the perfect nutrient-rich environment to produce abundant healthy crops.
(b) Another side-effect of this decomposing action is that the growing bed heats up, giving a welcome spurt of warmth to the young plant roots. A word of caution here though – do not plant before the bale has stopped ‘cooking.’
This in turn means that you can begin planting earlier, which means a longer growing season and more time to produce fabulous vegetables.
In fact it is quite easy to increase your growing season by at least 2 months, if you embrace some of the techniques included in later chapters of this book.
(c) Growing vegetables this way means that the planting area remains weed-free for most if not all of the growing season.
The end result of this, is that the plants are not competing with weeds for the life-giving nutrients needed to promote healthy growth. Your vegetables are living in the ‘perfect’ environment and so will ‘produce the goods’ big time!
Easy Pest Control:
Controlling pests is an on-going task for just about every vegetable gardener. With the SB Garden however this task becomes very simple, as the following passages will demonstrate.
Firstly the new straw bale itself is pretty much a bug-free zone (see later chapters for choosing your bales). This means that you are starting off from a sterile growing area, instead of an area that is perhaps already infested with soil bearing cut-worm larvae or other destructive critters.
These pests tend to come out after dark and cause havoc amongst your young plants especially – not so with the straw bale!
Another happy prospect is the fact that slugs do not like the sharp straw, and will generally give the bale a ‘body swerve’ and leave your plants alone. This is not always the case, and some slugs may just prove me wrong here – but I have found it to be definite advantage.
In later chapters I will include diagrams and pictures on how to keep flying pests such as the cabbage moth at bay – very simple with a SBG.
Perfect No-Dig Gardening Solution:
Out of the many popular no-dig gardening solutions talked about at the moment – mainly of the Raised Bed genre – Straw Bale gardening could perhaps be reasonably called the ‘new kid in town.’ However it is most certainly a contender amongst the ‘no-dig gardening’ techniques being popularised at this time.
Whilst the other contenders for this accolade do in fact need a little light digging with a hand trowel or fork, the fact is that you cannot actually do this with a straw bale – even if you wanted to!
The end result of your probing would be that the integrity of the bale would break down prematurely, and your plants would suffer the consequences.
However…I will conceded that at the end of the growing season you will probably be able to indulge in a bit of digging – when you add the remains of your now mulched-up straw bale to the compost heap!
There are many other benefits that can be gained by growing vegetables in straw bales, most of these can however be effectively shared with the other forms of no-dig gardening such as Raised Bed, Square Foot and Container gardening.
For arguments sake therefore I thought it would be a good idea to make a short-list of these shared benefits in (no particular order), just in case you should be in any doubt as the value of considering alternative vegetable gardening methods.
Check out this list below – which is not conclusive by any means.
- The SBG is arguably more productive when it comes to crop yield, and the amount of space required to produce amazing crops.
- Far easier to operate and maintain than a traditional vegetable garden. This is because apart from the initial planting process, there is absolutely no digging involved with SBG.
- Weed-free gardening with no need to spend hours hoeing between rows of vegetables to remove weeds. This is mainly due to the fact that you are using a ‘clean’ growing medium free of weed seeds. (Check the article comparing straw bales with Hay).
- Wheelchair friendly gardening, similar to Raised Beds, growing vegetables in straw means that the garden area is accessible directly from the wheelchair, with regard to height and space between the beds for mobility and ease of access.
- Longer growing seasons are enjoyed by this concept as the growing medium is raised from the ground, and warms quicker that traditional beds. The ‘cooking’ process also ensures that the bed is warmer, which ensures an earlier planting.
- Pests and bugs are far easier to control as the growing area is already raised up from the ground, and is easier to cover and control pests through the use of nets and companion planting techniques.
- Back-ache free gardening can be a huge benefit of all Raised Bed systems – of which Straw Bale is also a member.
The simple fact that you are not constantly bending over double to maintain your vegetables, means that back-ache is no longer such a big issue!
- Bad soil and sloping ground is no longer an issue with these systems, all of which can be easily adapted to suit almost any environment.
- Cheaper to operate than a Raised Bed system as there is little or no compost needed. The Straw Bale itself produces most of the growing medium required as it decomposes.
- SB Gardens are a great talking point! The fact that the concept is largely unknown to many people, means that gardeners are intensely interested when you show them your veggies growing in straw bales 🙂
AND ONE MORE THING – YOU HAVE A READY SUPPLY OF COMPOST WHEN THE BALE IS ‘DONE’ …
Are you ready to start growing vegetables in straw bale’s? Check out the next page…