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How to Grow Vegetables in Straw

By Cindy Hill ; Updated September 21, 2017

Straw bales are premade, natural, seasonal raised garden beds suitable for growing a wide range of vegetables. Bales tightly tied with synthetic twine can be used for planting for two or three seasons, then used as mulch and ultimately composted for more garden benefits. Straw bale vegetable gardening works where a soil-based garden may not--like on an apartment balcony--and can easily and inexpensively make vegetable gardening accessible to children or disabled or homebound people.

Place straw bales in desired garden location--they will be too heavy to move after they are soaked with water and planted. Water the bales daily for three days. Water with compost tea for three days, then with the ordinary water source three more days, for a total of nine days preparation before planting to allow the initial heat of decomposition to dissipate.

Rough up the top surface of bales intended for growing vegetables from seed using a three-pronged hand claw. Spread a 1-inch thick layer of compost on top of the bale. Water lightly. Plant seeds at distances recommended on seed packet, and cover with additional compost.

Chop holes in the top of each bale for each vegetable transplant, about twice the size of the transplant root ball. Fill each hole half way with compost and insert the transplant. Top with compost and water lightly.

Water frequently enough to keep the straw bales moist--once every other day in most garden locations, but daily or more if the bales are sitting on a impermeable surface that can bake moisture out of them. Use a dilute solution of compost tea for the watering once a week, or more frequently if your vegetable plants are not as vigorous as they should be.

Place rain barrel or drum with hose connection on several stacked straw bales, so that the hose connection is higher than the top of your straw bale vegetable garden. Fill barrel with water (or allow rainwater to fill) and add compost tea. Attach soaker hose upside down and lay it across surface of the straw bales for a constant gravity-feed watering system.

Remove any weeds that may emerge from the straw bales through the course of the growing season. After harvesting your vegetables, allow the straw bales to dry out. Stack them in a protected location or cover them in place with a tarp to store through the winter for re-use the following season.

 

Things You Will Need

  • Compost
  • Manure tea
  • Water
  • Rain barrel or drum with garden hose attachment (optional)
  • Soaker hose (optional)
  • Sharp narrow trowel
  • Utility knife
  • Vegetable seeds or transplants
  • Three-pronged hand claw
  • Tarp (optional)

Tips

  • Plant no more than two large plants like tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, cabbage or broccoli in each straw bale. Leafy greens like chard, lettuce, and spinach can be planted in a much closer configuration.
  • Straw bale planting may not be suitable for root vegetable crops, except for those harvested for greens or at the baby stage.
  • Turn your straw bale into a strawberry or herb garden by planting in holes chopped in the sides as well as the top--just remember to provide extra compost tea to nourish the additional plant root systems.

Warning

  • Ensure that your straw bales did not come from fields treated with broad-leaf targeting herbicides that will inhibit vegetable plant growth.

About the Author

 

A freelance writer since 1978 and attorney since 1981, Cindy Hill has won awards for articles on organic agriculture and wild foods, and has published widely in the areas of law, public policy, local foods and gardening. She holds a B.A. in political science from State University of New York and a Master of Environmental Law and a J.D. from Vermont Law School.