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Did You Know You Could Garden Without Soil? 10 Tips to Straw Bale Gardening Most Gardeners Don’t Know

Your soil gives you a hard time? If yes, straw bale gardening is the perfect alternative for you. It uses decomposing straw bales instead of soil to grow vegetables. It is similar to raised bed gardening with a much cheaper price.

Take a look at these tips, and learn everything about straw bale gardening!

1. Use straw bales

There are two varieties of bales: straw and hay. Straw is the byproduct of the grain industry containing only hollowed out stem including wheat, barley, and oats. Hay bales contain various dried grasses and many seeds, and are cheaper ( be careful, they can break down quickly). You can purchase bales at a garden center or you can source it directly from farmers.

2. Position bales

Lay a few layers of newspaper or weed block fabric under the place you will putt your bales in order to prevent weeds from coming up from the ground. Place bales on your concrete driveway on top of your existing garden soil, or anywhere you like. Remember, the wetness of the bale can damage wooden decks and the bales can quickly become heavy.

3. Twine

Hold bales with two or three strands of bailing twine and keep the bale in its telltale rectangular shape. Ensure that the twine is not severed as it allows the bale to fall apart. Lay bales on their sides with the narrow side up in order for the twine to be parallel to the ground.

4. Condition bales for growing

One of the most important steps is prepping, or conditioning, the bales for growing. You will need approximately 2

The most important step is prepping the bales for growing. You will need around 2 weeks for this step. Prepping jump starts the breakdown process. The key to do this is to watch and wait until temperature of the bales stabilizes.

  • Day 1-3: water the bales heavily just until the water runs out the bottom.
  • Day 4-6: sprinkle one cup of high nitrogen fertilizer (lawn fertilizer, urea, ammonium sulfate, etc.) across the top of each bale and water well.
  • Day 7-9: Sprinkle 1/2 cup of high nitrogen fertilizer across the top of each bale; water well.
  • Day 10 until completion: stop fertilizing; continue watering.

Bales are ready to be planted when they don’t feel hot to touch anymore. They should be as warm as your body temperature.

5. Planting

If you use seedlings, use a garden towel to make a hole in the top of the straw bale between the pieces of straw, larger than the seedling. After this, plant seedlings, one per hole according to the recommended spacing. If you plant seeds spread a 2 inch layer of peat based potting soil across the top of the bale. Now, sow seeds into the soil. Root system will grow downward and it will make their way into the bale.

6. Vegetables to avoid

Top heavy plants like corn are best to leave for in-ground gardens. As plants grow taller they can topple over, especially as the bales weaken as they break down. Try to avoid plants with perennial roots (including: rhubarb, raspberries).

7. Keep well watered

Straw bales will dry out quickly, so remember to water regularly. Soaker hose or drip irrigation draped will save you some time spent on watering.

8. Mushrooms

​Mushrooms mean that your straw bale is growing well. Pick them off and discard them if you want, but refrain from eating them as they might be dangerous.

9. Fertilizer

It is really important to regularly fertilize straw bales. Add a water soluble fertilizer source every 2 weeks after planting, and once after plants begin to fruit.

10. Compost

By the end of the season, bales should have broken down into a rich compost. Scatter this compost around your flowerbeds and the other areas of the garden, or you can leave it to break down over the winter before your spread it.

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