To talk about the best plants for straw bale gardening, it’s probably important to clarify what straw bale gardening is exactly. The short version is that you can grow vegetables in straw bales just as you would in a raised bed or large container. It’s a popular option in areas where the soil is contaminated or simply not conducive to growing plants. It’s also popular in vertical gardening.
It’s also generally less expensive than a raised bed since that requires supplies and probably soil. Straw bale gardening is also incredibly eco-friendly since your growing medium will turn into compost.
Discovering the best plants for straw bale gardening
Because straw bales make good insulation and heat up as they slowly decompose, heat-loving plants are some of the best plants for straw bale gardening.
1. Bush beans. Beans don’t like waterlogged soil, and they do enjoy warmth, making them ideal for growing in straw bales.
2. Summer squash. You can plant 2 to 4 summer squash plants in each straw bale, meaning you could grow enough squash to fuel a small army.
3. Eggplants. Eggplants love warm temperatures, making them one of the best plants for straw bale gardening.
4. Peppers. Like eggplants, peppers love warm conditions. Plus, there are so many varieties, from slightly sweet to unbearable heat.
5. Strawberries. Yes, it’s best to avoid perennials in straw bale gardening. However, since strawberries can take over your yard, planting them in a straw bale is an easy way to isolate them and keep them in check.
6. Tomatoes. I think we all know how much tomatoes love that warm, sunny weather. Just be sure to keep them watered regularly.
7. Lettuce. Because lettuce is awesome, and you can plant new lettuce every couple of weeks or so.
8. Spinach. Spinach is very easy to grow, and it’s really good for you. Plus, you can harvest spinach in just a few weeks.
9. Garlic. You can get a lot of garlic in a small amount of space, so this is a nice one for straw bales.
The pros and cons of straw bale gardening
Like anything, there are some pros and cons to this approach to gardening. Here’s what comes up most often for people.
- Good option if you have to plant on a patio or pavement
- As the straw breaks down, it nourishes your vegetables
- No problems with weeds
- Easier to reach your plants since they are 18-24 inches off the ground
- Plant roots stay warm
- The straw completely breaks down into compost within two years
- You need to condition the straw bales before planting
- It dries out quickly, so you need to take care with watering
- Root crops and perennials aren’t the best plants for straw bale gardening (although root crops do enjoy the partially decomposed second-year bales)
- You will need to add fertilizer since the straw doesn’t supply any nutrients until it begins to break down
5 Quick tips for straw bale gardening
1. Position your straw bales “pointy” side up. You’ll know what I mean once you get your bales. Placing the cut or “pointy” side up allows water and nutrients to get into the bale more easily.
2. Condition your straw bales. Before you plant anything, soak your bales with your garden hose once a day for three days. For the next 4 to 5 days, water and use a fertilizer high in nitrogen. Then for the next 6 to 8 days, water the bale. This should get it ready to support your plants.
3. Be careful to get straw and not hay. They can look very similar, but hay often contains weeds.
4. Take advantage of the space! You can plant smaller herbs and flowers into the sides of the bales.
5. Follow the seed packet instructions. Be sure to space your vegetables just as you would if you were planting in soil.
All in all, there’s not much that you can’t grow in a straw bale, and the “rules” are pretty much the same as they are with any other style of gardening. So if you have extra space in your driveway, your soil isn’t great, or you just want to try something new, call your local farm or garden supply store and give straw bale gardening a try!
Have you tried straw bale gardening? I’d love to read about your experience in the comments.