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Parsley, carrots, arrugola, and spinach growing in a straw bale garden.

AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. — No space for a garden plot or even a raised-bed garden? This gardening season, don’t let these limitations stop you from growing fresh produce. Wheat straw bale gardens are the perfect options when space is limited. These compact, ready-made gardens can be easily cultivated in the backyard, on the patio or on the front stoop.

Benefits of Straw Bale Gardening

Dani Carroll, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System home grounds, gardens and home pests regional agent, recommends straw bale gardening for everyone, especially those who have difficulty handling tools like shovels or trowels.

“Straw bale gardening is simply planting vegetables into a straw bale that has been conditioned or gone through a composting phase,” Carroll said. “These are great for urban areas and homeowners with smaller plots.”

Since urban areas often lack good soil or space, straw bale gardens are a great way to take advantage of available space. When properly conditioned, these bales also contain great nutrients for the plants.

Conditioning a Straw Bale

Carroll said for these gardens, wheat straw bales work best. Unfortunately, pine straw bales do not break down enough, and hay bales may contain more weed seeds. After buying your wheat straw bale, saturate it with water before adding fertilizer. Use a water-soluble fertilizer that is high in nitrogen. Thoroughly rewater the bale each time you fertilize. On day 10, add 1 cup of dolomitic lime over the top of the bale and water it in. After that, add some balanced fertilizer for several days until the conditioning (or composting) process is finished. The process should take about two weeks.

Planting in a Straw Bale

A straw bale garden behind an outdoor building.Once conditioning is complete, you are ready to plant just as you would any other garden. However, using transplants is the preferred method of choice, as seeds are more difficult to germinate in straw bale gardens. Carroll said there are certain types of plants suitable for straw bale gardens.

“I like to grow herbs, flowers and traditional vegetables,” she said. “Shorter plants — like tomatoes, broccoli, cabbage and greens — tend to work best. Taller, larger or heavier plants could knock the bale off balance, catch too much wind or simply be too large to plant in a single bale.”

After planting the transplants, Carroll recommends backfilling the hole around each plant once it is in place. This will fill any gaps and help the root system grow.

Maintenance for a straw bale garden is the same as if it was a basic, in-ground garden. Carroll said gardeners should make sure to water regularly until their straw bale gardens have finished producing. Gardeners may be able to get more than one planting out of one straw bale.

More Information

The Alabama Extension publication “Straw Bale Gardening” suggests recycling bales after they are depleted. The bales are great as mulch or compost.

Straw bale gardening is a great way for people in urban areas or anyone with an interest in gardening to give it a shot. Visit the Lawn & Garden section of www.aces.edu to learn more about gardening in Alabama. Still need some assistance? Contact the Alabama Extension Master Gardener Helpline at 1-877-252-4769 for help with your lawn and garden needs.