Photo by – knitsteel on Flickr
Benefits Of Straw Bale Gardening
Using straw bales to garden in is a way that Arizona gardeners can compensate for a few different problems. When you use straw bales you will be able to have better soil conditions that those found in some areas of the state. Straw beats Bermuda grass (hay) for insect infestation. And best of all you will have higher gardening beds to work in. This means that those sore backs and creaky joints will undergo less strain while gardening. The benefits are clear:
Better Soil Conditions
Superior Growing Matrix
Higher Gardening Beds
Easier On The Body
How To Get Started
Choosing The Location
The first step in starting a straw bale garden is choosing the right place in your landscape. It needs to be a spot that is easily accessible. This makes getting all of your straw bales, soil, and plants to the location easier. The spot should be sitting on an East to West axis, meaning that it gets at least 6 hours of sunlight a day. The shape, size, and construction should be planned so it adds visual interest to your landscape. The location should also be one where the garden can benefit from rainwater. You don’t want to set it up under a giant shade tree which will limit sun and rainfall.
Buying The Supplies
You will need 3 main products to get started. Those are the bales of straw, edging material to help the straw maintain its shape, and posts. The posts are driven into the ground to help the edging material hold the garden up. The bales might seem sturdy when first set in place, but once soil, plants, and water are added they can, and should degrade. The edging helps the garden maintain its shape. Here is a short list of things you will need:
- Straw bales – Make sure you purchase straw, not hay. Straw bales are yellow, hay is generally green. Ask specifically about what kind of straw it is, you want oat or wheat straw. You do NOT want barley straw.
- Posts – The posts you buy will be part of the structural integrity of the straw bale garden. They will be driven into the ground to provide rigidity to the edging material. Simple metal T posts used in other agricultural applications can be used for the posts. Larger wooden posts may be used, but will require more work to anchor correctly. Either way be aware of if there are pipes or sprinkler systems under the soil.
- Edging Material – Depending on the look you want for your straw bale garden you will chose from a variety of edging materials. Some people choose wood, some have gardening products that edge the bales and help them keep their shape as they decompose and help plants grow. Some people even choose to use coffee sacks around the bales for a earthy rustic look. Recycled metal roofing is another option
Building The Straw Bale Garden
Getting your straw bale garden built is pretty simple, but it does require a little muscle to set the bales in position. All you need to do is decide where, position the bales, condition them, add some soil and nitrogen, and set your plants in to grow.
Prepping the ground for your bale garden is fairly straight forward. Plan the overall size of area by how much you are wanting to plant, and how much space each plant will take. Make sure you like the spot because it won’t be easy to move them once they are wet, have soil, and already have plants growing in them. Make sure the spot you choose gets about 6 hours of sun a day.
For the best results you will want to take care in which end of the bale faces up. Bales are folded and then cut on the 2 edges. Make sure you point the edge that has cut ends of straw facing up. When the cut ends are facing up they allow better water penetration from rainfall or watering.
It’s important to get the bales ready to be used for growing plants. When moisture is introduced your bales will start decomposing immediately. This is a natural process that makes straw bale gardening so successful. Bales must be conditioned before plants are added as the decomposition process produces heat. Keep track of the internal heat of your bale with a compost or meat thermometer. Once the internal temperature is the same as the exterior or less, you are ready to add plants.
Water & Nitrogen Conditioning
To condition your bale you will want to take about 2 weeks before planting your plants. The first 3 days require through watering of the bales, so they stay damp. Next you will want to add nitrogen in addition to your daily bale watering. Use a liquid fertilizer that is high in nitrogen. This will help speed decomposition in your bales. All you need to do is add a capful to a gallon of water and pour it out on your bale.
Planting In Your Straw Bale
Straw bale gardens are good foundations for growing just about any type of plant. There are a couple exceptions, things like corn or tomatoes can become too tall and heavy for the bale to support. There can be other limitations for veggies that love growing in just soil, things like sweet potatoes.
Otherwise you can just pick the types of plants you love gardening and plant them like you would in a regular garden. Keep the spacing the same as you would anywhere else.
Straw Bale Garden Supplies
A&P Nursery has 4 locations in the East Phoenix Valley to meet all of your gardening needs. We can get you started from the ground up with tools, gloves, and everything a gardener needs. If gardening is already one of your passions we can help you start your straw bale garden with the best plants in the valley and expert knowledge to help you make the most of your efforts. Stop by or call one of our locations to get started.