Gardens - Specialty Gardens

Demystifying straw bale gardening

Joel Karsten explains how you can grow fruit and veggies using this addictive technique


Tips for planting in a straw bale
Admittedly, straw bale gardening sounds intriguing. But I countered, asking Karsten, what his top cautions are. Understandably, he flipped negatives to positives!

Condition your bales
“Ensure you start with straw, not hay, because it is filled with seeds,” says Karsten. Because hay is used to feed livestock, it contains seeds for their nutrients. “But, when watered and fertilized, they sprout and you have a chia pet in the garden,” he says.

Create a trellis system that allows plants to climb
“Vertical gardening is a key to having a highly productive straw bale garden and trellises allow maximum foliage spread and photosynthetic activity,” says Karsten.

Space your plants
Proper spacing is the key to preventing insect and disease issues and to increasing air circulation so the leaves stay dry. Wet leaves spread disease, he explains.

Time your watering
Karsten recommends using soaker hoses with a hose-end timer. “The timer clicks on early in the morning and drips a gallon or so of water on each bale, which takes care of that day’s maintenance.”

How much does it cost?
Karsten has successfully grown pretty well anything you can think of in bales, from root crops to herbs and everything in between. But, what is the cost of establishing a straw bale garden? Considering his reply—and that all the supplies (except bales) represent a one-time purchase—the cost isn’t too burdensome.

Here is what Karsten suggests:
Plants and seeds aside, a five-bale garden can be ready to plant for under $100 (Karsten is American, so he’s talking in US dollars).

  • Five bales (in Canada they cost about $6 each)
  • Two posts
  • Trellis wire
  • Five pounds of lawn fertilizer
  • Soaker hose
  • Bag of sterile planting mix

Karsten issues the following warning: “Be careful because I assure you that you will get hooked on gardening in bales!”

Katharine Fletcher is a freelance writer, author, and gardener who enjoys her 100-acre farm and its organic gardens.

 

  • Five bales (in Canada they cost about $6 each)
  • Two posts
  • Trellis wire
  • Five pounds of lawn fertilizer
  • Soaker hose
  • Bag of sterile planting mix

Karsten issues the following warning: “Be careful because I assure you that you will get hooked on gardening in bales!”

Katharine Fletcher is a freelance writer, author, and gardener who enjoys her 100-acre farm and its organic gardens.

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