Straw Bale Vegetable Gardens


Straw_bale_garden Okay, I’m in.  I had stopped putting in a real vegetable garden in favor of perennial culinary plants like artichokes and fruit trees, but after I saw Michele’s vegetable garden (pictured at right), all composted and ready for its spring planting, I started jonesing for a proper vegetable garden again.

Tomatoes and other heat loving vegetable crops are very hard to grow here because temperatures rarely get above 70 degrees. The warmest, sunniest spot in my garden is overrun by tough weeds, and I knew that I would lose the battle over the course of the summer if I just tried to put an ordinary vegetable bed there.

So I decided to try this straw bale gardening thing.  There’s no digging involved and even the nastiest weeds should be smothered. The idea is that you soak bales of rice straw with water and liquid fertilizer toMichele_garden
get a little fermentation going.  Give it about a week, top it off with compost, and plant right into it.

In this case, I formed a little square with four bales and left an opening in the middle that I filled with compost. I’m feeding and watering it every day for a week or so, and I’ve run soaker hoses across the top so that it won’t be such a chore to water.  I’ve got 36 square feet of planting space here, enough for some cherry tomatoes, some squash, a few annual herbs, and maybe some peas and beans that can climb the side of the chicken coop.

I got the idea from Seattle Tilth, and there is another good article with some photos here. It suggests using wheat straw because it will be weed-free, but I’ve always used rice straw instead of wheat straw for that reason.  At the end of the season, I plan to cut the strings that hold the bales together and turn the whole thing into a compost pile for the winter.  Oh, and although you can’t see it here, there’s a little wire fence around the thing that I hope will keep the chickens out.

Anybody tried this?  Got any words of wisdom?


  1. Good work, Amy! I’m all for creative garden-making, since the conventional advice–till stuff INTO the soil–has never yielded as good results for me as pile stuff ONTO the soil.

    Susan, my garden is 52′ by 36′. I’ve got perennial things in there as well as annuals–asparagus, rhubarb, a row of gooseberry and currant bushes, as well as four just-planted dwarf sour cherry trees.

  2. I’ve grown sweet peas in straw bales laid out along a fenceline successfully. It was all nasty with quackgrass and bindweed in the soil there, so that’s why we put the sweet peas in straw. I suspect that keeping it watered will be the challenge.

  3. Why not try raised beds, such as those from Gardener’s Supply? My mother, a true farmer’s daughter, has successfully gardened in two deep boxes for about 6 years now, after gardening for 25 in a huge garden on her 5 acres. She struggled with weeds and watering issues for years. Now, she doesn’t have to worry about weeds much, and the boxes yield an amazing amount of produce in a small space. Plus, using timers for watering is a sure way to make sure all of the veggies are getting a nice consistent (and efficient) watering. (We Californians get a lot of sun, but we have to really use our water carefully.) I bought my first box this year and have two tomato plants, zuccini, crookneck squash, cucumbers, bush beans, with plenty of room for a few other things tucked here and there.

  4. I grow all my vegetables in containers. I did a cherry tomato in a 12-inch diameter self-watering hanging basket last year and plan to do 2 this year (maybe more if I can find some good-sized self-watering hanging containers cheap). I also had lettuce, tomatoes, peppers (bell and habanero), zucchini, runner beans, and peas (though I think I planted them too late and they didn’t do well) — all in containers. Not to mention the herb garden in a 1/2 barrel and a bunch of other pots grouped around it. I’m branching out into other veggies this year like carrots and cucumbers. I’m intrigued by the straw bale idea and horrified that it rarely gets above 70 degrees there.

  5. I did try that once although I used dried blood as the composting activator in the center of the bale and covering the bale with clear plastic for a week or two before planting. I have read that this method is employed in English greenhouses and it is an interesting project. I think it would be great for kids also. Can’t wait to see what you grow!

  6. Love you guys!! Also fed up with perfect picture gardens! The straw bales got thrown on the yard helter skelter, then it rained — bales stuck in place! I’ll have to cut them open and have a “pile of straw” garden. Any ideas??

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