Straw bale garden

frankielynnsie(7B)March 1, 2011

I wanted to give an update on my straw bale garden from last year. I had the best tomatoes in the last 5 yrs. No wilt or other disease. I pulled them up today and 2 actually still had live roots. I compressed the bales from last year and retied the strings making them about half the original size and am going to plant peppers, squash, and cucumbers in them. Tomorrow I will get some new bales for this year's tomatoes and restart the process. Overall it was a very positive experience--no weeds-I laid a piece of landscape fabric under the bed w/bales (my garden is 4 foot wide, 60 foot long with 3 beds terraced bank), elevated/no bending over and lots of tomatoes. I am branching out w/other veggies this year.

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vicki7(z7 N.Ga.)

Frankielynn, did you actually plant the veggies IN the straw bales, or between them? Sounds interesting, like something I might want to try.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2011 at 7:32PM
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I did that year before last and will be doing it again this year. It works great for tomatoes. I'm sure peppers would be fine too.

Not so much for cucumbers and squash though. The problem is that slugs absolutely thrive in the wet straw. They don't generally bother tomatoes but they will destroy the cucumbers and squash.

This year I'll reserve the straw for tomatoes. My cukes will be planted in SWPs climbing a trellis.

    Bookmark   March 2, 2011 at 9:05AM
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Thanks for the heads up on the slugs. Yuck, I would rather play with a snake than get slug slime on my hand. But I like little snakes. Maybe I'll try an herb bale.

You plant the tomato plant inside the bale. I had 2 plants in each bale w/2 bales side by side. I had marigolds planted between the tomatoes to do some natural bug control--and it looked pretty. You have to prepare the bales to get them rotting inside before you plant.

I used parts of the following web sites. I didn't have the right fertilizer they suggested so just used one left over from fertilizing the grass that was high in nitrogen. After planting I used osmacote around the plants for fertilizer. I did put a cavity of miricle gro garden soil dirt into each planting crevasse. I stuck the tomato cages into the bale but had to go back and tie the cages to a rod that was hammered into the bale/soil. I had monster plants and they were pulling the cages over.

I encourage you to try it. It worked out so well and I didn't water any more frequently than the rest of the garden.


    Bookmark   March 2, 2011 at 8:08PM
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You've inspired me! Have read a bunch about straw bale gardening but haven't done it yet. What I'd like to know is how you stake tomatoes. Most tomato cages, I thought, were a lot larger in diameter than the bale is wide. What sort of rod did you use? Also, I think I'd like just one plant per bale - your thoughts on that appreciated.

A note to others considering this: all wheat straw bales are not equal. I get mine from a garden shop - found they are larger, have more straw than those at the big boxes.

Rosie, Sugar Hill

    Bookmark   March 5, 2011 at 7:15AM
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I also get my bales from the local 'Farm' store. They are larger and more tightly packed. I used both large and smaller tomato cages-the funnel shaped style. With 2 bales side by side and a 5 ft piece of rebar driven into the ground between the 4 cages. I tied the 4 cages in 1 spot to the rebar. I have the same rebar from about 15 yrs and re use yearly. I found that the bush tomatoes worked the best and didn't get as scraggly by the end of the season. I guess I should have pinched the cherry tomatoes back a bit but am not so good at trimming off healthy parts. I am sure 1 per bale would work fine. I'm just cheap and crammed each one full. Having the yellow marigolds made them look happy.

    Bookmark   March 5, 2011 at 12:01PM
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Frankielynn, thanks again for your help and encouragement. I have two bales = one planted with two tomatoes, the other with two jalapenos. I used urine to start the composting, along with a handful of Milorganite per bale. Worked perfectly. And kept it organic which I wanted.

Hope yours are thriving also.


    Bookmark   May 7, 2011 at 9:02PM
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Mine are doing great-14 tomato plants in this year's bales, cucumbers and squash in last year's bales. Everyone is happy so far.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2011 at 11:00PM
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I just use the pine straw from these awful pine trees and use it as mulch.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2011 at 11:49PM
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Hi! This year I built raised beds. I lined them with cardboard and then a layer of straw. I put good garden soil on top of that, and planted seeds and transplants. My problem is that nothing is growing well. Everything sprouts, grows a bit, and that's it. I read up on straw bale gardening, to see what's up. I never did the 10 day thing with the ammonium nitrate and high nitrogen fertilizer... I'm worried the plants aren't growing because of this. Any suggestions? Is it too late to do something to the straw now? I'd heard straw was good for growing, but I didn't realized you needed to condition it first!

    Bookmark   June 12, 2011 at 9:12AM
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girlgroupgirl(8 ATL)

Jo95, I think your beds probably suffer from lack of nutrition. You may need to fertilize.

    Bookmark   June 13, 2011 at 1:57PM
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Jo95, How deeply did you lay the cardboard? It could be keeping the roots from growing deep enough into the soil to get the nutrients it needs.

    Bookmark   July 1, 2011 at 8:00PM
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By the way, this is such a cool idea! I've honestly never heard of such a thing as straw bale gardening! :)

    Bookmark   July 2, 2011 at 8:21PM
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jo, straw bale gardening uses the bale, intact, still tied. It sits on top of the ground. It sounds like you are planting into the soil you added. Need to cut out clumps of the cardboard, plant into the soil beneath, using the cardboard and straw topping as mulch layers.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2011 at 7:42AM
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Yikes. Cukes are what I was planning to do. May have to think of something else. Do you think slug problem is worse in warmer zone than mine (5) or am I just grasping at straws. (pardon) I have the straw bale book and see that nitrogen fertilizer is needed for conditioning. But it isn't clear if you also need phosporus or potassium initially.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2013 at 12:41PM
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I have just used left over 10/10/10 and a handful of lime. My bales are cooking right now. The weather and my accident have kept me from getting up and running as early as previous years. I have had such good results with this method for my tomatoes that I won't do anything else. Last years bales were cleared out and used as decayed mulch around the blueberry bushes so they are serving quadruple duty.

The bales were first used as fall holiday decor at our elementary school, stacked in front of the outdoor water spickets to prevent freezing, and now they will be my tomato beds.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2013 at 8:52PM
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Its my first straw bale garden, plants in and growing. I used bone and blood meal on bales before planting BUT am now experiencing a problem with my plants yellowing.
Do I need to continue the bone meal? Am using a very weak organic nitrogen In water mix about every 2 weeks.
Could I need other trace minerals? Would adding some epsom salt help?

    Bookmark   May 16, 2013 at 9:17PM
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