Straw Bale Gardening

Somewhere along the way, I heard of a gardening approach that eliminated the need for weeding. I’ve never had a thumb of any shade of green, but I LOVE homegrown tomatoes, so I eagerly gave it a shot. My daughter and I attended a community ed class about straw bale gardening (SBG) in March of 2011. We had great success last summer and have a SBG again this year.

The 2011 SBG – tomatoes at the end of June.

Straw bale gardens offer many advantages:

  1. The plants grow better in nutrient rich compost.
  2. You can plant earlier in the spring because the compost and plastic coverings keep plants in a hothouse – like environment.
  3. Weeds do not grow in the bales.
  4. You can plant your garden in any location that will support a straw bale – even on a patio or deck!
  5. No need to build raised beds.

This week’s TOS Blog Cruise topic is all about summer gardening. Click the image to find more delightful posts on this topic starting Tuesday, July 3.

With the warm winter this year, I could have started the garden in April if I had not been so busy with Writing Foundations classes and my son’s high school graduation. We actually got the garden going around the end of May – about the same time as last year, and what is usually normal for this part of Minnesota. Expert SBGers actually start as early as possible and make plastic tents to create a greenhouse environment for the plants while frost is still a danger. We didn’t get started that early this year, so we skipped the plastic altogether.

Setting up a SBG is no more difficult that tilling and weeding a normal garden plot. Actually, once you know how it goes, it seems even easier put together.

Steps to setting up a straw bale garden:

  1. Obtain straw bales. I found mine on Craigslist and paid a delivery fee to have the nice farmer transport them to my urban home. I suppose I could have tried this though…
  2. That’s one way to do it…

  3. Arrange the bales around your yard in strategic places. This year, we put the squash behind the garage where it can go nuts, where I don’t care about the grass dying out.
  4. The 2012 Squash Department

  5. Fertilize and water the bales for at least 10 days. This gets the composting going. You can find the recipe details here.
  6. Arrange your watering system. We use buckets of rain water and a series of soaker hoses when the rain water runs out.
  7. The start of our SBG this year.

  8. After the composting cools down enough, plant seedlings in the bales. You just poke a hole in the bale with the end of your dirt scooper, stick the seedling in, and cover with potting soil.
  9. Watch for bugs and treat accordingly. This is the only real gardening work you have to do with SBGs.
  10. Sit back and enjoy your garden!

Marigolds help keep most bugs away. Slugs love them, though!

Want to learn more about Straw Bale Gardening?
You’ll find tons of info just by Googling, but here are my 2 standard sites:
Straw Bale Gardens
Learn to Grow a Straw Bale Garden Facebook Page


  1. Oh, you use the marigolds too! How fun. The nice thing about container gardening is no slugs.

    • You know… thinking here… I may have to put the bales in containers next year… ;-) We didn’t have them as a problem last year… We’re also fighting the Japanese beetles… must be ever vigilant about those bugs!

  2. LOL at the car with the hay :D The garden looks great!

  3. #3 is all it takes to convince me. My attempt at gardening was sadly killed by weeds. I have a lot of plans for how to do things differently next time. That car full of hay is funny.

    • That’s what got me too. I hate weeding and resisted gardening because of it.

      Now that I’m into it, I have the motivation to learn how to control the bugs. I have been known to chase white moths with a can of raid…

  4. That is brilliant! I love it. I stink at gardening b/c we get lazy and the weeds take over. I’ll have to research this more. Thanks for sharing! (found you on the crew, btw).

    • Thanks for stopping by Leslie! I wasn’t good at gardening either – I’m still a reluctant enthusiast about it all. The SBG makes up for my lack of skill, though. ;-)

  5. I love homegrown tomatoes in the summertime. One of these years I’m going to have to grow some of my own.

    • There’s nothing like a homegrown tomato, right?

      I ate so many tomatoes the summer that I was pregnant with my youngest that she was allergic to tomatoes when she was a nursing baby. If ate tomatoes, she would get a terrible rash on her bum! Thankfully, she grew out of it. ;-)

  6. We did this one year with potatoes – I’d love to do it along the forest wall! Thanks for the encouragement.

  7. This is great! We are doing SBG this year for the first time and I am loving it so far! My garden isn’t nearly as far along as yours but we’re a *little* farther north too. That is a great idea about doing the plastic. It’s warm enough during the day often here in April but frosts almost every night – wonder if that could help get an earlier start next year? Our growing season is very short!

    • When we took the community ed class, that was one of the points the instructor made – that folks with short growing seasons could lengthen it with the greenhouse-like plastic. If you look at the SBG website, you’ll see lots of picts of how they set up their plastic tents. Our tents last year didn’t look as good as theirs, but all it needs to do is keep off the frost because the compost keeps the roots nice and warm.

      Glad to hear that you are enjoying your SBG, and thanks for stopping by!

  8. I love straw bale gardening. Will share this on my FB fan page.

  9. I have never heard of SBG. Genious!! What a great idea for urban gardeners– Love it! I will have to pass this on to my city dwelling friends and family.

  10. Oh my, I have been gardening on and off for years and never heard of this. I’m so excited and plan to do it next year. This is awesome! Wish I had heard of this this year because it would have been better for our new yard. Thank you for sharing!!!

  11. This is a SUPER idea! We have a problem with our squash “taking over.” This would be a great way to give them some space and not have to till up a bunch of extra land. Thanks!

  12. This is our first year attempting gardening and we went with the traditional, hole in the ground style:) Next year, we may just try this! What a fabulous idea!

  13. Linda Pearce says:

    When should I purchase my straw bales? Farmers have them now…fall, but where could I store them to keep the mice from settling in for the winter? After the crop do you leave the bales in place….?

    • I purchased mine in the spring. I found them by looking on Craigslist. If I were to buy them now, I guess I’d keep them in the garage if I had room. Even then, there’s no guarantee that adventurous mice wouldn’t find them, though… I bought some one fall that came with the mice, so it is a risk. Just make sure you have nothing around for mice to eat, like chicken feed, pet food, etc.

      After the crop, they have pretty much turned to dirt. We raked what straw was left into lawn bags and it went out with the trash. If you have a compost setup, that would be a good place for it, too.

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