question from a dial-upper

Fountain, FL(Zone 8a)

I know it has likely been asked and answered more then once,but here goes. What exactly is strawbale gardening? the short,but detailed version. LOL Still stuck with dial-up so when threads get long they take "fourty for darn evers" to load. TIA,

Bardstown, KY(Zone 6a)

Ginger the following was copied/pasted from Kent's first foray into the forum. It should give you a good idea of the reasoning and expected results.


I've been a traditional gardener all my life, but tried straw bale gardening last year as well.

I tried several varieties of tomatoes, peppers, cukes, squash, and zucchini in the bales and they all did outstanding.

You can start your garden with seeds if you use some topsoil on top of the bales, but I transplanted all of my vegetables from flats and trays purchased from local nurseries.

I initially used 20 bales of wheat straw. The plants in the wheat straw were doing so well that I got 10 more bales of oat straw to see how that would do. (Pine straw wonít work.)

I recommend getting bales that have been tightly baled. The oat straw bales I bought were lighter and baled looser than the wheat straw, and I learned that they donít hold as much water. I paid about $2.50 for each bale.

Use bales that have synthetic twine if you can find them. The twine wonít rot and it will hold the bales together longer. If the bales use regular twine, thatís no problem. You may have to put a stake at the end of the bales. The bales I used had regular twine, and they started to rot and break, but I arranged 10 in each row, so the bales tend to hold each other together.

I oriented my bales with the strings off the ground. You can do it either way, but I like the twine off the ground. The transplanting seemed easier with the bales oriented with the strings off the ground. You can decide which way to orient yours.

If you make more than one row of bales, put them wide enough apart so your lawnmower can get between them. And because youíll be watering them, I recommend placing the bales where the water will drain away from your house or away from where youíll be walking.

How many plants per bale? Try two tomato plants per bale, three peppers, two squash, two sets of cucumbers.

Be prepared to stake the tomatoes, peppers and any tall growing plants. I recommend 6-foot stakes for the tomatoes. I used tobacco sticks last year, but they are too short. My tomatoes grew way over the tobacco sticks. This year I'll be using stakes and a horizontal trellis and arch way-type trellis.

I didnít plant any okra last year, but they will probably do well. Youíll definitely have to stake them. I donít think corn will work too well. The plants will be too top-heavy. I water the bales in the morning and after sunset. You canít over-water because any excess will just run out of the bales. Soaker hoses will work. The main thing is not to let the bales get dried out between watering.

I started out using some Miracle Grow once a week for a couple of weeks. Then I sprinkled in some 10-10-10. You donít want to over fertilize.

The bales will start to sprout wheat or oat straw, but that is no problem. If the grass gets too much for you, just whack it off with a knife. I give my bales a ďhaircutĒ every so often with a steak knife. It takes no time at all.

One thing Iíve noticedóand this could be just a flukeóis I have not had to spray my plants with any pesticides such as Liquid Sevin. I havenít had any worms, bugs or other pest bother my straw bale garden. Maybe it has something to do with the plants being off the ground.

Be prepared to use new bales each year. I donít think they will be suitable for two years in a row. You can burn them, use them for mulch or bust them up and set new bales on them next year.

Preparing Your Bales

It takes 10 days to prepare your bales.

Days 1Ė3: Water the bales thoroughly and keep them wet.
Days 4Ė6: Sprinkle the bales with 1/2 cup of ammonium nitrate (34-0-0) per bale per day, and water it well into the bales. I didnít have any trouble finding ammonium nitrate from my local ag-supply store. They sold it in 50-pound bags. I have heard, however, that some people have had difficulty finding it in more urban settings. Ask around. (See more about ammonium nitrate at the bottom of this page.)
Days 7Ė9: Cut back to 1/4 cup of ammonium nitrate per bale per day and continue to water it in well.
Day 10: No more ammonium nitrate, but do add 1 cup of 10-10-10 fertilizer per bale and water it in well.
Day 11: Transplant your plants into the bales. I used a spatula to make a crack in the bale for each plant. Place the plant down to its first leaf and close the crack back together as best you can.

Other straw bale references:

For those of you who may have physical problems doing tradtional gardening, you may want to try this method. Even wheel chair-bound folks could garden with this method.

I didn't invent this method, but I have become an avid proponent of it.

I'm adding a photo of a portion of my garden.

Regards and have a blessed day,

Kent Rogers
Deputy Sheriff
Wake County, NC
[email protected]

P.S. - the recipe for preparing your straw bales calls for a little Ammonium Nitrate (34-0-0). Because of some Homeland Security concerns, you will probably have to give your name and phone #/address to the Seller. Ammonium Nitrate is just a fertilizer-type catalyst that acts like vitamins for the microbes that help decompose the straw bale to make it a great host for the vegetables you're going to plant. Farmers/gardeners have been using this product for years. However, if you can't find any Ammonium Nitrate or don't want to purchase a 50 lb bag, just add a week or so weathering process to your bales before you add your transplants. Be sure to wait until all danger of frost is over for your area.

Fountain, FL(Zone 8a)

Cool...thanks Doug!

Wake Forest, NC

Ginger: here's another link that may help, too:

Saylorsburg, PA(Zone 6a)

I find it interesting that you don't reuse your bales. I recycle at least two used bales into the equivalent of one bale surrounded by a wire cage to hold in the loose straw. The decomposed straw is full of worms and wonderful to work with. My eggplants and tomatoes love that used straw and do even better than in the new bales. I also use the decomposed straw in the rest of the vegetable garden as mulch or to recondition the soil. I also used it in my old laundry basket in which I plant potatoes. It makes a nice base to set the potatoes on. I use only organic fertilizer both granular and spray and the old straw is still full of nutrients. I really look forward to setting up the new bales in the fall for the following spring and using the old straw. I found it saved a lot of time and money on fertilizer to buy and leave the new bales out over the winter. By the spring they were pretty well softened. I did put blood meal on them twice in the fall to get them started, then added more general fertilizer before I planted.
Ginger, you will be hooked once you try it! This is my third year using bales.

Bardstown, KY(Zone 6a)

Actually Jessica if you go back and read the Strawbale Test thread I started last year you'll see that one row of my bales is surrounded by wood. Well this year I did not add any new straw to that row and just planted in last years leftovers. The tomatoes love it.


Saylorsburg, PA(Zone 6a)

"Be prepared to use new bales each year. I donít think they will be suitable for two years in a row. You can burn them, use them for mulch or bust them up and set new bales on them next year."


I was basing my comments on that statement since a new baler might think they couldn't use the old straw again. In some cages I keep the old bale and just add more straw from another decomposed site. Thus each year I have recycled areas plus new bales. I don't put new bales on top of the old straw since I love the old straw as is. I'm amazed at how much the plants love that old straw! Glad you have found the same to be true for you.

Fountain, FL(Zone 8a)

Thanks for all the input...will explore this option further

Northeast, WA(Zone 5a)

Jesica, I found that very interesting. I have been using the old straw for muich especially in the fall getting ready for winter. But, you know, I don't have that many plants to mulch so now I am trying to figure out how to use your method along with the way I establish my bales. I have a hoophouse that I put new bales along each side so I can just tie the plants to the wire. I use cattle panels.

I tried that last year, leaving a couple of the old bales and planting my tomatoes in them, but they didn't last out the year. Even the plants collapsed. Now I wonder if I couldn't just use 3 or 5 gallon buckets with drainage and just put the old straw in them. Now I have 2 tomato plants in 5 gallon buckets on my deck, in potting soil, but seems it would be easier to handle in the old straw. Would I keep adding straw to it as it is "used up" or packed down? Interesting thought.


Saylorsburg, PA(Zone 6a)

I don't see why 5 gallon buckets wouldn't work. I would really pack the straw down first. But when you plant the tomatoes use some potting soil or coir after making a hole in the straw to hold the root system. I always do that in both the old and new straw bales. You said your old ones didn't last. It sounded like you only used one old bale at a time. You will probably find that using the remnants of two old straw bales put together will last. I haven't had to add new straw to the old bales when I put two together. Could you use wire fencing (2-3 ft tall) made in circles which might be larger than the 5 gallon buckets and fill them with the straw? I use that a lot. My husband had made many cages to put over plants to protect them from deer and I have just been grabbing those to use for the old straw. It works very well. The old straw is quite wet when I first use it in the spring so I really compact it and find I don't realy need additional as the summer progresses. But there's no harm in adding more as you go along to keep things propped up.
For the permanent straw bale section in the open I have surrounded the bales on three sides with 5 ft. fencing and along the front with 2-3 ft wire fencing. The new bales drop in nicely each season. I make a new section by just removing the old straw and adding it to an old bale next to it. Very little work to set it up! It's just constant recycling. The straw from the three year old sections will get spread out in the potato patch or wherever needed in the veggie garden. I also use tomato cages or posts to tie them to as well. Eggplants and peppers seems especially happy this summer in the bales. Try the 5 gallon buckets and let us know how it works out!


Northeast, WA(Zone 5a)

Jessica, The funny thing is that a couple years ago I planted corn in 5 gallon buckets. It actually worked. I had 3 plants in each (because I cannot stand to thin) and they each had 3 to 4 nice fat ears.

Even after all the years I have been trying to do something with my soil, it is still pure sand. The stuff I add one year is completely gone the next year. Don't know where it goes. And the sand packs down like cement.

Saylorsburg, PA(Zone 6a)

Well, Jeanette, it sounds as if recycling the straw bales would be ideal for you in creating great soil on top of the sand! Boca Bob's Grow Bags using coir have proven to be very successful with me as well. I got them from him in the Market Place. I don't know what one does to get sand up to par! I actually sank my grow bags into my garden dirt to help keep the moisture in. With sand I would think that digging down 8-10 inches would be fairly easy. Of course, I guess enough moisture isn't really an issue with you, is it, or? Grow bags were an experiment this year and very successful. I have tomatoes, okra and peppers in grow bags to test against straw, Earth Boxes and in ground gardening.


Northeast, WA(Zone 5a)

Give me a picture of the grow bags Jessica. No, moisture isn't the problem. The sand is like cement. You can't get a shovel or even one of those claws thru it. We really tried one year and got down about 6 inches. We added a dozen bags of manure and a dozen bags of peat moss. The next year all that was left was sand. I have no idea where the rest went.

Even under the strawbales, which you would think with all the watering I do, that it would be good and loose. Nope, hard as a rock. I found that once the hay starts decomposing that it goes real fast. I don't know if I will have anything left to use a second year.

Saylorsburg, PA(Zone 6a)

Here is the link to Boca Bob's Grow Bags:

I can't even visualize sand hard packed like you are describing, especially after adding so many amendments! What a nightmare! But after the straw bales disintegrate you must get a few inches of good stuff, don't you? After a couple of years of adding decomposed bales to a wire cage I should think you would have some nice stuff to plant in!
For the present it sounds as if you have to use Earth Boxes, Straw Bales and now add the Grow Bags! I really like the bags. Boca Bob is very helpful in offering just what you need. He sells all kinds of bags and pots with coir. After contacting him I got a good price and just what I needed. Hope this helps.

Ames, NE(Zone 5b)

Jnette I'm thinking a piece of styrofoam insulation would stop the negative reaction between straw & sand maybe..over fertilization might cause this also..newbie to straw bale.. Duh learning how to myself..Just thinking out loud..LOL

Maybe some one will have the correct system plan

Good luck


Northeast, WA(Zone 5a)

Tubby, newbie doesn't mean ignorant!! This is a learning experience for all of us. Even after several years we learn a lot from people like you. Kinda brainstorming.

That is a thought, styrofoam. Thanks.


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