An Introduction to Straw Bale Gardening

Many people are already aware of the benefits of raised bed gardening. It can be a great method for those whose garden soil is less than ideal and is easier for those who have mobility problems or who are getting on in years. With raised beds you can easily reach to tend to your garden and harvest your crops without having to stoop down to ground level. Raised garden beds can also have a range of other enticing benefits. One method for relatively cheap and easy to begin raised beds is to use straw bales. These straw bales can be placed individually in your garden, to form the edges of a raised bed area or even on a patio or hard surface and used directly as your growing medium. As the straw decomposes your plants will have plenty of food and it has even been said that plants could be up to 25% more productive when planted in straw bales than they would be if planted in average quality soil.

Straw bales can be purchased cheaply direct from farmers. The Internet is a good place to start when it comes to sourcing straw bales near you, though if you live in the country there is no harm in simply asking at local farms to see if you can buy a few bales. This is an agricultural by-product and so often you can pick up a few bales of straw for next to nothing. This is a great way to start a garden, especially if you are working with a somewhat unpromising space.

When you get your straw bale the first thing is to condition it so it will start to decompose. This is achieved simply through ensuring that it stays wet for around a month. You will also have to add a good amount of nitrogen rich fertiliser to the saturated bale. After a month or so you will be able to detect through the bale temperature and its smell that this is working and can begin planting.

Before you plant, you cover the top of the bale with a good quality compost – just a thin layer of an inch or two will suffice. You can plant your seeds or seedlings into this. Due to the heat given off by the decomposition below, you can plant earlier in the year than you would be able to in the ground and can extend the growing season, especially with the addition of a hoop cover or cloches atop your bale. Plants like squash and pumpkins will particularly enjoy the heat given off by the bale over the growing season.

The bales will only last for a few years, but by that time you will find you are left not with a mess but with a high quality compost for use elsewhere in your garden. So, particularly if you want to create a garden on hard standing or other unpromising surfaces, a straw bale garden could be the perfect solution.

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