How to Grow Plants in Straw Bales


A straw bale can serve as a raised garden bed, offering the same advantages as an elevated planting area made of topsoil and organic matter. Growing in straw bales is an alternative for poor soil. The height also makes gardening possible if you have mobility issues that cause pain when you bend or kneel. Get the bales from a provider that doesn't treat straw with herbicides. Wheat, barley, or rice straw drains the quickest and should be your first option. It takes 10 days to prepare the straw garden bed.

Things You'll Need

  • 32-0-0 ammonium nitrate fertilizer
  • 10-10-10 fertilizer
  • Seedlings
  • Trowel (optional)
  • Arrange the straw bales in the design that best suits you. Place them where water can drain away from structures. Verify that bales adjacent to one another are positioned touching each other, and that there are no gaps in the bed. Keep the bales fastened to keep them from falling apart. Straw bales held together by synthetic twine are best, because the string does not decompose.

  • Irrigate each bale thoroughly on days one, two and three. Pour enough water over each to moisten the entire surface and penetrate all the way to the bottom of the bale.

  • Select a 32-0-0 fertilizer that provides nitrogen in the form of ammonium nitrate. Broadcast the nutrient over the straw surface at the rate of 1/2 cup per bale. Water in the product. Perform this step on the fourth, fifth, and sixth days following the three days of irrigation.

  • Apply the same 32-0-0 fertilizer at the rate of 1/4 cup per straw bale on days seven, eight and nine. Water in the nutrient.

  • Sprinkle 1 cup of 10-10-10 fertilizer per bale over the straw bed. Water it in. Perform this step on the 10th day of preparation. Start planting the following day.

  • Move the straw to the sides by hand or with a trowel to make planting holes. Insert the seedling root systems into the opening in the bale. Plant to a depth just above the lowest set of leaves. Push the straw against the plants' stems to close the hole.

  • Water the transplants and keep the straw moist through the growing season. Follow the requirements of each plant after they become established. Tomato plants, for instance, need consistent moisture to set and develop fruit. Certain flowers, like poppies, thrive in drier conditions.

  • Grow plants that will not topple without the stability of deep soil. Avoid corn and okra, for example. Tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, and cucumbers are some viable crops for a straw bed. Space them as you would in a traditional bed. One 2-foot-wide straw bale has room for two tomato plants or four pepper plants, for instance.

  • Handpick slugs that crawl onto the bales or use nontoxic baits. Pull by hand weeds that sprout. Treat other pests and diseases with the least toxic methods available.

  • Harvest food crops as you normally would, or enjoy the beauty of your annual flowers. Straw decomposes quickly, lasting only one or two seasons. Do not plant perennials in it.

Tips & Warnings

  • Add a layer of topsoil over the straw bales to start the garden from seeds.
  • Do not use pine straw for a planting bed.

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