Straw bale gardens |

Straw bale gardens

Melinda Myers

With no shortage of straw in the Yampa Valley, add productive garden space and raise your planting bed with straw bale gardening.

Gaining new popularity thanks to Joel Karsten's book "Straw Bale Gardens," the technique allows gardeners to create raised bed gardens on a patio, lawn or any area with poor compacted soil. All you need are a few straw bales, fertilizer, a bit of compost and time to condition, plant and water the garden.

Procurement and preparation

Purchase straw bales made from alfalfa, wheat, oats, rye or other cereal grain that have less weed seeds than hay. Start a few weeks before the designated planting date.

Place the bales in their permanent location with the cut sides up and twine parallel to the ground. Once you start the condition process, the bales will be very heavy and hard to move. When the bales are in place, start the conditioning process to start the inside of the straw bales composting, so they'll support plant growth.

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On day one, spread fertilizer over the top of the bale. Use a half cup of a complete garden fertilizer or three cups of an organic fertilizer like Milorganite. Then completely moisten the bale. The organic fertilizers feed the microorganisms that help decompose the straw into a nutrient-rich planting medium.

Thoroughly soak the bale every day. On days three and five, add more fertilizer at the same rate used on day one. On days seven through nine use half the rate of fertilizer used on day one. Thoroughly water the bale each time. On day 10, add one cup of 10-10-10 or three cups of an organic fertilizer rich in phosphorous and potassium to complete the conditioning process. 


Bales treated with a complete fertilizer should be ready to plant (you may need to wait a few more days when using an organic fertilizer). The inside of the bale should be the temperature of warm bath water or cooler for planting. If it's hotter, wait for the bale to cool before planting.

Use a trowel to pry open a hole in the bale. Place the plant in the hole and cover the roots with potting mix or compost. Create a planting bed for seeds by covering the bale with a 1- to 2-inch thick layer of planting mix. Follow the planting directions on the back of the seed packet.

Regular watering is critical. Soaker hoses or drip irrigation make it easier. You can also use gallon milk jugs with holes in the bottom or inverted two-liter soda bottles placed near the base of each plant. Give your straw bale garden a nutrient boost about once a month or as needed throughout the growing season.