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Thread: Straw bale gardening?

  1. #1
    Super Member Tiggersmom's Avatar
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    Question Straw bale gardening?

    Has anyone done this? It's suppose to work if you have a brown thumb. My friend just learned about it from her sister and then attended a class.

    I'm just starting to read up on this and wondered if it is as easy as it sounds.

    Any input would be appreciated.

    TIA, Jennifer
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  2. #2
    Power Poster Prism99's Avatar
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    I tried it one year. One thing I found was that the bales shrank a ***lot*** over the course of the season, and the shrinkage was uneven. I think it would help to have some kind of containment for the bales, such as wood sides. The other thing I found is that they need a lot of watering. I wished I had laid out a soaker hose over the top of the bales, connected to the faucet with an automatic timer. As I recall, watering with a hose often resulted with a lot of the water dribbling down and away from the plants; slow, frequent watering would have been better for the plants and also conserved on water usage. Also, I'm no expert, but I think it would have helped to have spread out at least a one-inch or two-inch layer of soil over the hay bales. If you are going to garden in the same place year after year, I think this would combine with the broken-down hay to form a nice base for a raised bed.

    Edit: I should add that there seems to be a lot more information on the web nowadays, and a lot of the things that are recommended in the following website are things I didn't do. I didn't condition the bales, for example, and I have no idea if I had the cut side up. Plus, as you can probably tell from my calling it hay, I'm not a farming type person. I believe there is a difference between hay bales and straw bales.
    http://bonnieplants.com/library/how-...-a-straw-bale/

    I still think laying a soaker hose on top of the bales and setting up an automatic timer for watering would be very helpful.

    Edit 2: Oh, my! This website makes me want to try it again!
    http://modernfarmer.com/2013/07/straw-bale-gardening/

    Edit 3: I think it's a good idea to read the negative reviews about the book before starting. Gives you an idea of some of the pitfalls.
    http://www.amazon.com/Straw-Bale-Gar...dp/1591869072/
    Last edited by Prism99; 04-23-2015 at 03:53 PM.

  3. #3
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    Yes, Prism, there is a lot of difference between hay and straw. Hay is very expensive here in Michigan and very hard to find. Straw is more available, but is not used for feed. Hay is grass like and straw is hollow (straw like). I saw an interesting way to garden, but don't know what it is called. The fellow who was talking about it just cut open a bag of soil and planted his vegetables there on top of the ground. I'm thinking of planting in large planters and growing some tomatoes and a few other vegetables. That is as soon as it stops snowing in Michigan. Is summer ever coming?
    Sue

  4. #4
    Super Member Jeanne S's Avatar
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    I have not tried the hay bale method, but have read about it and think it makes sense. What I do however is the Ruth Stout No Work Garden method which combines the traditional dirt garden method with using hay/straw. First you cover your garden with LOTS of loose hay, at least 8 inches deep. Then you pull back the hay to plant your veggie plants or seeds. If using plants, just push the hay up around the plants so there is no bare dirt showing. If planting seeds, you will leave your narrow rows of dirt bare until the seeds sprout, then keep spreading the hay around the new seedlings as they grow. In effect, the hay is working like a really thick mulch. The benefits are almost no weeds and water conservation as the hay helps keep the moisture in the soil. Eventually the hay will decompose enriching your soil and you will need to add new hay each year. If you get weeds, your hay is not thick enough. I have wonderful garden results with this method!

  5. #5
    Super Member Jan in VA's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeanne S View Post
    I have not tried the hay bale method, but have read about it and think it makes sense. What I do however is the Ruth Stout No Work Garden method which combines the traditional dirt garden method with using hay/straw. First you cover your garden with LOTS of loose hay, at least 8 inches deep. Then you pull back the hay to plant your veggie plants or seeds. If using plants, just push the hay up around the plants so there is no bare dirt showing. If planting seeds, you will leave your narrow rows of dirt bare until the seeds sprout, then keep spreading the hay around the new seedlings as they grow. In effect, the hay is working like a really thick mulch. The benefits are almost no weeds and water conservation as the hay helps keep the moisture in the soil. Eventually the hay will decompose enriching your soil and you will need to add new hay each year. If you get weeds, your hay is not thick enough. I have wonderful garden results with this method!
    Jeanne,
    You make me so interested to try some summer veggie gardening again in my new place starting in July. I can start little seed pots on my screened in porch now and plant when I get moved to the new place. It sounds so easy as you've described!

    Thanks,
    Jan in VA
    Last edited by Jan in VA; 04-23-2015 at 10:49 PM.
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  6. #6
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    Straw is what is left after combining wheat or straw. Hay is what is baled from alfalfa or different grasses and is therefore edible for animals. Straw has no nutritional value and is used for bedding. How do I know - I was the tractor driver for our baling operation on our farm for the last 40 years. We are now retired, sold our haying equipment last year and now have time to quilt - yea.
    Last edited by Karamarie; 04-24-2015 at 04:52 AM. Reason: Add additional info

  7. #7
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    One more thing - hay is greenish and straw is yellowish.

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    We tried it one summer with hay. It sprouted and mildewed but then, I'm in Florida. Everything grows and molds. I think I remember picking a few tomatoes. But if you try it, be sure to have a ground cloth to keep it from taking root. I think it would work best on a concrete patio in an apartment or condo where "ground" is not available.

  9. #9
    Super Member Jeanne S's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jan in VA View Post
    Jeanne,
    You make me so interested to try some summer veggie gardening again in my new place starting in July. I can start little seed pots on my screened in porch now and plant when I get moved to the new place. It sounds so easy as you've described!


    Thanks,
    Jan in VA
    Jan,
    Here is a couple of pictures of my little garden that I took this morning. I use lots of supports to grow everything vertically that I can due to limited space. But the hay/straw method works great, and makes it so easy. I also start my plants from seed indoors under a grow light in February so they are ready to move outside in early April (other than green beans and okra and spinach that I plant from seed). Almost no weeding or watering. I usually buy a bale or two of hay/straw each fall after the Halloween decorations go on sale at the gardening centers for $2 each. (Or I find them free on the curbs that neighbors have set out for the trash men to pick up!!) I cover my garden area with it in the late fall and leave it on all winter--no spring weeds when I am ready to plant! Happy gardening.
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  10. #10
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    Think of hay as dried herbs. The plants are cut and dried when the leaves are green and packed with nutrients.

    Straw is leftovers from the plant's reproductive cycle.

  11. #11
    Power Poster ManiacQuilter2's Avatar
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    I live in the city and never heard of this. Very interesting.
    A Good Friend, like an old quilt, is both a Treasure and a Comfort

  12. #12
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    Google Joel Karsten. He's an expert in straw-bale gardening

  13. #13
    Super Member Jeanne S's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ManiacQuilter2 View Post
    I live in the city and never heard of this. Very interesting.
    I live in the city too, so can't have a very big garden. You all are having such water shortage problems in California now, a garden may be out of the question. But if you can have one, try the thick hay/straw mulch method, as it really cuts down on watering. I often water with a watering can (using household gray water) so I can add some organic fertilizer to the water to take care of both chores at one time. Just cut fresh spinach and broccoli this morning from the garden! So much fun!

  14. #14
    Super Member quiltingshorttimer's Avatar
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    Like Karamarie says, hay is the leafy part of the plant that is used for animal feed and will include grass seeds, which is why I don't use it in my garden. Straw is the stalk part of wheat,rye, etc and is used for mulch, animal bedding, etc. It will totally decompose with time and not "take root". Last year I used straw bales and have them ready for this year too. I put them next to fencing (in my case next to the horse round pen) and water well. I'll put about an 2" of soil or compost on top where I'll plant seedlings or seeds. This year I do plan to put tomatoes in bales--I'd heard that tomatoes were not good cause they get too top heavy and tip the bale over. But I'll tie the tomato cages to the fence and it should not be a problem. The soaker hose idea is best, but I didn't notice needing more watering than normal. This year I'm planting my winter squash in an area that the bales did not completely decompost from last year--I'm just going to toss in my squash and zinnia seeds (was told zinnias will keep away the squash bugs), water and keep my fingers crossed. My new bales will get tomatoes, peppers, zuchinni, maybe eggplant--warm weather stuff. One nice thing about straw bales is that you don't have to bend so much and weeding was almost totally unneeded.

  15. #15
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    You can also grow plants directly into a bag of potting soil. You can either make Xs in the bag and plant the plants in the Xs or cut squares. No weeding! Google google images for pics of this concept.

  16. #16
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    We've done this for the last three years, watered frequently but had more run off than saturation. Had peppers and tomatoes, 12 of each, got 3 small papers and virtually no tomatoes (squirrels like tomatoes). Someone told us they eat them for the moisture but tried putting watering pan out for squairels, they just like tomatoes. lol Gave up and bought tomatoes to can as salsa. This year we're buying patio tomatoes and planting them in 5 gallon buckets just to have enough for the table.

  17. #17
    Swap Hosts Krystyna's Avatar
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    Did it once. Won't do it again. Slugs just love to hide under and breed in bales.
    Krystyna
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  18. #18
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    I found that a raised bed is the best way to garden here in the south...

  19. #19
    Super Member IBQUILTIN's Avatar
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    I love to grow potatoes this way. They are so easy to harvest as all you need to do is break up the bales.

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