Solutions for Self-Reliance

Urban Gardening with Straw Bale Gardens


Here’s a very simple technique for gardening in tight spots and in places with no/terrible soil (from the arctic circle to the desert to an asphalt jungle).  It’s also a great way to garden if you have limited mobility (in a wheel chair).

What is Straw Bale Gardening?

You simply plant your garden in straw bales.   Here’s an example of what a straw bale garden looks like (via author/expert Joel Karsten — he’s got a good book on the topic and he teaches it in seminars)

As you can see, the basic technique is actually quite simple.  You simply grow your garden inside the bales and the results can be pretty amazing.

How to grow a Straw Bale Garden

There are lots of techniques on how to grow a straw bale garden.  Here’s one from the West Virginia University.

To start the process, keep the straw bales wet for three to four weeks before planting. If you would like to speed up the process, here is a recipe that works well.

  • Days 1 to 3: Water the bales thoroughly and keep them damp.
  • Days 4 to 6: Sprinkle each bale with ½ cup urea (46-0-0) and water well into bales. You can substitute bone meal, fish meal, or compost for a more organic approach.
  • Days 7 to 9: Cut back to ¼ cup urea or substitute per bale per day and continue to water well.
  • Day 10: No more fertilizer is needed, but continue to keep bales damp.
  • Day 11: Stick your hand into the bales to see if they are still warm. If they have cooled to less than your body heat, you may safely begin planting after all danger of frost has passed.

Essentially, plant the seedlings like you would do in the ground.  If you plant seeds, put a layer of compost mix on the bales like icing on a cake and plant it there.  Here’s what the University’s straw bale garden looks like:

Remember, the bales (like most above ground gardening techniques) will need extra water and fertilizer during the early period.  However, that should diminish as bale decomposes (it will be able to hold MUCH more water).  Here’s some recommendations on plant types and density from the University:

Plants Number Per Bale

  • Tomatoes 2-3
  • Peppers 4
  • Cucumbers 4-6
  • Squash 2-4
  • Pumpkin 2
  • Zucchini 2-3
  • Lettuce Per package directions
  • Strawberries 3-4
  • Beans Per package directions

I’m going to try this out this spring since it looks like fun. Will let you know how it works out.

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