We are hearing and seeing a lot about straw bale gardening in the press lately. It is reported to be a great way to put in a large garden wherever you wish, making use of temporary or permanent spots, even odd spots. Quick and easy to get started growing vegetables, reducing the need to haul in new soil to areas that are less than ideal growing sites, and even a way to extend your growing season if you are dealing with rain, cold, or uncooperative weather. It is heralded as the newest miracle growing technique.

But is this for everyone, or even as good as the hype purports it to be?

The Good:

  • Straw bale gardening is basically a raised bed gardening type system, so you have a great deal less bending, reaching and physical labor once it is set up. For those for whom the physical labor of gardening is a challenge, your vegetable bed is at a much easier level and will be less difficult on your back.
  • Compost right in your garden bed. The bales themselves break down naturally and feed your garden the nutrition it needs.
  • Less watering. With the natural composting and the bales themselves, they hold water very well and keep the garden moister than a traditional garden would be, so you can be less concerned about watering.
  • Straw bales are inexpensive. Frequently they are easily found at various locations (garden stores, greenhouses, farms) for less than $10 per bale, commonly around $7 or so and you will not need many to make a large bed, hence a small investment in your growth area. Four bales will form a fairly large bed that can be relatively easily reached across without much bending.
  • Can be set up anywhere sunny. You won’t need to prep soil, or put in all sorts of expensive equipment. Set them up where it is convenient, whether it be on concrete, rocky land, or just an undeveloped area. You can place them in any arrangement, making use of unusual locations and small areas.
  • Vegetables grow well in this setting, with the built in nutrients and water retention is better than container gardening. And it is popular, and you can get creative in how you assemble for aesthetic beauty!

The Downside:

  • Straw bales will carry weed seeds in them. You are just as likely to sprout weeds in this nutrient rich bed. You will need to stay on top of these weeds or your bales will become overgrown in all areas, from all sides, which may make for an interesting look, as well as the challenge to your vegetable growth.
  • Setting up your straw bales can be physically taxing as they hold water, making them heavy if they have gotten wet. You may want to plan ahead for assistance in setting up your bales if strength is an issue.
  • Your bales will compost and break down during the growing season, so they won’t stay neat and square as they go through the season. They will sag and taller plants may need additional support, such as staking, to stay upright – such as large tomato plants.

Straw bale gardening may not be for everyone, but it also may be a very worthwhile experiment as you decide whether it works for your gardening endeavors. With appropriate planning and thought, this fad may be the miracle it touts itself to be!

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