If you’re a tried and true backyard gardener, many is the reason you might balk at not planting in the soil. While it does have it’s perks, there are also many drawbacks when you’re trying to grow an abundant harvest in the dirt. Likewise, outdoor container gardening has it’s good points and issues too. The number one drawback to container gardening is the high price of good potting mix, and the expense of the containers themselves. Putting in a traditional garden in the backyard isn’t always possible, and even when it is, just getting ready to plant is a job in itself. The amount of equipment you need to plant a soil garden is also expensive, unless you’re going to revert to antiquated methods, which makes it far more work to prepare for planting.
Straw is cheap. Though in some regions it is not produced locally, it is usually pretty easy to get. It is trucked in for equestrian facilities and landscape uses. Be forewarned that straw used for landscaping can be full of mold, so check it well if you find it at any place that sells landscape supplies to contractors. It is also used in the building trade, but once again, mold is acceptable for their applications too.
Straw bale gardens are elevated, making planting and tending your crops much easier. For anyone with back problems, arthritis, or other physical limitations, this could be just the ticket to allow you to grow fresh food in the yard. Speaking of raised bed gardening, the wood that is used to make the least expensive version is a) expensive, b) rots fast unless you uses treated lumber, which defeats the purpose of growing safe to eat food, and c) these are normally permanent structures. You get more distance between the ground and the growing surface with a straw bale than a 12-inch board too.
Soil-borne diseases plague tomatoes for a big portion of the United States. Straw bale gardening removes the possibility of this issue. The tomatoes, when trellised, are way above where rainfall can connect the splashing soil to the foliage and start the whole cycle of decline rolling.
You can get a jump start on the weather with straw bale gardens too. Anyone who lives in the North or the elevations can instantly see the beauty in getting more weeks into the season. How is this possible? The interior of a straw bale when properly prepped can get up to 90 degrees Fahrenheit even though the surrounding air temperature is in the high 40s. Seeds won’t sprout until soil temps have warmed enough in spring. By the same token, plants started indoors or in a greenhouse will sit stagnant or start declining unless the soil is warm enough for their liking. You can easily get the garden planted at least 3 weeks ahead of the normal planting date in your climate zone with straw bale growing and makeshift row covers. If you engineer it well, extending the season into the fall is also possible with row cover methods. These are made with clear plastic sheeting on a frame that will keep it off the plants and create an improvised greenhouse on a small scale.
You don’t need to till soil to plant in straw bales. Say goodbye to the need for that rototiller, and gas to run it with. This also removes the issue of topsoil loss, which in a backyard garden is far less than farm fields. However, if you added up the total acreage of backyard gardens across the United States alone, it will be pretty clear that even our small agricultural areas cause a lot of damage to the surface of the Earth. Next consider how much topsoil is lost worldwide through this very same practice.
The decomposition of the straw creates new soil. It is sort of like making compost while you grow, rather than waiting for the compost to reach a usable stage. Conditioning the bale starts the process of soil generation before you even get anything planted.
Your straw bale garden will have no weeds to pull. Compared to the amount of time one spends weeding the vegetable garden out back, you’ll find your summer has a lot more time to spend doing other stuff. There is an alternative should you insist on growing in the soil. You can put down ground cover fabric like they use under the pots in garden centers and nurseries. That isn’t cheap, but it is wonderful at keeping weeds to almost non-existent. Straw will be a better choice in terms of economy and help you alleviate the urge to resort to chemical control in an effort to regain control over weeds.
Straw has awesome drainage and moisture holding properties. Its is perfect, which isn’t something most people can say about the soil in their yard. Straw bale gardens do away with the need to amend your soil in hopes of coaxing a meager harvest out of poor soil. Besides its balance at draining and retaining moisture, you’ll also use less water than when growing in soil. Put drip hose on a timer once you’ve got a handle on how often it does need more water, and it’s super easy to get the moisture program just right.
Don’t have a backyard to garden in? This method works great on the patio too. It can be as big or as small as the space you have available for growing outdoors.
On top of all the previously mentioned reasons one would want to garden in straw is the fact that when done right you will get a more bountiful harvest than you’ve seen before. There are market farms who are turning to growing produce in this way, because it is just better all the way around.
How do you get started? The best approach is to read the latest book on this ingenious method of growing good food by Joel Karsten. There’s more to doing this right and getting a maximum harvest that you should know before giving it a whirl. His book, Straw Bale Gardens: The Breakthrough Method for Growing Vegetables Anywhere, Earlier and with No Weeding, is available from Amazon for less than $12. A reasonable price for an education.
You can do more reading up on straw bale gardens and Joel on his website too at StrawBaleGardens.com.
Images courtesy of StrawBaleGardens.com.
If you don't find her at the desk - check the gardens. When not writing and weeding, she enjoys a good book, painting junk furniture, and blending the harvest of heirloom tomatoes and chiles into salsas.