Growing in straw bales

straw bales ©Janet Allen
Our straw bale experiment

We like to experiment with new ways of doing things. This is one of our current experiments. We had a farmer deliver six straw (not hay) bales and arranged them at the side of our driveway.

We had seen a couple of YouTube videos on using straw bales for gardening and thought that it would be a great idea for our son in North Carolina where the soil is very hard to work clay.

Planted ©Janet Allen
We've planted them

We covered the top of the bales with several inches of compost from the OCRRA site and kept it watered. Then, when warm weather arrived, we made conical holes in the straw by pushing an old broomstick down and churning it to make a hole. The hole was filled with more compost and the tomatoes and one patty pan squash planted.

Easy to cover ©Janet Allen
They're easy to cover

No sooner had we planted than the weather turned cold. Using Remay (row cover material) for three days kept the plants from being damaged by the late frosts.

One concern was where plants would obtain nutrients for growth in the straw bales. Also, would the straw breaking down use up whatever sources of nitrogen were there? I side dressed the plants with a mixture of compost, vermicompost, green sand, blood meal and bone meal.

Tomatoes in straw bales ©Janet Allen
Our tomatoes in straw bales

The plants have grown normally. They may be a little smaller than those in the regular garden but they did develop buds and little tomatoes sooner. We will try to keep track of the total production of the different tomatoes in their different locations.

In order to support the determinate tomato plants we used the circular supports that are available at garden stores.

Posts at one edge ©Janet Allen
Posts installed at the back

For the indeterminate tomatoes, I pounded in some stakes at the edge of the driveway and then strung rope from side to side. As the plants grow we are tying them to the rope. I typically remove the suckers from the indeterminate tomatoes.

Summer squash in straw bales ©Janet Allen
Growing summer squash in straw bales

There was a corner of the straw bale pile that was empty and we transplanted a patty pan (summer) squash there. It was covered with row cover material (see photo above) until I purchased some kaolin clay and sprayed its stem in an attempt to prevent the squash vine borer wasp from laying eggs.