(If you’re reading this on the front page, click through for more images.)
I’ve been gardening for years, but the idea of planting in straw bales is new to me. I ran across this post about straw bale gardening earlier this year and was intrigued enough to mention in on the Attainable Sustainable Facebook page. It seemed like a perfect way to add a garden to a space that was less than ideal for growing.
My own garden space is severely sloped and we were in the process of terracing it with rock walls to create more usable space when my husband’s job took him off the island for an extended period. Without my rock guy, I was stuck – until I remembered those straw bales. I did a little reading and learned that straw bales could last a couple of years in the garden. If they lasted that long, why couldn’t I use them to retain my garden? I’d have the level planting space I needed, plus I could grow more vegetables right in the “wall.” I enlisted my teenagers to help me move the bales into place (they’re awkward and a bit heavy).
The good news: the bales are working quite well as a temporary retaining wall. Eventually they’ll be replaced with a rock wall, but for now they’re a fairly inexpensive solution to my sloped garden space.
The bad news: they’re not that great for growing things in. Now, I admit, I didn’t use the chemical nitrogen as some straw bale gardeners suggest. Instead, I used fish bone meal both during the rot process and as I planted. I’d expected to have a thriving little garden like this one growing right out of those bales by now, but instead, I just have slowly decomposing straw bales. (The tomatillo plant you see in the image is planted in the ground behind the straw bale.)
When I started, I wasn’t sure what would work best so I planted both seeds (green beans and kale) and seedlings. Most of the seeds sprouted but never moved beyond sprout size. I’ve replanted three times, but still no luck. The pepper seedlings I planted have failed to thrive. The pepper plant pictured below is several months old. It’s alive, but it certainly isn’t going to put food on my table any time soon.
It looks like it will be awhile before the rock wall can be finished, so I’ll probably try another round of seeds in the bales (seeds are cheap). Maybe now that they’re more decomposed, I’ll have better luck? In any case, when I’m done with this temporary retaining solution, I’ll have some lovely compost to add to the garden.
My cyber-friend Roxanne at Champion of my Heart mentioned that she didn’t have any luck with straw bales in her garden either. And a search of the Real Food Dude’s site (where I first saw straw bale gardening mentioned) doesn’t turn up any successful “after” pictures, even though some people are clearly having luck with this method.
Have you had any luck with straw bale gardening?