How to Grow a Garden in Straw Bales

Vegetables growing in straw bales

Straw Bales Make Gardening Simple 

In this Article: Choosing Your Bales  Setting Up the Bales  Conditioning the Bales  Planting in the Bales

Straw bale gardens are simple: the bale is the garden. It is the container and the soil, all in one! Straw bales are more convenient than building a raised bed or buying lots of pots for a container garden. You can easily expand your garden by adding more bales. Plus, straw bales are good on the budget.

Choosing Your Bales

  • When sourcing your bales, make sure you buy straw and not hay.
  • Straw is made from the mostly seed-free stalks of barley, oats, rye, wheat or rice.
  • Hay, however, is made from whole grass - seeds and all. If you try using hay bales, it will result in a nice bale-lawn.
  • You can get straw at farm and ranch stores, or directly from your local farmers.

Setting Up Your Straw Bale Garden

Your straw bale garden can be located anywhere with enough space to set one (even on the driveway), and enough sun to keep your plants happy - that means at least six to eight hours of direct sunlight per day. Although it is possible to relocate your bale garden mid-year, the bales will be really heavy by then from moisture and conditioning. It’s best to choose a good spot where you can leave it all season long.
  • Put down a layer of weed fabric, cardboard or several layers of newspaper underneath where your bales will rest. This will prevent weeds from growing through the bales and out the top.
  • You may need to put down a layer of gopher wire as well, to keep rodents from moving into the bales.
  • Position your bales so that the baling twine or wire is on the sides: this will keep you from accidentally cutting them open while planting or harvesting, and help the bales hold their shape through the season.
  • One of the long narrow side should be facing up. Compare the two long sides and choose the one with the most cut-straw tips to be the top.

Conditioning Your Bales

About a week before you plant, you’ll need to begin preparing the bales. This process is called conditioning. Place your bales in their final position before you start this! Conditioning jump starts the bales’ decomposition, which causes the middle of the bales to heat up quickly and then drop back to ambient temperature. Doing this in advance prevents your plants roots from getting baked as they would if this process were allowed to happen naturally. Plus, it turns the straw into a nutrient-filled substrate that your plants will be able to use.
  • For the first six days, water the bales thoroughly.
  • Every other day spread 3 cups of organic fertilizer on the top, such as All Purpose Mix from Down to Earth, and water it in.
  • On days 7, 8 and 9, spread only 1.5 cups of the fertilizer on top, and water it in.
  • Finally, on day 10, spread the top with 3 cups of a high-phosphorus fertilizer such as fish bone meal.
  • Keep watering the bales daily and checking the internal temperature. Your bales are ready to be planted when the temperature in the core is the same as the air temperature, or slightly warmer if you are planting in the early spring.
  • You can check this by sticking a compost thermometer in the center, or just estimate by sticking your hand into the bale.

Planting in Your Bales

  • To plant in your bales, remove straw to form a hole as deep as the roots of your plant will grow.
  • Fill the hole with potting soil, and plant the seed or transplant. Water well.
  • You can plant almost any annual flowers, herbs, fruits and veggies in a bale that you’d normally grow in your garden. However, tall plants like corn and indeterminate tomatoes can get too big and heavy, causing the bale to tip over or tear apart.
  • Potatoes are great for straw bale gardens: just break the bale to harvest!
  • It is easy to build a trellis over your bales for climbing plants like peas, beans and cucumbers–just anchor two 7-ft bamboo poles in the ground on either side of the bale and run twine in between.
  • Trailing plants with heavy fruits like winter squashes, pumpkins and watermelons, however, are best planted directly in the ground. Although the decomposing straw is good food for growing plants, it will eventually lead to the bale falling apart.
  • If you live in a hot, humid region, your bales may decompose too quickly to use them for a full season. If this is an issue in your garden, you’ll need to select fast growing crops such as greens and herbs.
  • Fertilize your straw bale garden every week or two with a foliar feeding, such as with our Peaceful Valley Liquid Fish and Liquid Kelp.
  • Keep your bales well watered. You can easily irrigate your bale all season long by running soaker hose or drip tape across the surface.

At the end of the year, the straw bale will make great compost material. By spring, it will be ready to spread around your permanent gardens.

It’s the ultimate recycled garden!

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    The link for the all purpose fertilizer to start bales says error 404 not found.
    Can you point me to the correct one?

    Ashley Marie

    GM, the article suggests using an all purpose fertilizer and not just one with nitrogen. I would not cover the bales, just let them regulate their temperature. Your bales will cool down to the ambient air temp when they are ready to plant.

    Suzanne at

    I am using blood meal, watering it in with a spray head on the hose after applying, and using a soaker hose for watering on the non-fertilizer days. It seems that there is a lot of blood meal staying on top of the bales (yes, the side with the most cut ends is up). So much seems to building up that I was thinking about skipping another day or so to let it work its way down in. It is still getting down in the high 30F range at night, with daytime temps highly variable: 50s yesterday, 60s today, supposed to be mid-70s tomorrow. How much could this be affecting the conditioning process? Bale temps are in the low 80s today. Would covering the bales with plastic at night, to reduce heat loss, be a good idea? Thank you!


    NP, If I wanted to grow organically then I would want to grow in organic straw. We do not sell straw bales and it may be difficult to find a source. Check with your local feed stores and they may be able to find a source.

    Suzanne at

    Do you worry about whether the straw is from an organic farmer? Should I worry that the straw was sprayed with pesticides or herbicides? Do you have a source for organic bales if this matters?


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