Raised Bed Garden – Straw Bale Gardening

Straw bale gardening will add ease and creative organic gardening techniques to your gardening and backyard. The Trophies
Creative Commons License photo credit: Yogi

I have been a gardener since the age of twelve. When I was a photographer and moved from city to city as fast as I could pack a suitcase I had to give it up.

After I returned to my hometown I started to play in the dirt again and experiment. To me gardening is an experiment and fun. The day it stops being fun is the day I sell my hoe and spade.

One year about six years ago I injured my back and could hardly walk. Actually my sheep pulled my back out. It’s a long story and to this day, I don’t like sheep. At least not in my yard!

Injuring my back led me to re-think gardening and to try and make it less work and easier on the back. I use containers a lot and raised beds are a must. Besides being easier on the back they help keep pests out of the garden. I have also set up most raised beds to be instant hoop greenhouses.

When my back was the worst I started doing hillside gardens and I even planted some of my crops in straw bales. Straw bale gardens are actually fun and have a unique look. The only thing with a straw bale garden is that it is best to use transplants. I have started the plants from seeds but my normal success rate is off so I cheat and go for the transplants!

Straw Bale Garden

To make a straw bale garden buy a few straw bales. How many you pick up will depend on how big you want your garden to be. A bale is usually about 2 foot by 3 or 4 foot in size.

Straw bales are better than hay bales, Hay has more weed seeds and why bring weeds into your yard?

Straw Bale Garden Design

Lay your straw bales out where you want your garden flat side down. You can lay them out in a line or get creative and make a design. I laid my garden out in a mini maze with enough room to get the mower between the bales. I also had a bench in the center so I had a fun place to sit.

The next step takes a few days. During this time you can be hardening off your transplants.

What you need to do is wet the straw bales down thoroughly several times a day for a couple of days. I also make a compost tea mix and let that soak in the top of the bales. This gives the bales a good deep soaking of water, which it will hold for a long time and the fertilizer soaks in and add nutrients to the bale that the plants will get.

Planting your Straw Bale Garden

Decide what plants you are going to plant so that you know how much space you want between plants. Next remove some of the straw where you want the plants. I usually take out 6 inches across and 8 inches deep. Fill the hole with good composting soil or a mix or garden soil and potting soil Water well and let sit for a few hours. Put more soil in if the soil level goes down.

I wait till its cloudy or close to 5 or 6p.m. in the afternoon when the sun isn’t so hot. Your transplants will appreciate being transplanted when the sun isn’t beating down on them.

Plant your transplants and water. After this garden is planted treat it like a normal garden. Water the plants when they need it and if it’s a very dry summer water the bales for a deep watering.

I have planted tomatoes, potatoes, squash, greens, peppers, gourds and flowers in the bales. I didn’t try tall plants like sunflowers. I also staked tomatoes and peppers just like I do in a regular garden.

When the season is over, harvest your crops. One thing I did do later in the fall was cover the sides of the bales with black plastic. This kept the bales warmer and my crops going a little longer.

After the season is done take the bales and add them to you compost pile. If you don’t have one this is the perfect time to start! You have great semi composted material to start one with.

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49 responses to “Raised Bed Garden – Straw Bale Gardening”

  1. phil campbell

    Hello, from another happy straw baler.
    last season I had traditional garden. after I had planted a women in a feed store told me about straw bale gardening.So I bought a couple and gave it a try. I love watermelon and they did great. I just let them grow over the front into the yard,they were very prolific. The women’s procedure was to water for three days,add a half of cup of ammonium nitrate and water the bale for three days, a quarter of cup and water for three days and finish with half cup of 10 10 10. Do you add anything else other than the soil— Phil the happy baler

  2. Straw bale gardening is fun and very pretty! You can also set up additional garden quick if you need to.

    When I grow gourds I add more compost as they are heavy feeders. I also add compost for flowers to make sure they have tons of flowers.

    If I feel the straw bale gardens need more fertilizer I use a liquid compost I make. You can also use see weed or any natural liquid fertilizer.

    Let me know how your straw bales grow this year. Thanks for stopping by! Denise

  3. Laura

    I’ve been reading up and doing some research for my vegetable gardens this year. I’ve very interested in the straw bale method and will be giving it a try and also will give my kids each a couple to get them interested. What a fun way to get kids interested in gardening.
    I was wondering if anyone has ever used this method for anything other than vegetables or annuals.
    I am interested in trying it for starting perennials, shurbs or even seedling trees.
    Has anyone tried this before? Got any ideas, comments or suggestions.

    Each year I get little starter trees from Arborday.org and wondered if they could be grown in a bail for a year or two then transplanted to it’s final growing place. Maybe put soil down in the bail first for the bareroot. I am just concerned with how to remove the plant later without damaging the roots.
    Looking forward to your comments and ideas.

  4. Denise


    For the seedlings. I would suggest a pot that breaks down later if you want to grow them in one area and move them later. This way the roots will not be disturbed. You can either buy the pots that break down or make you own out newspaper. The pots could be stored in straw to help keep the soil moister and protected from the weater.

    Many forestry departments suggest making a special area just for small trees until they are stronger and larger so that they do not get mowed or driven on. Denise

  5. Denise


    I have grown just about everything imaginable in straw bales. Certain plants require that you add more soil around the plant for it to receive more nourishment, or that it be staked. One year I spread a moss milkshake on the bale (its made from milk and moss) and painted it on the sides of the bale. Then planted flowers on top. The moss will grow on the bale giving it a soft natural look and it emphasizes the flowers!

    Straw bale gardening is fun…you and your children will have fun! Denise

  6. Andrea

    Do you ever have any trouble with fungus or mold on the inside of the straw? Or gnats? Sounds like an interesting, cost-effective way to make a raised bed, so I’m going to give it a try this season.

  7. Denise

    Hi Andrea,

    The only time I have seen fungus or mold on a straw bale is when it was rained on and stored in a barn or closed area without ventilation. With sun shining on the bale and fresh air surrounding it you should not have any of these problems.

    This can be a cost effective garden, What lead me to this style of garden was having trouble getting people to plow me a garden and having to wait for someone to do it. As long as you have bales and set them up properly you can get gardening quickly. I also like the fact the gardens are higher. They are easier on the back to work with.

    Thanks for stopping by, Denise

  8. justin

    Hey yall – I grow about 12 different kinds of Habaneros, squash, maters, herbs, greens, cucumber and this year I am starting carrots. I am up to about 40 bales…….gonna take a lot of water in 2009 if this drought in NC hangs on.

  9. Amy

    Hi. I’m interested in growing vegetables using the straw bale method, but was wondering if the produce will still taste as good as produce grown in an all soil medium? I’ve heard the straw bale method compared to hydroponic gardening, which some say results in produce that has less flavor if you don’t really know what micronutrients to add, etc. Any thoughts?

  10. Denise

    Hi Amy,

    I have grown many different types of vegetables in straw and have not noticed any difference in their taste. I find it a garden stle that is easier on the back and easy to assemble. The potaotes I grew in straw were twice the size and clean, not covered with mud and dirt. Denise

  11. tony ray

    hey there, i am wanting to know if i should look for tight or loose baled straw, and if you set them grain up or across. thanks for any help. tony ray

  12. The straw bales should be packed tight so that it will hold up all season. Some bales will last two seasons, depending on how much liquid fertilizer you add to the bale. The more you add the faster the bale will break down.

    I set my bales up so the grain runs across. I find its easier to add plants and soil for seeds. But I know people who set them up grain down. Its a matter of what you like and feel works the best. Denise

  13. KATE


  14. Hi Kate.

    I haven’t tried onions in straw bales. But I would think that if you added a little more soil in the hole where you plant they would do fine. I think that soils would probably help them grow better. Maybe try some in straw bale and some in the ground or container.

    I grow my onions in containers. I fins its easy and twice as easy to harvest. Just turn the container on its side and tap.

    Let me know how your garden does. Denise

  15. Hugh McMan

    I pin up about a 1 inch ‘saucer’ underneath the bales with black plastic and landscape pins to hold some water . It cuts down on watering and holds fertilizer run off too. If you grow anything heavy like tomatoes or beans I learned the hard way to make your trellis’s when you start out. One day it will look like those little plants will never get going and then before you know it they take off and are too big to stake. I found I needed fence stakes to hold my tomatoes they were so huge. I got bushels of tomatoes off a few bales. I love this method because I’m intrinsically lazy and it is so easy. No insects or diseases either.

  16. Denise

    I agree Hugh with getting your trellises up and in place before the crops start growing.

    I have tried the black plastic under the bales but will.

    What I like about straw bale gardening is that if you need more room for a crop you just get another bale. Denise

  17. Susie Orr

    Hi Denise: I am a total newbie to this straw bale gardening. We always go to the Farmer’s Market here in Missoula, MT. But I would like to try this. We have underground sprinklers in our back yard. Do I need to take out the grass, to put the hay bales down? Is there a book you could recommend. I am sort of running out of time, but I would love to get some lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, peppers, spinach, swiss chard and maybe some potatoes going. I have a 13 year old and and 11 year old and want to have them help me with the garden. How do I start with the hay bale method? Thanks, Susie

  18. Denise

    Hi Suzie

    No you do not need to take out the grass. the bales will choke out the sun which will choke out the grass. Potatoes and carrot will do better in containers with soil or compost. I add hay or straw to the bottom of the container and then put soil for the carrots.

    For the potatoes, I put a small amount of soil, 4 inches, then add more straw as the potatoes grow. What you are doing is covering the potato plant as it grows with a few inches of straw. The potato plant keeps breaking through the straw and you cover the plant when its about 3 to 4 inches tall. The potato plant makes more roots and more potatoes. The potatoes growing in straw are clean, no dirt!, and easy to harvest.

    Check next week and I will have info on a book for you on straw bale gardening, Denise

  19. sheila

    we recently moved into a place — cleared the briers for a garden patch and wouldn’t you know it, a nest of little newt/salamander hatchlings. DD has claimed ‘nursery sanctuary’ rights until they are large enough to go. I need the veggie garden to help ends meet! Solution: straw bale gardening to the rescue. Thanks everyone for your insights; I feel comfortable with this choice as a win-win-win (win for the grocery budget, win for baby salies, win for future garden mulch). Lets just hope the snails and slugs don’t love it!

  20. Cynthia Sieve

    Would it benefit me to “top off” the bales before I plant? How about mildew? And is disease a problem?

  21. Denise

    You are talking about topping off the bale with soil? Yes, this is a good idea. The soil helps to keep the moisture in teh bale so it doesn’t dry out as fast. It will also supply more nutrients to the plant.

    I have not had a mildew or mold problem. Or any diseases. I actually think you have less insect problems too. Many insecxt hide in soil and without as much soil around the insect seem to go to another food source. Denise

  22. Sally

    I’m new at this-first year. I have several bales and wanted to put the watering on a timer for the days that I am not around to water. We live in an arid climate- 80-85 degrees, and not much rain. Can you make any recommendations for a watering system, once the bales have been planted? Do they require more or less water than traditional gardens? Should I use a black rubber soaker hose, or one of those flat hoses with holes on one side?

  23. Denise

    Hi Sally. Did you apply soil to the top of the bales? Soil will help keep the bales cooler and the straw moist.

    Being an arid climate your bales will probably take a little more water. Did you soak them well before planting? Water the bales in the morning before the sun will dry up moisture.

    You can use soaker hoses. You could also cut a 2 liter plastic pop bottle and insert into the bales, two per bale and get them most of the way into the bale with about 3 inches sticking out. Pour water into this pop bottle for watering. It will act as a funnel and take the water deep into the bale where it will help the roots the most.

    If I am having a hot and dry period in the summer I sometimes will wet the sides of the bales to help the bales stay moister.

    Overall the bales don’t take that much more moisture than regular gardens. Just watch the plants and see how they are reacting. And since you have limited time for watering the soaker hose may be your best bet. Good luck! Denise

  24. Terri

    I’m new to this but am an avid gardener. Can you grow beets in bales? If so how?

  25. Root crops do not grow as well in straw bales. The bales tend to hold back root development. You could hollow out a larger area for the beet or make a ware bale garden and plant the crops in soil in the inside of the bale. But overall I grow beets in soil containers and just dump the container when its time to harvest the crop. Its fast and easy that way. Denise

  26. Erica


    We live in North Carolina and I would like to plant some bell pepper,squash and cucumbers. Is it too late to do that? Thanks! Erica

  27. Denise

    Hi Erica,

    Pepper plants may take the longer growing season so buy plants and with your longer climate they should produce.

    With squash it depends on the squash type and days it takes the squash to mature. With summer squash there is no problem. You will get a crop. I always plant two crops in my zone 5 growing zone. The plants seem to fade in august so a second crop gives me summer squash late into the growing season.

    Winter squash you may want to buy plants to get you a head start. Often times in straw bales I go with transplants anyways.
    Good luck! Denise

  28. Terri

    Thanks for the info.

  29. Jude

    I have seen a photo or two of using the straw bales to grow strawberries in. Any ideas here from your experience?


  30. Denise

    I know people have grown the smaller alpine strawberries in straw bales but I have not heard results of regular strawberries being grown in straw bales. So I can not help you with your question. I also looked online and could not find an answer for this question.

    When I grow strawberries outdoors I plan them in the ground but mulch heavily with straw. Denise

  31. Roxanne

    I’m thinking of trying a couple bales but not sure it’ll work too well in San Diego. It’s so hot and dry and I think I’d have to water it alot. We are limited on hopw much water we can use. We’re having a drought here. What do you think?

  32. Denise

    Roxanne, If you soak the bales well before planting and place soil on top of the bales to help hold in moisture they will probably do ok. For times when I do not want to use a lot of water I use a pop bottle to water with and place in the ground or bale upside down with the bottom cut out. It acts like a funnel and takes the water to the roots where it is needed

  33. Dave

    Anyone feedback from the deep south that has used straw bail?
    Does it require much more water than in ground gardens? The concept sounds good. But the Texas summers can be very dry, and a lot of extra water to keep the bails moist can make a difference when there is a dry hot summer and you are paying for every extra gallon on a water meter.

    I use rain water runoff storage when I can for plants, but that does not yield much during a dry, hot summer in Texas.

  34. Stephanie

    I live in GA and I want to do this. I got 5 bales of straw. How do I start I dont think I can find ammonium nitrate. I keep reading different things. What do I need to do to the bales first and then second and can I plant, cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, etc. what do you all recommend. Thank you.

  35. Denise

    I don’t have experience with this for the southern areas but if you wet the bales well at first and apply topsoil to the top of the bale it will help hold the moisture it.

    I have heard of people using a slow drip irrigation on the bales. I also use an inverted pop bottle placed in the bale for deep watering. Denise

  36. Denise

    Ammonium nitrate can be found in many garden centers and it can be expensive. It is also used for creating bombs so if you buy a large supply it sends up red flags. No, this is not experience talking here 😉

    Ammonium nitrate add nitrogen to the bales. When the bales break down a lot of nitrogen is lost, so if you age the bales longer, or nutrients that add nitrogen to the bales you will probably do ok without adding the nitrate. (I age my bales longer and use a lot of compost tea. )

    Almost anything can be planted in bales. Root crops do not do as well: carrtos, beets, etc… Corn tends to want to fall over, but I have planted it in bales just to see if you could. I recommend regular planting.

    Cukes, peppers and tomatoes will do well. I tend to trellis many of these so if you want, add a trellis behind the bales so these can grow upward.

    I have even grown flowers in bales and it looks great!

  37. Alicia

    Can you transplant your vegetable seedlings from straw bales to soil??

  38. Fred

    Has anyone tried strawbale gardening in Nova Scotia? I have 14 bales ready to get started and am hoping for the best!!

  39. Gail

    Will straw bales block out the sun so the weeds underneath do not grow? I have a 20′ x 30′ area that has been taken over by japanese knot weed for many years. This year I am trying to get rid of it. I have started to put down black landscape fabric and was planning to put in a patio of river stone. But I wonder if putting the straw bales over the black fabric or even right on the ground would work to block out the sun and kill the knot weed. Would anyone have knowledge if this might work? Thanks.

  40. Diana

    I’m thinking about trying a row of this this year… tried corn last year and at 4″ high the bunnies ate it all up in one night. 🙁 I’m hoping the bales would keep them off. Also, I’ll bet I can put it at the north end of the veggie patch, and elevated like that I’d still get some southern exposure on that side. 🙂

  41. Corn does grow in bales but not as well as some crops. (tends to want to tip over if not staked. I would try fencing the corn or growing it in bushel baskets, Denise

  42. Denise

    I have never tried it? Anyone else ?

  43. Catherine

    From what I’ve read, you could use the straw bales to build a raised bed, fill the cavity with loose straw, compost and soil and grow the root crops like beets and carrots, or the corn in the cavity, and the peppers, bush beans and tomatoes on top of the bales.
    Fine Gardening magazine had an article about doing this on a small scale, 4 bales laid out in a square with a square cavity in the middle. The author said she grew carrots in the center after filling the cavity with loose straw and compost.

    If you google ‘straw bed gardening’ you can find LOTS of information – and if you select ‘images’ when you google, you’ll get lots of pictures with great ideas – and staking suggestion too.

    On the subject of bales drying out, I plan to wrap the bottom half of my bales in clear plastic – unfortunately I didn’t think of this in time, so it won’t go under the bales to capture the water. However, there is always next year – or maybe I’ll try another bed. (I’m afraid black plastic might heat them up too much now, but may add a layer of black plastic in the fall to extend the growing season a bit.)

  44. Jennifer

    I planted in my straw bales yesterday after conditioning them for 11 days, and then letting them rest for 2. Yesterday evening all the plants looked good, but this afternoon they all looked burnt, & dead. They were still moist. What should I do? I’m considering running water and rinsing out the straw bales in case they are to hot w/ fertilizer.

  45. Fran

    I have grown from seed winter sguash for the last two years.I used two hay bales only and this year i got sixteen beauties.

  46. LEE


  47. Denise

    Straw gardens and the straw square garden are good if you cannot dig or have heavy clay ( I have clay and rock!)

    You can also use a thick covering of straw on the ground. It will kill the grass and keep the soil moist. Just pull back the soil where you want to plant transplants and you wont’ have to dig.

    I lived in NC for a while and we did a lot of watering there too. Denise

  48. Craig

    I see all the questions regarding watering. If you place your bales with the straw standing up vertically the water will run through quicker than if the straw is laying horizontally. ||||| vs ====

  49. This is my second year for straw bale gardening. Last year we prepared our garden as follows:

    Someone sabotaged any future conventional gardening in my back yard by planting Bermuda grass ( Word insisted upon the capitalization, not I).
    So now I have to resort to drastic black plastic.

    Black plastic, about 30 inches wide and as long as 5 straw bales, was laid down over the grass.

    Next, to hold the plastic in place, we placed 12-inch x 12-inch x 2-inch concrete blocks on the edge of the plastic sheet, around the entire perimeter.

    Next, we set the bales on edge, on the plastic. Now there are five pairs of bales, end-to-end, touching each other as closely as possible.

    After the bales were in place, we kept them moist for about two weeks prior to the first planting.

    This year, we wanted to plant some early onion sets, but wanted to reserve space for the peppers, tomatoes, and squash. In order to check if the black plastic from last year was still in good condition, we removed the old straw and put it into some wire enclosures out of the way. Now it came in handy: We took the old straw and stuffed it into the length-wise crack between the bales. That gave us a planting surface about 15 feet long (the length of 5 bales lying end-to-end). The idea was to keep the soil we added from falling through.

    We placed the onion sets on the soil just added and then covered them with two or three inches of good soil.

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