Straw Bale Gardening – An Introduction

An important thing to know about me is that I am a fundamentally lazy person.  I’ll put a huge amount of effort into things that are fun, not so much things that are not fun.  My gardens in the past have been full of weeds, because I hate weeding.  I have, on multiple occasions, bribed someone to till my garden plot for me because that’s hard work.  Lucky for me, there are people willing to be bribed with baked goods.

So, when I found out about straw bale gardening, it was a revelation.  Our current home is on a lot that seems to be almost entirely heavy clay.  Previous tenants had removed the grass in a big chunk of the back yard, maybe for a garden, then covered the whole thing with plastic and that hideous “decorative” bark.  I assume this was done after they figured out that really, nothing but weeds will grow in the patch they chose for the garden.  I put in a huge amount of work to get that patch plantable again the first summer we lived here, and quickly learned the same lesson.  Not much wants to grow in heavy clay, and I lack the time, money, and energy to do the huge amount of amending that clay needs to actually be good for growing anything.

For planting season #2 in our house, I built a couple of small, shallow raised beds from kits I got at the home improvement store.  My two little 4×4 raised beds did kind of okay, but I didn’t get much of a harvest.  They were only a few inches deep, and the plants all eventually grew roots long enough to find that heavy clay that’s only a couple of inches down from ground level.

The first year I tried straw bales, I bought four and just plopped them right on top of the existing, nearly useless raised beds.  I figured if it worked at all, at least I wouldn’t be killing my back and knees by kneeling on the ground all the time.

before conditioning

Once the bales were in place, they needed conditioning.  Honestly, hauling the bales and then conditioning them is by far the most labor intensive part of straw bale gardening. Continue reading