Straw Bale Gardening: Easy, Inexpensive Way To Grow Veggies, Plants, Flowers

Georgette Kilgore headshot, wearing 8 Billion Trees shirt with forest in the background.Written by Georgette Kilgore

Gardening | October 3, 2023

Farmer standing beside straw bale garden after showing someone how to grow plants in straw bales including easy way to grow vegetables and flowers in raised beds of straw as an organic garden container.

If you’ve decided on building a raised garden bed for growing vegetables or flowers, straw bale gardening is an effective, and beautiful way to do it.

Moreover, it’s a great way to create an organic garden in locations where you may not have a lot of space.

Straw bale gardening uses bales of straw as the growing medium foundation for your vegetables or flowers. When the bale is conditioned, it creates an effective growing medium that provides plenty of nutrients to your plants.

Not many beginners know about this method, but this comprehensive guide explains how to begin straw bale gardening and ensure that your plants flourish.

Gardening Using Straw Bales: What Is Straw Bale Gardening?

Gardening using straw bales has been practiced as far back as ancient times but only became more famous in recent decades.

When most people think of landscape gardening, the first thing that comes to mind is in-ground gardening. But did you know that you can use straw bales as raised beds for your backyard gardening needs?

Five straw bales neatly arranged side-by-side on a grassy lawn to, ready for gardening.

(Image: Ruth Temple10)

In this method, the straw bales, together with potting soil and compost, make up the growing medium for the plants. You can plant virtually anything in it, from vegetables to herbs and flowers.

You can consider the straw bale as a massive container of around 40 gallons.

One important thing to note is the fact that you should use straw, not hay. However, is there a difference between hay vs straw bale gardening?

Yes, there is. Hay is technically grass while straw is more of the stalk; so that means that you will be using harvested stalks, not just dried grass with seeds.

What Are the Benefits of a Straw Garden?

Are you thinking about finally starting a backyard garden but not sure which planting method to use? Or are you planning to start a backyard vegetable garden in a raised bed but are concerned about the high cost?

Then straw bale gardening is for you, and here are other reasons why you should give this technique a try.

  • Straw bale gardening is cheaper than other methods like container gardening because you don’t have to buy garden planters; care and maintenance for them are also relatively low.
  • If you are a huge fan of organic gardening, then you will love the fact that the straw releases nutrients for the plants, which means you can save money that you would have used for compost.1
  • Planting in straw bales is kind of like using a raised garden, and that means that you will be able to sow and care for your plants even if you have mobility, joint or back problems.
  • You don’t have to water your plants like you do with traditional gardening because the straw easily retains water, given that it tends to dry out more slowly.
  • The raised nature of the bales helps keep off diseases, pests, and weeds.7

Preparing For Planting in Hay Bales

Understandably, if this is your first time gardening in a straw bale, you must have some questions about what gardening tools you’ll need and where you will source the straw.

For starters, you will find these bales being sold in farms and other stores near you, sometimes even online. Although organic versions are the most preferred, they are not that easy to find.

As for the gardening supplies you will need to get started, you will need to buy the bales first.

Next, make sure that you have sheets of cardboard or even newspapers that you will place underneath the bales, a trowel, a watering can or hose, soil/compost for seed planting, and lastly, an organic fertilizer.

How Big Is a Straw Bale?

Straw bales for gardening could come in different sizes, and it depends on your suppliers and your preferences.

You can go for a massive one if you plan on planting more crops in the same place and need better support for them, or you can go for the smaller ones if you don’t have that much space to keep them.

However, in general, the standard dimensions of a typical bale are supposed to be 18 inches in width, 36-40 inches in length, and 14 inches in height.

Straw Bale Gardening Steps

Can’t wait to start your home garden using straw bales? The following are the simple steps.

Step 1: Arrange the Bales

Here is where you configure the bales in their final locations where you want your plants to grow. You want a well-lit spot, and there should be some spaces between them for easy access.

While at it, make sure that you place the cardboard or newspaper underneath; otherwise, weeds will find their way into the bales.

Step 2: Condition the Bales

This is probably the most important step in the entire process because it is where you are able to convert the straw into a growing medium. This is done some two weeks before you plant, and it is considered the most tasking part of gardening.

Luckily, everything else is a walk in the park. However, you may wonder how you should best go about it.

During the first three days, you are going to soak each and every bale deeply using a garden hose to help the bale start decomposing. On days 4 to 6, you will sprinkle nitrogen-rich fertilizer on the bale and water again deeply.

Then, in the next three days, you will slash the fertilizer amount by half and keep watering every single day. This should speed up the decomposition process.

You can stop adding fertilizer on day 10 but don’t forget to water as usual. After day 11, the bales will feel warm to the touch, which will be your cue to go ahead with planting

You can sprinkle 2-3 inches of potting mix or compost on the bales, and that will be it.4

How Do You Go About Vertical Straw Bale Gardening?

When it comes to conventional vertical gardening in containers or up against a living wall, the aim is to save on space. On the other hand, straw bale gardening vertically becomes a challenge because you are supposed to grow on a single bale at a time, not really stack them up.

The best form of vertical gardening, in this case, would be the use of trellises where the plants are supported by the bale in order to grow better vertically; this applies to the likes of cucumbers and tomatoes.

Planting in Straw Bales

After configuring and conditioning the bale, it will be ready for planting, which is the most fun part. All you have to do is dig inside using a trowel and wiggle it to make room for your seedlings or seeds.

Plant the taller plants in the rear section. Mark each section using stakes hammered into the bale.

High-angled shot of a gardener's hand planting a new seed into a bale.

(Image: Ruth Temple11)

Luckily, almost anything will grow in a straw bale garden,6 maybe apart from root crops or top-heavy crops like corn.

What about straw bale garden potatoes?

Potatoes, carrots, turnips, and other crops that grow in root form will have a really hard time in the bales. However, the following are some of the top options for your garden.

Plant TypeDirections
Tomato PlantTwo to three tomatoes will do for a single straw bale. So, how do you grow tomatoes in a hay bale, you may ask.
Tomatoes need staking, so you will have to hammer some wooden ones deep into the stack and tie the plants for extra support, or use cages inserted deeply.
Bell Pepper PlantYou can plant four of them in a single bale.
Lettuce PlantThe number depends on the variety because some grow bigger than others.
Cucumber PlantGardeners plant 4-6 of them in a stack, but just like the tomatoes, these vine plants also need staking or growing cages.
Herbs and kitchen spices like the mint plant, oregano, sage, basil plant, rosemary, and garlic plantYou can plant up to four of them in the same spot and even try companion planting.

Some gardeners are also known to add flowers like petunias and sweet alyssum to the sides of the stacks for decorative reasons.

While there are so many plants that will be excellent options for your straw bale garden, there are others that will struggle to grow.

Take corn and sunflower, for instance, plants that are known to grow tall and heavy. These ones could easily topple over while on the stacks.

Root crops are also not advisable to plant in straw gardens. Carrots, potatoes, and turnips would rather grow where the growing medium is loose and well-aerated because their roots will fail to expand.

How To Care for a Hay Bale Garden

Now that you know how to plant in your straw bale garden, the next thing to learn is how to take care of the plants.

A grassy backyard with a few neatly arranged straw beds and a woman in the middle doing some straw bed gardening.

(Image: Ruth Temple12)

Here are the three most essential things to do for your bale garden:


No matter what happens, you have to make sure that the level of internal moisture in the plant is maintained. You will water it whenever it starts drying out, and that could be every day when the weather gets unbearably hot in the summer.

Like a typical raised garden, the bales are infamous for consuming a little more water, but thankfully, it is a lot less likely to stay water-logged. So, you can install a garden watering system to make irrigation even easier.


The more your plants grow, the more they will need some extra food in the form of fertilizer. Therefore, you are going to need a 10-10-10 or 8-8-8 fertilizer to help keep your plants healthy.

A full or half a cup will be enough each month, or you can go for organic options like blood meal or fishmeal.

Weeding and Pest Control

One of the best things when it comes to straw bale gardening is that there is less worry about invasions by weeds and pests.5 But still, you will have to keep a closer eye on your plants and deal with any new developments immediately after you spot them.

Pros and Cons of Planting in Straw Beds

Before you get invested in straw bale gardening, it is important to understand all the good, the bad, and the ugly so that you don’t get caught off-guard.

Upsides of Using Straw Beds

  1. It is a cheaper method of farming than conventional raised beds or container gardening, perfect when you are on a tight budget.
  2. Gardening, caring, and harvesting your crops is way easier when you elevate them in the bales.
  3. It is a go-to option for those living in sort of cooler regions because the straw bales tend to heat up when they decompose,8 meaning you may end up with a longer growing season.
  4. Beginners prefer this technique because it doesn’t really take much to get it up and running.
  5. Straw bale gardening is a lot of fun for you and even the entire family.

Downsides of Using Straw Beds For Planting

  1. It could be expensive when the price of straw bales skyrockets.
  2. There are some plants that you cannot grow using this method, like the tall plants that get top-heavy and those that need stronger staking or caging to grow.
  3. It can be a challenge to grow a lot of food using this method in comparison to in-ground gardening.
  4. Some new gardeners express concerns about their straw bales looking unsightly, which is expected when they start decomposing.

Straw Bale Gardening Problems To Look Out For

Straw beds don’t present so many challenges for you, which makes them great options for beginners.

The most common complaint has a lot to do with their aesthetics, but that is not a big deal and will in no way affect your gardening.

A straw bale garden showing straw bale setups and a dense squash plant foliage.

(Image: Ruth Temple13)

You just have to get a little creative with the planting to make the bales look great. One more problem is the bales sometimes dry out quickly,2 although watering frequently easily solves this one.

You need to be very careful because you already know what happens when you overwater containers or raised garden beds. The nutrients seep through, leaving the growing medium bare.

This goes a long way to explain why your bales are going to need more frequent fertilizing to help the plants grow. A liquid slow-release fertilizer will do, but make sure that it is rich in nitrogen.

The last problem when dealing with straw bale gardens has got to be unwanted mushrooms.

But don’t be alarmed when you see them peeking out of the straw because they are a clear sign that your garden is working as it is supposed to. This is what to expect when decomposition is gradually taking place.

The mushrooms are harmless, and there is no problem leaving them on, but if they are a nuisance, you can always uproot them. One last thing: many of these mushrooms are inedible, and unless you are a pro at identifying the poisonous ones, you should never eat them.

Straw Bale Gardening Tips

Straw bale gardening for beginners is so easy, and you will love it and have fun every step of the way. To top it all off and get you a little closer to becoming an expert in this technique, you are going to want to learn some handy tips.

Make Sure You Use Straw, Not Hay

You already know that hay and straw are different. Hay usually comes in the form of grasses and tends to have the seeds intact, and you can tell that they will only end up growing into unwanted weeds later on, interfering with all your plans.

Straw bales are basically de-seeded after harvesting,9 so you won’t have such problems.

Solarizing Helps Speed Up Decomposition

Here is where you wrap up the bales in a plastic paper for some weeks prior. The heat will accumulate, kill off any seeds, and hurry along the process of converting the straw into a nutrient-rich growing medium.

Pick Shorter and Smaller Plants

If you like planting tall crops like corn or sunflowers, or those that require additional support, then you should reconsider. Shorter plants are the ones that do very well in bales and won’t give you such a hard time.

Add Stakes and Extra Support for Vine Plants Like Cucumbers

You will have to drive in wooden stakes deep into the bale, even into the ground, to make sure that there is strong support for your vine plants.3

Be Generous With Fertilizer

The more you water the bale, the more the nutrients wash away, which is why you will have to be very religious with adding fertilizer; otherwise, your plants will have issues with growth.

Don’t Overcrowd the Plants

There are some plants that you will have to plant only two in a single bale because otherwise, they will get too crammed in one spot, which obviously leads to competition for resources.

Reuse the Bale After Its Use as Compost in the Next Growing Season

Straw bale gardening is the solution to many issues that you may face as a first-time gardener.

It is the best alternative if you are looking for a cheap method that is easy to maintain and takes up very little space.

Straw garden project in Stadtkyll, Germany showing a fenced area filled with straw bales and different plants growing out of them.

(Image: Colling-architektur14)

Organic farmers will also love the fact that the bales decompose on their own and naturally provide nutrients for the plants.

The only tasking thing about the method is the conditioning of the bale, which takes about two weeks to decompose before you can start planting.

Apart from that, everything else is generally simple, and it helps that there are so many plant options that do well. You can plant anything from vegetables to herbs and flowers on the bales and have fun every step of the way.

So, if you are looking for the best place to start your gardening journey, give straw bale gardening a try.


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7Oklahoma State University. (2021, April 9). Straw bale gardening is great alternative to traditional gardening. OSU News and Media. Retrieved October 2, 2023, from <>

8Pokorny, K. (2020, March 6). Straw bale gardens work where others won’t. Oregon State University. Retrieved October 2, 2023, from <’t>

9University of Arkansas. (2023). Straw Bale Gardening, Step-by-Step. Cooperative Extension Service. Retrieved October 2, 2023, from <>

10Five Straw Bales, Nov 2007 Photo by Ruth Temple / Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) . Cropped, Resized and Changed Format. From Flickr <>

11Planting into Bales day Photo by Ruth Temple / Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) . Cropped, Resized and Changed Format. From Flickr <>

12Planting into Bales day Photo by Ruth Temple / Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) . Cropped, Resized and Changed Format. From Flickr <>

13eightbale Photo by Ruth Temple / Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) . Cropped, Resized and Changed Format. From Flickr <>

14Strohballengarten, Strohballenkultur, Straw bale Photo by Colling-architektur / Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0). Cropped, Resized and Changed Format. From Wikimedia Commons <,_Strohballenkultur,_Straw_bale_a.jpg>