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Swap soil for straw to grow a garden

Posted May 17, 2009
Updated May 18, 2009

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— Worries about the down economy and food safety are fueling a boom in home gardens. However, many people don't want to toil in the garden, or they don't have enough yard space. A Wake Forest man says he has the answer: straw bales.

"Anything you grow in a traditional garden, just about anything, will grow in straw-bale garden,” Kent Rogers said.

Straw bale garden_01 Tomatoes, peppers pop up in straw bale gardens

Rogers lives near Wake Forest, where the rocky ground makes it tough to garden. Five years ago, he read about a straw-bale garden and gave it a try.

"Those vegetables just jumped out of those bales. I really was shocked,” Rogers said.

Rogers said the process is simple; just soak the straw bales for a couple of weeks, then plant.

"Take your plants and just kind of drop it down to the first leaf and just close your bale back up. It's that simple,” he said.

Straw bales are a great option for gardeners who don't have a lot of room, and you don't need soil either, Rogers said. He knows a man in Washington, D.C., who uses straw bales to garden on top of his townhouse.

Rogers said it is also a good method for people who aren't able, or don't want, to do tedious maintenance. You don't have to till, hoe or weed a straw-bale garden, he said.

"It's pretty easy to do,” said Gerald Adams, North Carolina Executive Mansion groundskeeper.

Adams grows tomatoes and peppers in straw bales at the Executive Mansion. He said he is impressed by the method.

"If we have good luck with that this year, we will have more straw bales next year. That's for sure,” Adams said.

Rogers said straw bale gardening could also be the easiest way to grow your own food.

"I know it sounds too good to be true, but if there's a downside, I haven't found it yet,” he said.

Straw bales don't pose a fire danger as long as you keep them properly watered. You can buy wheat straw bales from farmers or garden suppliers for a few dollars a bale, Rogers said.

15 Comments

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  • NotFromHere May 18, 2009

    "Where do all the straw bails get dumped at the end of the season? The land fill?" - Durham NC

    How dumb! Who cares, they decompose into a handful of soil.

  • Ouaouaron May 18, 2009

    Looks like a good way to get around the drainage issue of clay, provided you add nutrients that are lacking (Nitrogen comes to mind).

  • NCSU2004 May 18, 2009

    I've been doing this for years and it works well for me. I use hay bales instead though and I don't soak the bales. Anything I grow from seed I just mix in a little top soil or potting mix with it. Everything else grows just as good or better than if it were in the ground.

    No need for new bales at the end of the year either, 2-3 year old bales work just as good.

  • LocalYokel May 18, 2009

    interesting. I would have thought straw may starve the plants of nitrogen as it decomposed?

  • durham_nc May 18, 2009

    Where do all the straw bails get dumped at the end of the season? The land fill?

  • UpwardlyMobile May 18, 2009

    republican 9000 - LOL!!!!! I have a small garden because I don't have a very large backyard. I think I will try some plants in the hay bales though. Just to try.

  • secularist May 18, 2009

    Try Square Foot Gardening

  • soapthgr8 May 18, 2009

    So far, the tomato plants I've got in bales are outpacing the ones in the ground. We'll see when it comes to fruit production though. My peppers and cucumbers seem to be doing quite well also.

  • headlong May 18, 2009

    I have a wonderful garden every year...a lot of work weeding and I do joke I have prettier grass in my garden then in my yard because of the orange clay...I found adding horse poo and tilling it in works GREAT and no chemicals needed!!! BUT must be a couple years old...fresh will burn the plants. If you go to some local Horse Farms they will load and give free since they do have to pay to haul it off.

  • pancake May 18, 2009

    I tried this 2 years ago with little sucess. The tomatoes were maybe half the size of the ones in my bathtub garden behind my house (same variety-Celebrity). I used plant food when I watered them but, the tomatoes were smaller and fewer of them. Maybe in the beginning I didn't soak the bales enough. Better luck to you gardeners out there!!! I find mushroonm compost and lime (3/4 cup per plant) help a lot when added to 10-10-10 fertilizer when you're prepping the soil.

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