Gardening on straw bales: Regardless of the ground and weed-free

Gardening on straw bales instructions-straw-preparing

Gardening on straw bales? Similar to raised beds, this technique makes it possible to grow vegetables even on poor soil or on the balcony. You don’t need a large garden or high-quality topsoil for this. Just one or more bales of straw and two weeks to prepare. This method is simple, cheap, and clean. Today we give you some tips on how planting on straw bales works and what other advantages it offers. If you want to harvest organic vegetables, crunchy salads and fresh herbs, you can start preparing now!

Gardening on straw bales: the perfect natural planter

Gardening on bales of straw - cabbage-carrots-

No digging, no raking, no weeds. This revolutionary cultivation method was invented by the American Joel Karsten and is becoming increasingly popular. His book “Genial Gärtnern mit Strohballen” was published in 2014 and tells of the new planting technology with ingenious advantages.

Benefits of straw bale gardening

  • low entry costs – purchasing straw balls is relatively cheap
  • Regardless of the soil conditions, good harvests can be obtained from poor soil
  • flexible location conditions – the garden can be laid out anywhere: on a terrace, on the balcony or in a paved front garden
  • minimized workload
  • no weeding
  • no loosening of the earth
  • better yields due to the increased temperature inside the straw bales
  • you can plant on the side
  • Waterlogging and soil-borne diseases are practically excluded
  • the decomposed straw is compostable

This is how gardening works on bales of straw


1. Get dry bales of straw

Ideally, the straw bales should be purchased direct from a local farm. Look for rectangular bales of straw, not large straw bale wheels. Note that there is one major difference between straw and hay: the hay is mostly made of grass and herbs that have not been threshed out. It could also contain weed seeds.

If you cannot find what you are looking for in a farm shop or a stud farm, you can also order bales of straw online. The easiest way to get bales of straw is in autumn. If you prepare everything for your straw bale garden before winter, you can plant the plants in spring.


2. Position the straw bales

Before you set up the straw bales, place a protective mat (weed fleece) on the ground to prevent weeds from growing up through the bales. Arrange the cuboid bales side by side in rows with the open stalk side up. The bales should be as square and flat as possible. It is also advisable to fix the bales because they will decompose over the course of the season. Most often they are attached with the help of posts and wire.

3. Prepare the straw bales

The straw bales must be prepared about two to four weeks before planting. In general: water for two to three weeks daily and fertilize every two days. This is how straw is supplied with nutrients. From the beginning of March you can start adding the fertilizer to the straw bales. The straw bales are fertilized and watered until there is warmth inside the bale, which promotes the growth of the plants.


Which fertilizer is suitable?

Fertilizer is usually used to add nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, calcium and other elements to the straw. But which fertilizer is best for the straw bale? There are so many different types of fertilizer that it is easy to lose track of them. First of all, it is important to choose fertilizers without pesticides such as weed and moss killers. It should be a fertilizer with a very high nitrogen content, because thanks to nitrogen, the microorganisms inside the straw bale can get going quickly. When choosing, pay attention to the N-P-K ratio. These are the nutrients contained in the fertilizer: N = nitrogen, P = phosphorus, K = potassium. Try to use a fertilizer with an NPK ratio of 18-20% nitrogen, 10% phosphorus and 15% potassium. You need about 500 g of fertilizer per bale.


  • Lawn fertilizers and long-term fertilizers (a type of mineral fertilizer) are not necessarily suitable for straw bale gardening.
  • Finished organic fertilizers usually contain less nitrogen or no phosphorus or potassium at all. But you can also put together your own mix so that you can come up with the appropriate ratio.
  • The mineral fertilizer in the form of salt is well suited. It is water-soluble and effective immediately.
  • The organic fertilizer from vegetable or animal raw materials must first be broken down by microorganisms in the straw. Those who work with organic fertilizer need approx. 600 g of fertilizer per bale.
  • Bales of straw can also be prepared with vegan fertilizers.


The straw bales are prepared every day:

Day 1: Water the pads thoroughly. Then distribute the fertilizer evenly on the bale. One to two cups of fertilizer per bale of straw are required, i.e. approx. 100 grams of conventional fertilizer and approx. 600 grams of organic fertilizer. Then pour another half a watering can of water up to saturation.

Day 2: Just water

Day 3: Fertilize again and water until fertilizer is drawn in

Day 4: Just water

Day 5: Fertilize again and water warm

Day 6: Just water


From the 7th day on, the amount of fertilizer can be reduced by half: approx. 50 g conventional fertilizer and approx. 300 grams organic fertilizer. Until the day. 10 fertilize and water.

Day 10: add about 200 grams of phosphorus and potassium. A 1: 1 mixture of bone meal and wood ash would be ideal. Water until fertilizer is absorbed.

Anyone who has worked with conventional fertilizer can plant on the 12th day. Better to wait another 5 days for the organic fertilizer.

If you put your fingers in the ball of the foot, you can feel warmth and moisture. Black soil-like lumps are a signal for the decomposition process. Don’t worry if mushrooms sprout – that means the straw is decomposing as it should.


Water the straw bales properly

In addition to the fertilizer, watering is the alpha and omega when preparing the straw bales. Ideally, you water with pleasantly warm water. Can also be used rainwater. Cold water will slow down the microbiological process inside the straw bale.

You can use a watering can or the garden hose for watering. To make watering easier, an automatic irrigation system using trickle hoses would make sense for larger straw bale gardens.

In the first four days you water thoroughly until the bales are soaked and the fertilizer is drawn in. From the 5th day, simply water daily until the fertilizer is worked into the balls.


4. Trellis and frost protection in one

For the plants that tendrils, 2 meter high trellises are usually placed over the balls. This can be covered with a protective film and used in spring as frost protection for cold-sensitive vegetables such as tomatoes, cucumbers or peppers. It is important that the cover is removed on sunny days. Otherwise the young plants can burn in the warm bale of straw.


5. Plant straw bales

Use a good planting trowel to poke the holes for the seedlings in the root ball. Then the young plants are used. Be careful not to plant the seedlings too densely. Fill in the gaps between the plant and the straw with purchased plant substrate so that the roots do not dry out.


Cuttings or seeds? Both are possible. For seeds, a 2 or 4 cm thick layer of substrate is required on the root ball. As soon as the seeds germinate, they will attach their roots to the balls of their own.

What can I grow on straw?


You can actually grow anything on straw. Just make sure that space is limited. There must be clearances between the plants so that it does not become too narrow. Plan the number of straw bales based on your needs. To support a family, you can start with 5 bales of straw per head.

Here is a planting suggestion:

  • Strawberries
  • broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • potatoes
  • Romaine lettuce
  • Pak choi
  • cauliflower
  • tomatoes
  • paprika
  • Cucumber
  • Pumpkins
  • garlic
  • Kohlrabi
  • leek
  • Onions

The side walls of the straw bales also hold a lot of potential and it would be a shame if the space is not used optimally. You can plant herbs or annual flowers there. Fennel, mint, tarragon, oregano, basil, sage, parsley, chives and Swiss chard are a good addition to your vegetable garden on straw. Edible flowers such as marigolds and nasturtiums also make the straw garden a real eye-catcher.


6. No weeding!

If you have an automatic irrigation system, then you have saved yourself the hassle until harvest. Because the high-quality straw does not contain any weed seeds.

7. The duck after harvest time

After the harvest, the bales become soft, limp and gray. Then you can compost the straw or use it as a mulch material.


Gardening on straw bales is definitely a new trend to watch. The method actually works and is inspiring more and more people worldwide.