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How to Make a Straw-Bale Garden

Build a veggie bed that requires no digging, no weeding, and no crop rotation

Fine Gardening - Issue 133

Why build a straw-bale garden? For starters, it’s the perfect solution if you only have a small space to garden. This whole concept was fairly straightforward and comes together easily. Unlike most other types of veggie gardens, there is no digging, no weeding, and nothing but a pile of compost left over at the end of the season.


4 straw bales

4 bags of compost

Plant material/seeds

Liquid fertilizer

Granular fertilizer

25-ft. soaker hose



Step 1: Arrange the bales into a square

Clear out a 6½-foot-square area, pulling weeds and leveling the ground. Make a square using four sterile straw bales, leaving a hole in the middle.

Step 2: Put fertilizer and compost on to the top of the bales

Sprinkle the bales with granular organic fertilizer, then top with a 2- to 3-inch-deep layer of compost. Fill the hole in the middle with loose straw, compost, or potting soil. This is where you’ll plant root crops that need loose soil to grow.

Step 3: Add water to help the bales “cook”

Water the bales thoroughly every day for 10 days, using a liquid organic fertilizer, like kelp meal or fish emulsion, every time you water. The fertilizer will help the bales “cook”; in fact, if you have a soil thermometer, you’ll see them heat up considerably during that time. This 10-day composting period allows the bales to break down a bit, getting them ready to accommodate plant roots.

Step 4: Plant the bales

After 10 days, you’ll notice that the bales have cooled and started to decompose. You can now plant directly into the straw bales, using a trowel to pry holes into the bales. Plant a variety of vegetables and herbs directly into the bales. Direct-sow the center hole with root crops, like carrots, beets, potatoes, or onions.

Step 5: Keep the bales moist until harvest

Installing a soaker hose or drip-irrigation system over the top of the straw-bale garden will make watering easier once the garden is planted. Unless you’re getting regular rainfall, water your straw-bale garden every day or two to keep the bales from drying out. At the end of the season, after you’ve harvested bushels of veggies, you’ll have a wonderful pile of rich compost to spread around the garden.

Previous: Lattice Can Help Organize Your Veggie Garden Next: Build a Garden Out of Straw
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Fruits and Vegetables

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