From her garret somewhere on the Bass Coast, Emma writes for WeekendNotes, travel publications, and plumbing websites of note. Read more at, www.clippings.me/emmawoodward or follow me on Instagram, @wordsfromawoodward
Published October 13th 2021
How to start your own productive vegetable patch
If you've got a spare weekend and you can't go out exploring, then why not give straw bale gardening a try? It's easy and inexpensive. As long as you can get your hands on the straw bales and something to plant in them, then you have everything that you need.
First, Buy a Couple of Straw Bales
The availability (and price) of straw bales will vary greatly depending on where you live. They're available at most stock feed stores, some pet shops, and from agricultural suppliers. Shop around and don't forget to check local marketplace groups where you could chance upon a deal. By the way, you're shopping for straw, not hay, and you want the rectangular bales, not the giant round ones (unless you're really ambitious).
Set Up Your Straw Bale Garden
One of the best things about a straw bale garden is that it gives you an instant raised garden bed. You don't have to dig, you don't have to construct or buy garden edging, and you don't have to buy or shovel vast quantities of soil. You are putting the garden structure and the growing medium in place in one fell swoop, and you will have a garden bed that's kinder to your back and knees, out of reach of small children and pets, and raised above the lawn so that the weeds won't grow into it so easily.
Straw bale garden beds with a compost heap in the middle.
Pick a spot where your new no-dig garden will get the right amount of light and shade. Think about how far it is from the hose or tap for watering, and maybe how far it is from the house if this is to be your kitchen garden.
Once you have found the right spot, place a single straw bale (or several straw bales) in the configuration that best suits your needs. You want to place your straw bale with the straws running vertically and the cut side facing up, as this will give you the best straw bale breakdown, and the best options for planting.
Oh, look… it's a garden bed! Photo by Tengyart on Unsplash.
Don't cut the baling twine yet. Leave it there to give structure to your straw bale garden, but remember to retrieve it later when your straw bale has served its purpose as a garden and is breaking down into beautiful, rich mulch. Most baling twine is synthetic, so it won't break down - at best it will be a nuisance that gets tangled around your own feet, and at worst it will end up in the wider world or in waterways where it can become hazardous to wildlife. Don't throw it away though. As anyone with a hobby farm knows, it has a thousand uses, and one of them is to provide a structure for next year's beans or tomatoes when strung between a couple of stakes.
Condition Your Straw Bale Garden
You can set up a straw bale garden at any time of year, although if you put the straw bales in place during winter then you can leave them to partially decompose before planting them in spring.
Straw bales with some extra compost on top.
You can water your straw bales with a liquid fertiliser to imbue them with nutrients, or you can simply leave them to break down with time, sun, and rain.
Plant Your Straw Bale Garden
Now comes the fun part! You can plant straight into your straw bale. Just find the divides between the 'biscuits' of straw, and pull them apart to make a little pocket. If you are transplanting a seedling or a larger plant, then you can try to keep as much of its potted soil as possible, putting all of this into the pocket to give the plant a good start before it works its roots down into the composting straw.
If you are growing your vegetables from seeds or from kitchen scraps then it's a good idea to get them established first, and then to plant them out in the straw bale garden as seedlings.
It's as easy as that! Just continue to water and care for your plants as you would if they were planted in any other garden bed.
Plant your seedlings and watch them grow.
If you would like to learn more about straw bale gardening, then there are plenty of resources out there. There are local Victorian groups offering educational programs for schools and kindergartens, there are books on the subject, YouTube tutorials, and plenty of online articles that deal with straw bale gardening in general, and straw bale gardening in Australia specifically.
As with any type of gardening, you can really refine your methods, or simply give it a go as a fun weekend project and see what happens. Either way, I hope you enjoy your new hobby!