It’s been a few weeks since we planted the seeds in our straw bales and they have grown into nice healthy plants. We have found some things we should have done, and some things we shouldn’t have, so here are some things you need to know about straw bale gardening.
You will need to water your garden more than you would normally.
Soil holds water much better than straw does. When you water your plants in a normal garden, the water seeps through the ground quite slowly because there are much fewer spaces for the water to drip through. This means the roots get as much time as possible to soak up the water. In a straw bale, however, there are more gaps, and they are much bigger. The water takes much less time to soak through, meaning the roots have less time to take it all in. This causes the plants to get much less water from one watering. We watered our strawberries around 2 times a week in winter. (In summer, you would need to water daily.)
Transplanting seedlings generally works better than seed tape.
A seed tape is when you put the seeds between two wet paper towels. (If you want more detail on this, go here.) Transplanting is the name for when you grow (or establish) the seed in a pot or a dirt garden, and then move it to the straw bale. We found that overall, the seedlings we transplanted grew much faster than the plants that grew from a seed tape. The reason for this is a bit unclear, but we think it’s because of the root system. When a seed is planted in a straw bale and the roots begin to grow into the ground, they are actually growing into air, because at the top of the bale, there isn’t a lot of nutrients and things that help a young plant grow. The real goodies for a plant are in the middle, and the plant can’t get there without them. This is not a problem when a plant is growing in dirt, because the nutrients are already all around the roots. When a seedling with already-grown roots is transplanted into a straw bale, it can already reach the middle of the bale. It takes in the nutrients and shoots up very quickly.
However, using a seed tape is actually better for some plants like peas and garlic. This is because the seed in these two plants germinates quite close to where the good nutrients are. Some plants also don’t work well with being transplanted, like beetroot or carrot, so the seed tape is just the best option.
You will still get some pests on your plants.
We thought that snails and slugs wouldn’t be a problem, because;
- The plants are up high, making it hard to get to, and
- Climbing up the straw is hard because the side of the bale is jagged.
This turned out to be wrong. Pests can still get up there, but you won’t get as many as you would in dirt. There were also ants on the top of our bale. To stop this, we made a chili and garlic spray to put on our plants. This got rid of the ants. You can also put some crushed eggshells on to keep away the slugs and snails. You can also choose to just leave it. There would be much less pests, so deciding to put up with it wouldn’t be as bad as in dirt.