By Simon Gibbins.
Some time ago we inherited a very large garden. I was not a gardener but strangely enough I come from generations of farmers. So, I learned fast. I also wanted a method that would suit my wife who was injured in a car accident and sometimes found bending painful. Trawling the internet, I found Strawbale Gardening.
This was some seventeen years ago. I have experimented with the method, and it works very well. I have taught it in the UK, Australia, America and Canada.
Firstly, you do not need soil. So, it follows that you can start your new strawbale garden almost anywhere. On grass, concrete, on your drive, patio or in the backyard. There is no digging and best of all no weeds. There is no waste. When the strawbales are “tired” having had no soil borne diseases they make first-rate compost.
Speaking for myself and a few friends these seem to be the most popular vegetables to grow in strawbales.
Pole beans, onions, tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, spring onions, marrows, pumpkins, peas, beetroot, cucumbers, lettuce, cabbage, and cauliflower to name but a few. I have had extremely mixed results with sweetcorn so I would probably advise you to steer clear until you have mastered the technique. Strawbales fit in most spaces, you can grow on the surface of the bale, being careful to plant right to the edge, and vertically using poles.
One of my favourite strawbale systems uses three bales and seven canes. I grow three varieties of tomatoes up the canes and lettuce, cabbage and marrows on the surface. I have attached a bad drawing to illustrate. You can also plant flowers to act as companion plants. Strawbale gardening is not simply a question of throwing a few seeds in the bale and hoping for the best. It is a little more complicated than that. But it is very doable and very worthwhile. The main thing is to get the strawbales composting. You achieve this by adding water and a nitrogen-based feed over some time and in varying quantities. This gets the bales “cooking”. I have devised a seventeen-day “maturing” schedule and by the end of this time, the strawbales should be ready to plant and or sow into. This is a vital part of the whole operation and when done correctly ensures good crops.
Potatoes are great fun to grow in bales. There are two lengths of bailing twine going horizontally around the strawbale. This is one of only a few times I removed both the twines. It gives the potatoes a bit more freedom. Choose a potato that is not generally available in the shops. My favourite is Pink Fur Apple. It is a great little salad potato and super tasty. When you pull apart the strawbale to reveal your potato treasure it should come away in slices. If you lay this down it makes a great bed for marrows and pumpkins, so not a thing gets wasted.
Incidentally, this method is great for children and makes a good classroom project.
One last thing, a strawbale garden looks great. I hope this has whetted your appetite to have a go at strawbale gardening. If you need any further information, please use the Contact Us page on my website. If you want all the lowdown, then I have written an e-book that covers everything.
Thanks, and good productive gardening