Straw Bales vs SIP Raised beds

mundlenycFebruary 4, 2014

I have a large, 20' x 20' tiled second story patio in USDA Zone 7. I live in the city and may move next winter. Exploring my options for a container garden that is transportable, disposable, or somewhere in between. I have access to a fair amount of scrap wood so I can pretty easily construct ugly & functional raised beds.

SO, the candidates are:

1) Straw bales garden-
- Significantly cheaper ($7/bale x 2-3 versus starting from scratch buying vermiculite, coco coir/peat moss, and compost, priced it out to be about $60 per bed at NYC prices)
- Disposable and compostable. I can compost the remnants to my local community garden at the end of the season.
- Require a lot of watering? Can anyone speak to this?

2) Raised beds-
- If I go this route, I'd probably rig up a sub-irrigation system somehow so that it self waters (would this be possible with the straw bales?)
- Growing medium could be used season after season
- I'd have to carry that growing medium with me when I move
- Much more expensive

Has anyone tried both of these??

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Ohiofem(6a Ohio)

I'm sorry, but I am confused about your proposal. Are you talking about growing plants in nothing but bales of straw in a wooden frame or homemade self watering structure? On a second story balcony? How would that be transportable so it could be used in another season? What would grow to harvest in wet straw? Do you know someone else who was able to do such a thing?

    Bookmark   February 5, 2014 at 9:43PM
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Straw bale gardening is a thing. I'm surprised you haven't heard of it before.

Here is a link that might be useful: Straw Bale Garden Pictures

    Bookmark   February 6, 2014 at 12:39AM
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drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a

I would use the bales myself as it is a temporary thing. And you have a way to dispose of at the end of the season. Seems to make a lot of sense to me. Read up on tips and tricks using them. i know to keep them tied, and you have to use plants not seeds. Pack plant tightly after planting with the straw you removed to make space for the roots.

    Bookmark   February 6, 2014 at 10:28AM
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I did the straw bale gardening thing for two seasons. Results were mixed. The first year I did pretty well, the second not so much. When I used the straw bale method, I set the bales on their sides. I like that you can plant seedlings by spreading the bale and putting them in, but as the bale decomposes plants can get a little rickety.

The thing with straw bale gardening is the preparation. The bales need to be fertilized and watered a lot a couple of weeks before planting, so that they get saturated with the fertilizer. Also, your plants get their nutrients from the fertilizer, but also from the decomposition (rotting) of the straw from the inside out. That's why you need a lot of water, unless you live where it rains a lot. Once the plants get going, they grow pretty well.

After the first season my bales were pretty much rotted down to nothing. They make good compost but are not useable for a second season. My second year was successful but for some reason my plants didn't yield much. I'm in the square foot trials now, as last season was my first. I'm also planning on trying the rain gutter system found on You Tube. Hope this helps.

    Bookmark   February 7, 2014 at 11:12PM
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Ohiofem(6a Ohio)

Well, I very learned something new in this discussion. Very intriguing. Thanks for that. My concern in your situation is how you would keep the straw evenly moist when it's sitting on tile. You'd need to make some kind of arrangement for runoff. If you do it, please report back.

    Bookmark   February 8, 2014 at 2:11PM
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thanks everyone for your feedback!

Hi Ohiofem,

I was thinking that I might use a plastic kiddie pool as a big saucer, drilling holes in the sides about 2-3 inches off the ground so that it doesn't sit in too much water. My concern (which sounds it may be the same as yours) is that they won't wick up water from the saucer.

Does anyone know how bales do with water retention? I'm worried that they'll dry out quickly on the tile, but the almanac says this will be a hot wet summer in the NE, so maybe it will be ok!

    Bookmark   February 9, 2014 at 4:11PM
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I'm thinking about trying a few bales this year. I was planning to wrap them in some industrial plastic wrap I have sitting around. If it seems too water-retentive later I can always poke holes in the plastic. Then I'll lay some burlap across the top, hit it with some high-N fertilizer, and wait a few weeks to plant in it.

    Bookmark   February 10, 2014 at 1:06AM
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