How to build a Straw Bale
One of the simplest ways to create a raised bed vegetable garden is to build a Straw Bale garden bed. There are many methods and construction materials that can be used to create a raised vegetable garden, we have already looked at some in the vegetable garden design page, but the straw bale still remains one of the quickest, cheapest and easiest methods around. They also have the added bonus of being environmentally friendly!
Benefits of using Straw Bales
As we have already mentioned, bales are quick, cheap and easy to use, but they also have other added benefits that other methods do not.
No Dig - Straw bales can be used to create a no dig garden
Renewable - The straw does eventually compost down (another bonus)and when it does, it is easily and cheaply replaced.
Ongoing source of compost -As the bales break down, the straw can be used to mulch the bed.
Attract beneficial soil life -Because straw is a natural product and it composts down, when in contact with bare soil, straw attracts worms to the bed, that in turn condition the soil, as well as encouraging beneficial soil organisms that are crucial to healthy soil.
What straw should you use?
There are many types of straw/hay available depending on where the hay was cut. General paddock hay could be a mixture of grasses, where others such as Lucerne or Pea straw are bales made from straw of these specific crops. Because these are legumes, as they break down they help to contribute nutrients to soil. Lucerne and Pea straw bales are usually more expensive than pasture cut hay.
Lucerne hay is more coarse than pasture cut hay and usually has a dark green colour about the material, as opposed to the standard dried yellow colour of hay. Remnant leaves from the dried lucerne plant is normally visible in the compressed bale.
Pea straw has a different texture again to pasture cut hay and Lucerne. Also showing signs of dark green from the dried pea plants, pea straw will almost always have stray dried peas embedded in the straw. As a result, germination of these seeds is inevitable and all you have to do is pull them out of the bales as they geminate and leave them on the garden bed surface to die down and compost, otherwise you'll end up with a living straw bale wall!
How much does it cost?
The materials can be obtained at a cost as little as $50, but of course, this depends on the size of the bed you want (and therefore the number of bales needed)as well as the straw type chosen. Pasture cut hay is readily available in semi rural areas as land owners who have cut hay often sell it from the their properties. We are spoilt for choice in our area at the moment as the change in weather has resulted in bumper crops.
What do I need to build a Straw Bale bed?
This is the easy bit! All you need is a hammer, some sturdy garden stakes and the bales.
Ready to start?
Here's the how!
1 - Select an appropriate site. Refer to the garden design page on where to position your garden. Your site preferably should be level, but if this isn't possible, a gentle slope is acceptable. Steeper slopes can be handled by "packing" under the bales with "biscuits" from an opened bale.
2 - Clear the site. It is not essential that the site be spotlessly clear, you can build your raised bed, right over the top of unwanted grass, but if you have a lot of weeds, especially if they are flowering, it is best to remove them first. If building over grass etc, then the centre of the bed should be mulched. (dealt with later)
3 - Decide on the bed size. To some degree here, you are restricted by the standard size of rectangular straw bales. Although you can open a bale and reduce it's length, it is often difficult to re-tie the bale up to the same tension as the baling machine and this may result in the bale falling apart earlier.
4 - Lay out the bales. Set out the bales to form the size of your desired new bed. Secure the bales in place by hammering two garden stakes in per bale, about 30cm from each end of the bale, driving them in down through the straw. make sure that the bales are butted firmly up against each other to ensure that the raised bed soil doesn't leak out between them.
5 - Prepare the soil. Refer to the Soil preparation page for more information.
Step 3 - As shown above, layout the straw bales to make a bed the size you want.
Steps 4 & 5 - Stake the Bales in place using a decent weight hammer, drive the stakes down through the hay to lodge the bale in place. Hammer the stakes down so they are flush with the top of the bale, then fill the new garden bed.
If you're interested in building a Straw Bale, raised bed vegetable garden but don't know where to get the bales or transport them home, we can help.
We can provide kits, complete with the bales (your choice of straw type) stakes and bagged manure/compost to fill your bed.
To discuss your requirements or get more information, complete the following contact form and we'll get back to you shortly.
Leave Straw Bale gardens & return to vegetable garden designs