The Pros and Cons of Straw Bale Gardening

A man using a water can to water tomatoes

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Straw bale gardening is getting a lot of press these days and for a good reason. It allows you to put a substantial but temporary garden almost anywhere, grabbing the sunniest spot, even if it happens to be the middle of your driveway. That said straw bale gardening isn’t for everyone. Here are some of the pros and cons.

Pros

  • Easy On Your Back: Straw bale gardening is one of the easiest and least physically taxing kinds of gardening there is. Once you get your straw bales in place and set up, you don’t even have to bend down to pick your veggies, or pull out any weeds there might be.
  • Garden Anywhere: You can put a straw bale garden anywhere sunny. That said, it's not a good idea to put them on any wood you care about because they would cause it to rot, but a driveway or empty lot would be perfect.
  • Economical: You can get straw bales at nurseries, feed stores or even from some farms for about $7.00 per bale. For a large garden, you can put four of them together to form a big garden bed so for only about $28.00 (depending on where you live the price of bales will vary). 
  • They Work: You can have huge success with growing vegetables in straw bales. While you have to stay on top of watering, compared to other container gardens, the bales do retain water pretty well. Also, another advantage is that as the bale ages it is turning into compost and providing nutrients that your plants can use.
  • It’s Cool: There is a novelty and look of the straw bale gardens that is cool.

Cons

  • Weeds: Even if you use straw bales, not hay bales unless you suffocate the weeds before you plant your garden, your straw bales will sprout and if left alone will start looking like giant chia pets. The good news is that the sprouts are easy to pull out or to trim with scissors. You can also get also get some strange weeds growing and even mushrooms and fungus growing in your bales, but they are usually either easy to get rid of, or you can ignore them as most won't harm your plants.
  • End of Season Funk: By the end of the growing season, a straw bale garden can look ragged and pretty funky. As the bales compost, they get a little saggy and untidy. Also, if you have tall plants like large tomatoes, sometimes the bales can't hold up their weight, and they can start to tip over. You can add extra staking, or be sure to grow shorter varieties of tomatoes, or just let them sprawl.
  • Bales are Heavy: Straw bales are heavy especially when wet. If you’re not very strong or have an injury, get some help setting up your straw bale gardens.

    In the end, however, the pros vastly outweigh the cons of gardening in straw bales.