Saturday, April 2, 2011

Straw bale garden bed and poor mans raised beds.

I have read a few blogs lately showing their fancy raised beds made with lovely lumber.  Don’t get me wrong, I do love them.  But what about us folks who have to make do with what is on hand? 

What if you just want to test the layout before sinking your hard earned $$$ on the pricy version. I am always changing things around so I have a hard time financially committing to something right off the bat.

 I have done a few raised beds on the cheap. I have used stones, cement block and logs.  I even built a hot bed from straw bales…it worked great! And it cost me about $30.

This is what it looked like, wish I had taken more photos for you but you do get the drift. DSC_0005
As you can see it is made up of 6 bales of straw, at the time the cost per bale was $5 but now I just bought some and with the hike in all prices I paid $7.  In the back ground you can see my traditional raised bed made with scrap lumber we scrounged up to use, it was all free.  Much of it was planks from an old scaffold set up. 

The benefit of the straw bale bed is I could plant not only in the compost/soil filled center but also in the bales themselves.  You can see the bounty of lettuce, sugar snap peas, broccoli, and spinach in this bed.  It makes harvesting a bit easier too as you don’t have to stoop as far. 

I set mine up in the fall, used it as my compost bin adding all the debris from the clean up of the summer garden, I fill it heaping full.  As I toss in plant debris I mix in the debris from my chicken pen which gets it cooking. I will let it compost down a month or so and before the first snow flies I will top it with 6 inches or more of finished compost. 

I get mine by the truck load at a local yard that composts yard waste on a large scale.  Many municipalities have something similar so call around, it is much less expensive than buying bagged potting soil.

I arch some concrete mesh over the top to make a hoop house and cover with clear plastic.  The ends of the mesh can be pushed right down into the bales to hold it in place (sorry I cannot find the photos I had of this but I will do one this summer and photo it to share) and voila!  you have a hot bed. 

The bales of straw will start to compost once it starts raining on them along with the garden debris inside creating heat and when you are ready to plant your cool weather crops like lettuce, broccoli and spinach you have a nice warm soil while it is still cold outside.  I did not make one this past Fall, too much going on but last year I was picking lettuce and spinach in early April, even under the snow.  (in my climate that is early) 

Once I am done with the straw bales (a couple years using as a hot bed) I pull them apart, which is easy as they have half composted anyways, and use them for mulch around plants.  No waste. 

Other easy set ups are like this garden in potting soil bags for an instant garden..I have seen many like this but found this one at the link below.
Fastest gardening method in town.
The Vegetable Gardener

Or make your own self watering containers like this young man did, and he gardens on an apartment balcony…that is a determined gardener. He even has a video of how to make his self watering growing containers. 
Los Angeles Balcony Garden
Urban Organic Gardener
If you move you can just take your garden with you. Smile

Then there is the layered approach, I have yet to try this one but I think I will this summer, maybe. Follow the link to get the step by step…
Layered no dig garden bed

Can you tell I am itching to get out to the garden?  I did try to work in my greenhouse today but it was too chilly.  Tomorrow it will be sunny and it will warm up nicely in there so I can toodle around in it in the afternoon.  I need to dig out my compost heap to make more potting soil with to pot up some seedlings, they are shooting up. 
Happy Gardening!



  1. Thanks 4 the info. I have not tried the plant in the straw bale. In our state it would take watering 3 times a day. My plants R now growing by leaps & bounds but on Fri. it was 100-F.

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