Straw Bale Garden aka a Hot Bed

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If you have a short growing season then a hotbed is for you. Today I will show you how to build a simple one with straw bales.

Do you have a short garden season? So do I, much too short. So what is a garden produce lovin Gal to do?

Create a Straw Bale Garden aka A Hot Bed!
Strawbale Hotbed ac,

Unless I extend my season with different methods I won’t get tomatoes until late August, and though zucchini is prolific once it starts it takes forever for it to begin.

So I have tried some different things to get my produce earlier and take me longer into the Fall season.

My absolute favorite has been my straw bale hotbed.

I have used this method in a few different locations and I have always been pleased with the results.   I can grow my garden greens through much of the winter if I have a cover.

A Straw Bale Garden lets you grow garden greens through much of the winter.

Through the winter I grow things like spinach, kale, and lettuce.  We eat a LOT of lettuce!  

The soil in my straw bale garden is super rich so I can plant thickly with no problem.

Right now straw bales are going for about $7 each to give you an idea of the cost of the framework.

I don’t worry about getting weed free, in fact, you will get laughed at if you even ask for it at the feed store here.

My smaller beds are one straw bale wide and two long.

Straw Bale Garden bed a great raised bed system if you have hard to plant soil.

If you get creative you can even plant into the straw bales themselves, but I have had little success with it.

Here is how I built my Straw Bale Garden.

6 straw bales

lie two straw bales on their sides (when I say side, I mean where they sit taller than if you laid them flat.)

line up one bale at the end  of the two already in place

strawbale diagram001

line up the last bale at the opposite end and you have an enclosed space
The awesome filling.

1. Start filling in at the bottom with some logs and scrap wood.  Not anything that has been treated!

2. Next I use some pine needles, leaves and chicken manure to fill in around the logs.  The logs will act as a sponge and hold water along with the side of the straw bales, that way you need a lot less water when it gets hot and dry in Summer.

3. Then I add more compost and fresh manure.
The fresh manure will help balance out the nitrogen that gets bound up by the decomposing wood and straw plus all the composting action adds heat to the growing layer.

4. Last I put in my growing soil which I buy by the truck load from a local debris yard.  They compost yard debris that people clean up from around their homes and haul to them.   I try and get this layer between 8 and 12 inches thick.  You can also use organic potting soils sold in bags at the garden centers but it is more expensive that way.

5. I water it all in and let it sit for a couple weeks.  I give it a good soak every other day unless I start early enough in the Spring then I don’t usually need to do a thing as the rains will help settle everything in and get the straw bales soaked.

6. Now plant your seeds directly in the soil or you can put plants that have already been started in pots into your bed.

I like starting seed directly.  I do put a cover on the bales and it creates a mini greenhouse effect.

Straw bale garden hot bed, great for starting heat loving plants earlier in the season for more produce all summer long.

My husband built this cover, which I affectionately call the Chuck Wagon, out of old two by fours.  It is rather bulky and heavy but it has held up well for several years.  

You can use many types of things to make a cover, even old windows or hog wire.  We need extra support as we get heavy, wet snow.  

Even this frame needed a bit of help after some really deep snows.

Strawbale Hotbed, (5 of 16)

Now I admit this is not the prettiest type raised bed but you can fix that by planting flowering vines along the outside edge or disguise it in other ingenious ways.

Since photographing this I now use concrete remesh for the hoop over the top. This video shows how I use that for my other raised beds.

Strawbale Hotbed Spring border, (1 of 1)

It doesn’t look so bad in the border..

This is not a permanent bed, the straw bales will decompose but it will take a few years. I use the decaying straw to help fill the next bed I build and/or use as mulch.

The soil inside the straw bale garden bed will sink as the underneath layers decompose but that is not any problem.

My tomatoes and zucchini love it in here.

Tiny seedlings getting started.

Strawbale Hotbed, (6 of 16)

The grassy weeds are oat seed sprouting, I just pull them up and either lay them on top of the soil as a mulch or feed them to my chickens.

Strawbale Hotbed, (8 of 16)

The raised bed with the cover is especially helpful in our unpredictable Spring weather, it can be warm and sunny during the day and then dip to freezing at night.  Or one day it is near 70 degrees and sunny and within a few days it could be snowing.

The Straw bale Raised beds with the plastic greenhouse cover keeps everybody warm and cozy no matter what the weather.

Soon everything is growing like crazy.

Straw bale garden hot bed

And sometimes they exceed your expectations.  

Straw bale garden hot bed,

This Zucchetta (Trombolina) squash I nick-named Audrey from the Little House of Horrors as it just grew what seemed like a foot or more a day until it nearly swamped all other plants in the hot bed!

It just kept growing and growing…

Strawbale Hotbed, (14 of 16)

The squash was oh so wonderful that year.

Strawbale Hotbed, (13 of 16)

So were the tomatoes that grew in here though they did have to compete for space.

Below is another Straw Bale garden bed in a different location.  It is filled with greens, broccoli, sugar snap peas, and green onions.

Strawbale Hotbed, (3 of 16)

Another great benefit is the beds and veggies grown in the beds are at a great height, you do not need to stoop over far to harvest, weed or tend to the raised straw bale garden.

For more raised bed ideas visit my Raised Bed Pinterest Board.

More Gardening Posts You May Enjoy!

Lazy Gal’s Gardening Guide
DIY Easy Garden Obelisk
DIY Garden Greenhouse
Old Buckets and a Wine Barrel

Get your garden started earlier with a Straw bale garden hot bed. Easy to do and can also help you garden through winter.

Happy Gardening!
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  1. coldhandsd says:

    Baking soda works wonderfully for slugs and feeds the bales . Only works while it is dry to kill slugs. Put on the ground around the bales in thin layer and on the bales . And it needs to be replaced after a rain. I tried the beer in a bowl method and was over run with slugs.. It only worked for me if it was extremely dry and I put baking soda around the bowl. But then had to pick up dead slugs as some didn’t make it back to where ever they were hiding, to die.

  2. Hi Pamela,

    From your pictures I can see your layout and use of bales. I got great results planting directly in the bales without using any soil (or practically no soil, as I did cheat here and there). I am overloaded with tomatoes which was the plan. I want to show you some of my garden pictures….if I can figure out how to send them to you.

  3. I have failed at the gardening in the straw bale but I have given it a try and am willing to try again. I am glad you found it so successful. Sounds like you are a good 4 hour drive from me and have a better growing season. That is the only thing I regret about living so far up the mountain. I miss my garden season I had when I lived in Linden, Calif. I could grow anything and I had roses from March thru Oct.

  4. Hi Pamela,

    I live in Shingletown, Ca, a little east of Redding, elevation about 2,000 (must be lower elevation than you).
    Anyhow, I did my first straw bale garden this year with great results! I set mine up in rows with an automatic drip system. It was a learning experience with many benefits. Thankfully, almost everything has grown without my attention. I just stand back in “awe”.

    A few of the bales have sunk (mostly even) and plants just keep on growing. I’ve been able to make wonderful fresh salsa. Next year I’m planting tomatillos and jalapenos for salsa verde. I have the bales on landscaping cloth (found rolls cheap at garage sale). I had planned to trim the cloth around the bales but found it beneficial (less muddy), so I left it on the ground in between bales. It is interesting to see another garden, all beautiful and unique.

  5. This is a great way to protect your plants and produce from weathering.

  6. I assumed you meant snails? The bait I use usually works for snails and slugs but other than that I am not sure. You can try the beer traps. Or ducks. 🙂 When I had ducks in the valley they would snap up those snails lickety split and suck them right out of their shells. It was quite entertaining to watch. I know, probably not practical for you but when you mentioned snails it came to mind. I only have slugs here, so far I don’t have snails.

  7. Hi Pamela I attempted to reply from my gmail but it failed . Can you send me and address so I can share with you about the tractor club and bales of straw . It is simply a background story that I was going to share that did not need to go here though it could if need be . Thanks

  8. Wow, $15 is steep. I should call the feed store here and check the price. It has been at least a month since I bought some. The price can spike because of different reasons. I get alfalfa for my chickens and that is $18 a bale but it takes them a long time to get through it so the cost is stretched out over several months. And they pay me in eggs. 🙂

  9. I do like what you have shared, though it will likely be some time before I can make this one..bales of straw here are at $15.00 at present. Starting the season early and growing late in the season or well into the winter would be very beneficial. Thank you. I will be back to read more soon.

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