ByKimberly Button

Apr 10, 2015
Spinach Seedlings

Imagine an inexpensive organic garden with no pesticides, no weeding and no soil.

Wait, no soil?

straw bale garden
Image courtesy of Kirsten Skiles.

Yep. One of the easiest ways to start organic gardening doesn’t even require a shovel full of dirt. Jump in on one of the fastest, and perhaps one of the easiest, ways to garden by getting a bale of straw and start growing some vegetables.

Straw Bale Gardening is just what it sounds like – growing plants inside of a straw bale. There is no need for a in-ground garden plot, no need to till soil or add compost to a raised bed. In fact, there’s no need to even buy a container for your new plants. All you’ll need is a straw bale.

“The biggest misconception about straw bale gardening is that we are actually growing vegetables in straw,” said Joel Karsten, author of Straw Bale Gardens and Straw Bale Gardens Complete.

Karsten explains that straw bales must be “conditioned” for a couple weeks before planting begins. It is during this conditioning period that bacteria inside the bale start to break down the organic material. “These newly released molecules are what we would recognize as ‘soil’ inside the bales. In the earliest stages, the bales will still look like straw on the inside, but biologically the straw has begun to transition into ‘virgin soil’ inside the bales,” he explained.

The “virgin soil” is what makes straw bale gardening so attractive, because it contains no diseases, no insects and no weed seeds, all of which are common in garden soils and create problems for gardeners.

Planted Straw Bale Garden
Image courtesy of Scott Sherrill-Mix.

Growing your own soil inside a straw bale is the perfect alternative for anyone without decent dirt conditions in their backyard, or renters who are not allowed to install an in-ground garden. For those with mobility challenges, the raised garden beds created by straw bale gardening can open up a new opportunity to get back to gardening, again.

No wonder why when the New York Times wrote about Karsten’s Straw Bale Gardening website in 2013 public interest skyrocketed. Today, Straw Bale Gardening one of the top gardening websites in the world.

Buying straw bales are often cheaper than buying actual dirt – without all of the hassles such as bugs and weed seeds that are often found in bagged soil. Straw bales can often be found in major garden centers. You might need to visit a farm supply store to get the materials, or to score the ingredients at a discounted price.

What about hay fever? Would straw bale gardening be horrible for those with allergies?

According to Karsten, “If you were allergic to hay or straw, it’s likely either a pollen allergy or dust allergy. The pollen in straw bales is long gone, and the bales are always wet, reducing any risk of dust. If an allergy to mold were an issue, we recommend using gloves and a mask when doing any gardening, but no more risk is present when planting a straw bale garden over a traditional garden.”

Straw bale gardening is cheaper, easier, less labor intensive and organic. What more could you want?

Feature image courtesy of Scott Sherrill-Mix

By Kimberly Button

Kimberly Button is the author of The Everything Guide to a Healthy Home and the Editor-in-Chief of GetGreenBeWell , featuring modern, sane ideas for living a non-toxic life. A professional journalist for nearly two decades, Button has written for magazines such as Martha Stewart's Whole Living, American Airlines, AAA, Sierra, National Geographic Traveler, and Vegetarian Times. Visit for more information.