Friday, August 14, 2009

Charlotte Nelson's straw bale garden

Knowing that Charlotte Nelson was a "garden nut," one of the clients of her small business suggested this method to her, after discovering it on the Internet.

Charlotte said, "Well, being the garden nut I am, I had to take the challenge ... without a doubt, this has been the most prolific garden I have ever had."

"I am trying to tell everyone I know about this, especially older folks that love to garden and maybe find traditional gardening too difficult with aging. There is ABSOLUTELY NO digging, hoeing, weeding, etc. One of the things I found so incredible, was how quickly the plants grew."

How did she do it? Here are her instructions, with more pictures to follow.

How to create a straw bale garden

Day 1-3

Water bales thoroughly for the first three days. I watered in the morning and evening.

Day 4-6

Once a day, sprinkle each bale with ½ cup of ammonium nitrate (32-0-0) then water thoroughly.

Day 7-9

Once a day, reduce ammonium nitrate to 1/4 cup and sprinkle into each bale and water thoroughly.

Day 10

No more ammonium nitrate … but add 1 cup of 10-10-10 fertilizer to each bale and water thoroughly.

Day 11

Plant your garden

Charlotte also shares a few hints from her experience:

* I placed 3 inches of potting soil on top of each bale on day 10 after last 10-10-10 fertilizer is added.

* Use a spatula to push the transplants into the bale, it opens the bale a little better than your hand. I plant my squash from seed.

* Plant each transplant to the first leaves and press straw back together. I planted Roma tomatoes, all kinds of pepper, eggplant, squash, zucchini and you could even do cucumbers, strawberries, cabbage, or whatever grows well for you.

* I choose one day as Miracle Grow day. I use Miracle Grow every other Friday.

* YOU MUST WATER DAILY. I water in morning and again in the evening.

* NEVER let your garden dry out.

* Tall plants, like corn or okra, supposedly will not do well, but I have not tried.

Charlotte begins her straw bale garden. After the bales become soaked, they are very heavy and hard to move. The cords on the bales hold them together.

Charlotte uses a soaker hose to water. What a good idea!

Plants and seeds are planted into the dirt that tops the bales.

The plants are generally planted two to a bale.

For some plants, such as squash, Charlotte uses seed.

This is a great method for people who might not be able to do a lot of digging and heavy lifting. This would also work for those who are physically challenged, but still like to work outdoors.

Charlotte also said, "As the summer is coming to a very hot close, I am still gathering quite a lot of goodies daily. I have uprooted a number of things to make room for new stuff."

"Now that this straw bale bug has bitten, I am planning on buying more bales and planting a number of things for the cooler months, just to see what will happen. According to most (Internet) sites I have found, they mention that the bales will last two seasons, we shall see."

"It's funny, I told my husband I am going to wind up with a maze of bales in the backyard that will help me NOT to have to cut as much grass, lol!"

Thank you Charlotte. I think I just may have to try this method myself next year!


  1. I am definitly doing this this year. I am looking for bales as we speak.

  2. Well, Charlotte Nelson's garden was so nice! I like it, and like you I also use soaker hose for my plants. Anyway, I enjoyed reading your post. Thanks for sharing.


  3. This is great! Ive already planned to try it this summer and am looking for my bales now. Thanks for the tips, as this will be my first try:)

  4. I live on a Farm, and I have a LOT of rotting hay bales (round) Do you think it would work with the hay bales?

  5. I watched a demonstration on SBG at MN state fair fall 2012, by Joel Karsten. I bought his book, and eagerly waited for spring. And I waited, and waited and waited. Spring of 2013 was less than ideal here in MN. I started my bale prep the fourth week of April, even though it was cold and in areas had snow into May!! I followed the instructions in the book religiously, watering bales when in the 30s and 40s. After the two week prep period, plants are supposed to be able to be planted in the bales despite it being cool out as the bales were to be warming up as the internal cooking/decomposition process was to be in full swing. My bales didn't warm up. I emailed Joel, and he stated to still plant things in bales. I opted to wait until the air temp was in the 60s, and then I could feel warmth inside the bales. It has been the worst garden ever! Despite plenty of rain, and plenty of sun, the plants did not grow or thrive, but seemed stunted. It wasn't until near the end of June that the plants seemed to wake up and finally start to blossom. Last year I was canning tomatoes first week of August. I didn't pick first ripe tomato this year until end of August. Yes, I now have a good quantity of nice green tomatoes on my plants, but since it is near the end of September here in MN, I will need no frost or freeze until late October to get some of those green tomatoes ripe! And if you know anything about MN, there are better odds of finding a needle in a haystack then no frost or freeze here that late...