If you’ve read my introduction post, you know that this is our first year of a full garden. We were starting with a complete blank space. Originally, when deciding on a type of raised bed we really wanted cost-efficient, raised beds that did the job and also that looked decent enough. After running across a Pinterest board idea of raised beds using straw bales, we gave it some pricing thought, then went out and bought everything we needed!
Obviously depending on size of yard and layout you want, it can be any shape really. Keep in mind how many straw bales you need for each design as for where you are located, might have different sized bales (we have two-string bales, about 3.5ft x 1.5ft). We went with three rectangle beds for the design, pretty simple. two of them consisted of one bale on the ends, and three bales on the sides. The last bed had only two bales on the sides, so it was a little smaller.
After setting up the bales, we finished by laying down the dirt and planting everything. It turned out pretty well and honestly after we finished setting it up, I thought it looked pretty nice! Total cost for us after the bales, dirt, netting, and seeds/plants was around $500 dollars. If you already have netting and don’t need the two planting bins, then that would cut the cost down by around $70 bucks.
The actual sizes; big ones were 6.5ft x 11.5ft, and little one 5ft x 8.5ft. Pretty decent, since after the season is done you can break apart those bales and use them for mulch, compost, etc. They hold up pretty nicely (strings kept on), and for a “beginners” first garden, I think its a great way to go! I do have a couple things to review, but please note it might not be the same in different climates and zones, (our zone is, WA Zone 8a).
With our weather here, the constant water/sun exposure the bales grew a type of cup fungus— harmless, and nonpoisonous, but annoying to keep cleaned out due to crowding our plants. It also grew quickly at first, but eventually went away after consistent cleaning and maybe warmer weather, perhaps. I don’t have picture of those unfortunately. They stopped popping up by the time I thought of it. Here is a picture from online that matched ours. click here
If you live in the PNW, you too probably struggled through the big heat wave we had just before the Fourth of July. Well, with our bales they again, grew another type of fungus— a type of slime mold. This was also harmless, and nonpoisonous. I’m fairly certain it was only due to the extreme heat, and wasn’t that hard to deal with anyways because it grew on the tops of the bales, and not in with our plants. However, its pretty gross to look at and made me think our cats were having some serious stomach problems at first.
After the season is over, and the bales need to be taken apart, as long as the fungi are removed, the bales are still fine to use in your mulch, compost, or whatever you choose to use them for. Where we live, our backyard for some reason was appealing to some yellow jackets who made a nest in the smaller raised bed, which we dealt with. A tip I read somewhere that prevents that, if you also have an appealing set up to yellow jackets while using the bales, try to keep a gap between each bale of around 3” inches. If the bales aren’t touching, it seems to help people with deterring those mean guys.
When we cleaned the jacket’s nest out of our smaller bed, we noticed that the dirt held up its shape just fine after the bales had been removed, carefully. So, fear not if you have to dismantle a bale, it shouldn’t disrupt your dirt or your plants! We actually had to get rid of that whole smaller bed, because its location wasn’t the best for our lettuce and spinach.
It all worked out in the end even with that surprise nest. We salvaged what we could and we are going to add some of those bales to cover our flower bushes, and then the rest will be shoveled and raked at the end of summer, to prepare for winter and next season’s raised beds.
The straw bales were cost-efficient, and multi-purposeful. I would definitely still recommend them for a beginners first garden set up, so long as you remember to keep an eye out for those fungi. This next garden season we are doing concrete block raised beds, along with something DIY and fun for our garden area. It will be fun to do something my little one can be participating in, even now while 9 months old. It involves beaches, and searching. Any guesses? Can’t wait to share!