Straw Bale Container Gardening

Recently I partnered with Adamaah of Adamaah's Bedouin Farm to present workshop on straw bale container gardening. There are a lot of great resources on this topic on the web, but here is our take on it!

Why straw bale container gardening?

  • Inexpensive - low cost to create especially if you are sharing cost with a friend!

  • Compact - Can garden in as little as space as one storage tub

  • Light, easy to move

  • Low maintenance

  • Grow anywhere - deck, balcony, fire escape, concrete, bare ground, etc.

  • Reduced weeding

What materials do I need?

  • Storage bin

  • Landscape fabric

  • Straw bale

  • Fertilizer

  • Fish emulsion

  • Soil

  • Thermometer

  • Drill

Let's talk a little more about the materials. You can purchase a storage bin at a local store or use a storage bin that you already have and no longer need. If you are using an existing bin make sure that it doesn't have significant cracks that may cause issue with moving the container after the straw, soil and plants have been added. Make sure to keep the top as well as it can used to catch the water overflow if needed.

You can get landscape fabric from your local garden center or hardware store. Often times it comes in large quantities, so you may want to share with friends and family. I have also seen landscape fabric in Dollar Tree! If you prefer to try and used recycled materials you can use an old, thin cotton sheet or thin cotton t-shirt as well. Any material you decide to use should be made with natural fibers and allow moisture to pass through freely. Another option is to use coffee filters over the drainage holes as well.

You want to make sure that you purchase straw bale and NOT a hay bale. Hay is a food source that contains grains. You don't want to grow grain! The straw bales are the remains of the plants and contain no grain.

The options for fertilizer are many. In many straw bale gardening guidelines they use a combination of fertilizers that include blood or bone meal. If you are vegan you may not want to use those options. Other options include purchasing fertilizer with nitrogen at least of 6 on the NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium) scale. If you use alternative methods for menstruation such as cloth pads or a diva cup, you can use the discharged blood. Another method is to collect urine. All of these options require dilution.

Fish emulsion can be purchased from your local garden center. You can also make it as follows:

  • One part fresh fish/fish parts

  • Three parts saw dust

  • One bottle of unsulfured molasses

  • A little water

Mix the ingredients in a container with a lid. Stir/turn it daily for two weeks. If you follow vegan practices you may opt out of this method of fertilizer.

We create our "compost tea" with 1/2 cup of blood/bone meal, a cap of fish emulsion and a gallon of water. If you use a compacted nitrogen fertilizer make sure to follow the directions for dilution.

The soil you use is up to you. I have used dollar store soil, name brand organic soil and recycled soil. I think it is important to understand the difference in the terms organic and non-organic so that you can make an informed decision. Whether a soil is organic or not refers to the processes and the chemicals used to maintain the soil. Organic uses only natural and non-engineered materials for amendments and managing disease and pest. Non-organic uses synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. You choose what's best for you and your budget.

You can use a regular household meat thermometer to measure the temperature during the processing of the bale which we will talk about shortly. If you are a serious gardener or you are sharing cost with a friend/family member it is more beneficial to have a compost thermometer. It has a longer stem to reach the middle of the bale and it can register higher temperatures.

Adamaah and I used a drill with a spade bit to make quarter sized holes. You can also use a hammer, a large nail and patience.

How do I put it together?

  1. Drill holes in the bottom of the container. If using the drill, 3 holes along the perimeter of each of the long sides of the bin for a total of 6 holes will work. Make sure they are evenly spaced. If you are using the hammer and nail method you will need at least twice as many holes (12) evenly space over the entire bottom of the container, not just the perimeter.

  2. Line the container with landscape fabric or your recycled natural material of choice

  3. Place the straw in the bins needle (pointy) side up.

  4. Soak the straw with water for 3 days.

  5. On the fourth day pour the compost tea over the bale. Spread as evenly as possible and water the bale to help the compost tea sink into the bale. Cover the container with the top. This will increase the temperature in the bale and speed decomposition.

  6. On day 5, 7 and 9 water the bale to ensure moisture and re-cover.

  7. On days 6, 8 and 10 repeat day 4 and pour compost tea over the bales, water and cover.

  8. By day 11 you should see the temperature rise to about 100 degrees internally as the decomposition process is in full play.

  9. Continue to monitor the covered bale. When you see the temperature drop at least 10-15 degrees or you see mushrooms appear, then you are good to plant.

  10. Create a pocket in the straw for your seedling and line it with dirt. The size of the pocket will vary, but generally 6-8 inches is a good measurement.

  11. Plant your seedling in the pocket. You can also create a soil hole and direct sow your seeds here.

  12. Water the seedlings/soil lightly to set it into the straw.

  13. Water daily or twice in extreme heat. It is recommended to water early in the morning prior to the full sun.

Watch your plants grow!

Here are some pictures from a previous straw bale garden:



This is the method developed and used by Adamaah and I. This is by no means the only way or the perfect way. You may find other methods and suggestions on the web. Some fertilize more days or even consecutive days. There is no one right way. Also, we do not advocate using Miracle Grow on any edibles as our personal preference, but you can certainly choose what works for you.

How can I reach you?

Adamaah can be reached on Facebook at Adamaah's Bedouin Farm or via email.

Galanda also can be reached on Facebook using Facebook Messenger from the Bytes and Buds page, via email or here through the website.

References and resources:

Gee Whiz: Human Urine Is Shown to Be an Effective Agricultural Fertilizer

Straw Bale Gardening - Conditioning the Bale

Straw Bale Gardening - Update

This article was adapted from Adamaah's handout for straw bale gardening workshops. You can download a copy of that handout here.

If you are interested in purchasing a straw bale container for gardening you can purchase it in Bytes and Buds Garden Shop.

Using plants to combat Seasonal Affective Disorder

Plants have been shown in studies by the NIH and in Psychology Today to have a variety of positive effects on mental health. During the colder months where the days are shorter and we are forced inside for longer periods of time, plants can help ease the transition that often comes with depression for a lot of people. 

Plants have been shown to: 

  • Lower levels of anxiety
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Increase attentiveness
  • Improve well being

These are just a few of the benefits of simply having plants in your environment. One of the main functions of plants is the production of oxygen. Oxygen is considered a "waste" product as it is what is left when plants convert light energy into chemical energy. 

Benefits of increased oxygen in your environment and your body include: 

  • Improves sleep
  • Clears toxins
  • Improves cell regeneration
  • Improves immunity
  • Aids in digestion

Most people can't afford "oxygen therapy," but we can afford a plant or two and may have a friend or family member willing to share.

There are several that are easy to care for and can increase the oxygen output in your home.

Here are my top 3 plants for easy home care:

Spider Plant

This plant enjoys bright areas and do not require direct sunlight. With minimal care they will can and will produce baby spider plants that you can share with friends or family or pot in other areas of your home. Spider plants like moderate watering which means keeping the soil moist, not wet and do not allow it to dry out.

Spider Plant

Spider Plant

Baby Spider Plants

Baby Spider Plants

Snake plant aka Mother-in-Law's Tongue

This plant is practically kill-proof. It prefers drier conditions and will work well in bright to partially dark areas. It is a slow growing plant, so good for folks who are in it for the long haul. This plant prefers dry soil so allow it to be mostly dry before watering. Take care to water direct to the soil and avoid wetting the leaves. 

Mother-In-Law Tongue

Mother-In-Law Tongue

Aloe Vera

Aloe vera comes in a multitude of varieties from small to large. The common aloe (aloe barbadensis miller) is one of 100s available and is one of the two types of aloe; green and blue. Either way, aloe does better in dry conditions and prefer soil similar to that of cactus. They do not like to be standing water of any sort. The top 1-2 inches of soil should be dry before watering again. Aloe also does not like direct sunlight. If you find the leaves turning orange or brown, move it to a bright are out of direct sunlight. 

Aloe Vera

Aloe Vera

All of the plants listed are my personal plants.

If you found this information helpful, please fill out the interest form for future information. I promise I will not spam you. You can also follow me on social media as Bytes and Buds.



So Excited!!! Gardening and Teaching on the Horizon!


I am super duper excited to have met with a Baltimore City teacher who is committed to learning about gardening AND getting his students involved!!! Yesterday I met with Juan Nance and we kick off on 4/23/2016 at the Reservoir Hill Community Garden teaching and learning about gardening. Bytes and Buds will be providing worksheets for the kids to document what they learn and the growing experience. You can follow Bytes And Buds on SnapChat and Periscope to check out the progress.

Juan and I met as volunteers with the No Boundaries Coalition sponsored Fresh Market at the Avenue. The market is the product of a successful pilot program with Gather Baltimore last year to bring fresh produce to the food desert of 21215, 21216 and 21217. The market now brings fresh produce weekly, every Saturday, to residents through a partnership with Whole Foods and local farms. If you are interested in volunteering please fill out the volunteer form.

7 Items to start seeds in an egg carton

The weather this year is driving my crazy! At this point I just knew I'd have my seeds in the ground and planning for weekly weeding...NOT! Since I'm getting antsy I decided to start some seeds indoors. This will give me a little head start and also help me with succession planting. Succession planting means planting at different times so that you can harvest throughout the season instead of harvesting once.

So, I grab a paper egg carton that I had on hand and put dirt in it that I brought inside a few weeks ago from my compost pile to warm up.

Dry Soil
Dry Soil

After I did that, I realized in my haste, there were a few things I should have done before that, but what the heck, I'm already in at this point. I'll make a chronological list for you all at the end to make it easy to follow. 

Getting back on track, I put the dirt in the carton and then I realized that I needed a drainage hole. I used my hanger tool (the top part of a broken hanger) to poke a hole in each egg crate.


Once that was done, I took a water bottle and put just enough water to cover the top of each crate and waited for it to seep into the dirt.


On the side of the egg carton I write the date that I plant the seeds.


This helps me to keep track of how long it takes to germinate and grow into a full plant and produce.

I decided to plant a few things. My egg carton had 18 sections, so I decided on 6 different seeds and planted three sets of each. On each row I wrote what I planted so I wouldn't have to guess later.


Next I dropped 1-2 seeds in each crate. Once the seeds were in, I lightly covered them by creating a hole with my hanger "tool" and then softly pushing the dirt over the seed. Since this is in the house and humidity is low, the soil can dry out rather quickly. I went to grab some saran wrap, but since this was an impromptu planting I had none. No worries here since I need to check on the seeds daily for the first week or two to watch for germination.

I moved my completed seed starting egg carton into my dining room which doesn't drop below 65 and gets wonderful light throughout day. Now I wait, watch and pray!

If you'd like to start seeds indoors yourself, here is what you need:

  • Seeds
  • Egg carton
  • Scissors
  • Knife/nail
  • Dirt/seed starting mix
  • Bowl
  • Marker
  • Spray bottle (optional)

What to do:

  1. Cut the top off the egg carton. You will use it as a water tray
  2. Make a hole in your egg carton crates. I prefer paper or Styrofoam because it easy to make holes. With paper cartons I make a single hole. When using Styrofoam, I would put 3-5 small holes with sharp pencil or pen.
  3. Write on the egg carton the date you are planting the seeds and what seeds you are planting. You can also put the seed packet on the edge of tray to identify them.
  4. Mix your dirt/seed starting mix in the bowl with water in a bowl. It should be moist so it is slightly sticky but still a little crumbly.
  5. Fill your egg carton with the moistened dirt
  6. Using the tip of your marker, slightly depress the dirt in each crate about 1/4 of inch deep
  7. Drop 1-2 seeds in each crate
  8. Lightly cover seed
  9. Place egg carton in an area that receives at least 7 hours of direct light


Check your seeds daily. If the soil looks light then it is drying out and you need to water . If you are using a Styrofoam egg carton then you can pour water in the top and water from the bottom. In 25-30 minutes you should see the soil darken up as it absorbs water. If you are using a paper egg carton, then you want to use a spray bottle to water so that you don't disturb the seed and soil from the force of the water. Also make sure to turn the crate daily to ensure even distribution of light.


Budget gardening - Materials

So you want a garden. You dream of fresh veggies, herbs and flowers, but don't see where you have the space or time (because time is money too!). Everyone can have a garden! You can have a mini garden in the same amount of time the commercials play during your favorite 30 minute TV show. What you need: Containers - These don't have to be fancy. It can be anything from an old office trash can to a storage tub to an empty coffee container. You can go with a big old tub or art deco pots.  You decide based on your space and what you want to grow.

Empty rinsed out plastic water/soda bottles - these will be used to cut down on your need for watering

Scissors - to cut the plastic bottles

Hammer and large nail - to create drainage holes in non-traditional containers

Coarse rocks/foam peanuts - to put in containers where you rather not create drainage holes and to save money on the amount of soil used.

Seeds/seedlings - depends on howmuch work you have time for. If your time is extremely limited then seedlings, which are small/baby plants, are the choice for you. If you have a bit of patience and time or maybe your using this as a project with your kids try your hand with seeds. You can obtain seeds and/or seedlings from the Dollar Store, nurseries, local home improvement stores, the grocery store, online and local community organizations.

Soil/compost - if you have access to relatively rock free and loose soil from somewhere free, use that. Community organizations often have giveaways of soil and compost as well. If neither of those options are available pick some soil up from any of the same places you can obtain seeds and seedlings.

Need to print a checklist for these items? View here and print from Google Docs.

Happy Gardening!