As a gardener, you might face issues now and then with some poor soil conditions. Maybe you’re just getting started and haven’t had time to create a proper garden bed, or perhaps your soil is just too sandy or even rocky.
Growing potato tubers in straw bales might be your best bet since you don’t need any soil and you’ll also wind up with a nice compost heap at the end..
To learn everything about how to plant potatoes in straw bale, stay tuned as we dive deep into the details.
Benefits Of Straw Bale Potato Planting
Before we get into any specifics, we must discuss the benefits of straw bale gardening. It’s one of the oldest planting traditions, and it simply requires you to condition the bale with water and the right nutrients to make it ready for planting.
If you want to grow potatoes in straw bales, you’ll be making one of the best choices for this gardening technique. This way of planting potatoes has several benefits, so we’ll list a few of them right away:
- Bale provides warmer plant environment
- Low maintenance costs & easy to get started
- You control the nutrients
- No soil diseases to worry about
- Extended growth season
- Provides a nice compost heap at the end
With this method, you can use seed potatoes as long as they have two “eyes” to make them sprout by placing them deep into the straw bales. The warmth provided by the straw bale decomposing will keep the optimal growing conditions for your plant.
It’s also convenient that you can buy a straw bale online these days if you don’t have a local supplier nearby. Controlling the nutrients is a completely different story, though. It requires some expertise and knowledge so you can harvest potatoes with the highest yield possible. Don’t worry – we’ll be your guide through the entire process of growing potatoes using straw bales!
How To Grow Potatoes In Straw Bale – Step By Step Guide
First things first, you need to understand the needs of a seed potato and potato plants in general. Naturally, they require at least 6 to 7 hours per day exposed to full sunlight, so make sure no shade reduces the light amount the tubers will receive.
Straw bale gardens are easy to set up just outside your house wherever you can get full sun exposure. Once you have your sweet spot for growing some potatoes, it’s time to get into the straw bale preparation.
As mentioned earlier, a proper bale garden should be set with a fertilizer solution and frequent watering. Let’s start with bale preparation and move on to the next stages to get you harvesting potatoes grown from the straw bale in no time!
Step 1 – Conditioning the Straw Bale (Most Important)
Once you’ve selected a spot outside for your potatoes to grow, it’s time to deal with the bale. First, allow yourself plenty of time before the planting date so you can prepare everything.
Conditioning the bale should take about 10 days. Basically, we’re starting the process of decomposing the bale and turning it into a nutrient rich growing area for your potatoes.
One thing we recommend doing before getting started is to lay down some cardboard under the bale material. You’ll want to use cardboard that is mostly plain and not shiny. Using cardboard will accomplish two things:
- It will provide some nice ground cover to prevent weeds from poking through into your straw bale.
- The cardboard will start to break down along with the straw and turn into a real nice compost at the end of the season.
Most straw bales you’ll find are about 36” long, 24” wide and 18” deep. You’ll want to lay the bales just like that for maximum growing area.
Here’s a breakdown of the conditioning process which will alternate between days:
Day 1: You’ll want to spread ½ cup of Nitrogen rich fertilizer (a 46-00-00 mix works good) across the top of each bale and thoroughly soak with water for several minutes until you see the water coming out of the bottom.
Days 2-6: You’ll soak the bales with 1-2 gallons of water, however on days 3 and 5 you’ll add another ½ cup of nitrogen rich fertilizer before soaking the bales.
Days 7-9: Now we’ll reduce the amount of nitrogen rich fertilizer down to ¼ cup and continue with a thorough soaking.
Day 10: Today you’ll want to switch up to a 10-10-10 fertilizer mix and wet the bale again.
Now the composting process should have started to begin and you may notice a smell of ammonia as this happens. Also, if you notice mushrooms or worms appearing at any point this is perfectly fine! It means you have perfect conditions for growing.
Step 2 – Choosing Seed Potatoes
Once you are done with the conditioning process, it’s time to get to the most exciting part – choosing your seed potato variety. In general, it doesn’t make much difference on the exact potato plant species you are going to use.
Still, these will be the best kinds of sprout potatoes you can plant with this method:
- Yukon gold potatoes
- Red potatoes
- Russet potatoes
Step 3 – Cutting a Seed Potato
Now that you know just what species to go with, it’s finally the time we get to the planting process. It’s simpler than you might expect, and the first thing to do is acquire seed potatoes.
Seed potatoes can be purchased online or you could simply cut up a potato you have at home. You may have even seen them start to sprout on their own if left in your cabinet for too long.
You want to make sure there’s at least two eyes on your cut seed potatoes. The sprouting process will continue from this part of the plant.
Some people wait for the potato to dry for a day or two after cutting but we’ve found it doesn’t make much difference so feel free to get to planting.
Step 4 – Double Check The Temperature
While the straw bale is decomposing it is building up heat and while the outside of the bale might be cool to the touch it is generating somewhere around 10 degrees more inside so just make sure you double check the internal temp before planting.
The ideal temperature for your planted potatoes would be around 85 degrees Fahrenheit. If you check the temperature using a meat thermometer or temp gun and see 110 or more then go ahead and let the bale cool down a little longer.
Step 5 – Planting Time
Form a small hole in the straw bales and place your sprouted potato down in it. A scrap piece of 2×2 wood or PVC pipe works good for this. You want to place them about 2” from the bottom part of the straw bale.
Remember not to overcrowd them either, you only want a max of 3 holes in each bale, spaced about 9” apart and you can expect to get about a bushel of potatoes per straw bale by doing this.
So what’s the secret to successful potato planting in straw bale? It’s leaving the hole open after you plant the potato.
As potatoes are not roots, but tubers, the stem will sprout up through the hole and potatoes will produce all along that stem area.
Step 7 – Harvesting Your Straw Bale Potatoes
The harvesting time depends completely on you, as you can even plant the potatoes in the fall to make use of the colder periods for harvesting. You’ll recognize the right time for a harvest due to flowers forming on potato plants.
At this point you can just cut the strings of the bale and sift through and pull out your potatoes. What’s great about this method is there’s no dirt to dig through.
What about the remaining straw and stems? You can simply use it for compost in next year’s garden!
Tips For Growing Straw Bale Potatoes
Planting potatoes in straw bale doesn’t have to be much different than with regular soil. in fact, you can apply the same cultivation methods with this type of growing technique.
As growing potatoes requires enough space for the sprouts to spread, don’t place the seed potatoes too close to each other. Instead, you can build potato rows just like with the regular gardening methods.
Giving the seeds some space to sprout and develop is just one of the tips for growing a successful potato plant in a straw bale. So, we’ll give you a couple pieces of advice to get you started on the right track:
Cover The Potatoes During Sprouting
Perhaps the best method you can use to deal with the potato crop and make it advance faster is to cover the sprouts. Of course, you should leave the opening without any cover as we previously discussed, but that’s just the starting phase.
Once the sprouts thrive a couple of inches above the straw level, place loose straw on top of them. You can repeat this process over and over again, so just a few inches peak over the straw line.
So, you will have your potatoes surrounded by nutrient substances in the bale to entice further growth.
Avoid Dark Places And Water The Plants
As we previously discussed, you must give your plants enough light when growing potatoes. Watering is also essential, especially during the dry season when there’s no rain.
Ensuring enough sunlight and water along with the Nitrogen fertilizer found in conditioned bales will help your plants thrive.
Growing vegetables like potatoes with the help of straw bales can be an engaging and beneficial method for the healthy development of plants. The method saves you from dealing with some soil-based bacteria and you can even solve pesky weed issues with just some routine monitoring.
Furthermore, you only need to be watering the plants occasionally to ensure proper growth. Ultimately, it’s both an effort-saving and cost-effective method of growing different potato types.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ):
Can you grow potatoes with the straw bale technique?
Yes, you can save yourself the trouble of soil-based labor and avoid the potential bacteria with this simple technique. It’s a great way of achieving healthy veggies and higher yields.
Is this method better than planting in hay bales?
Growing potato plants with straw bales can be much better than with hay bales since these can sometimes contain seeds of grasses which will lead to a lot of weed growth. Ideally you want straw made of wheat chaff which is often used as bedding in horse stables.
When is the best time to plant potatoes in straw bales?
The best period to plant is from March to April. One of the advantages to this method is that the straw bale or hay bale will keep things a bit warmer so if you’re in a colder climate you can start planting earlier than normal due to frost concerns. You can plant really far into the season though.