How to Use Straw Bale Culture Growing for Indoor Crops

Using straw bale culture growing for indoor crops like tomatoes in a greenhouse. Includes how to set up straw bales for growing, suggestions for tomato transplanting sizes, fertilizing information and more.


| November/December 1982



078-087-01

Tomatoes thrive in a straw bed, where the presence of higher-than-average CO2 levels promote plant growth.


PHOTO: C. DONALD KNIGHT AND BETSY TAYLOR

How to use straw bale culture growing for indoor crops, a similar method to hydroponics without the special equipment or the twice-daily soakings necessary in many water-growing methods. 

How to Use Straw Bale Culture Growing for Indoor Crops

I think I've discovered the perfect compromise method for growing tomatoes (and other garden produce) indoors . . . a Golden Mean between the high-tech effectiveness of hydroponic cultivation and the simplicity—and lower cost—of raising plants in soil. I'm talking about straw-bale culture, a technique I heard of only after hauling some 300 cubic feet of pumice, gravel, and dirt to fill the planting beds of my new solar-heated greenhouse.

As I paused in the middle of that task to contemplate (and curse) the necessity of trucking still more earth to my conservatory, some sympathetic friends came to my rescue with tales of "soilless" hothouse gardening. Needless to say, the idea caught my fancy immediately. After all, who wouldn't exchange the transfer of tons of terra firma for the lifting of a little straw?

Bale culture, as noted above, is similar to hydroponics in many respects . . . but it does not require the special equipment or the twice-daily soakings necessary in many water-growing methods. In fact, plants raised in straw seem to need even less water than do those rooted in soil. And unlike the almost inert growing medium of the hydroponic system, the constantly composting environment of straw-nurtured plants provides some "bonus" nutrients for the vegetables . . . as well as a source of gentle heat for their roots and for the greenhouse.

Nor do the advantages of growing vegetables in straw end there. Tomatoes, in particular, seem to fairly leap at the chance to form huge nurturing root systems amidst the stalks .. . and such formations are (within limits) very productive of healthy plant tops. The composting straw also produces some CO2 gas, the presence of which in more than usual amounts tends to improve the growth rate and general health of all the vegetation in the greenhouse.

GETTING OFF THE GROUND
Because a typical straw bale is about 24 inches wide, I set aside room—in my conservatory—to accommodate a 2 foot by 20 foot bed of the material. After putting down a layer of plastic sheeting (to help the straw retain water), I simply set the bales end to end. (You could use loose straw held in place by barrier walls . . . but the unpacked stalks sink rather drastically in the course of time, displacing the plants. It's also somewhat difficult to stake tomatoes that are growing in unbound straw.)





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