Driveway Container and Straw Bale Gardening

Turn your sunny driveway into a garden plot by gardening in containers and straw bales.


  • Herbs and vegetables will grow well in pots and straw bales situated on a sunny driveway.
    Photo by Craig LeHoullier
  • The author transformed his driveway into a garden plot by planting in containers and straw bales.
    Photo by Craig LeHoullier
  • With proper care, tomatoes will thrive when planted in straw bales or containers.
    Photo by Craig LeHoullier
  • Hot peppers planted in containers require lots of water and nutrients in the summer heat.
    Photo by Craig LeHoullier
  • If growing bell peppers in containers, plant them in 5-gallon pots, because they have significant root systems.
    Photo by Craig LeHoullier
  • Plant no more than two tomato plants per straw bale for best results.
    Photo by Craig LeHoullier
  • Squash can either be direct-sown or planted as seedlings in straw bales.
    Photo by Craig LeHoullier

I was smitten with my driveway last summer. For several weeks, it produced tasty tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, summer squash, basil, bush green beans, and cucumbers. Throw in some lettuce, Swiss chard, and beets, and I ended up with much more than a garden; it’s also a conversation piece, a local gathering place for neighbors passing by, a teaching center for children, and a chance to spread the joy of gardening.

But wait! The driveway surface is concrete. What’s the secret of succeeding with an annual garden bounty — a ton of fresh produce — in such a location? Why turn an automobile parking place (or basket-ball court, as the case may be) into a garden? Well, necessity is the mother of invention. You could also use a deck or a patio, or any place in your yard that gets good sun exposure.

Location and Creativity

When we moved from Pennsylvania to Raleigh, North Carolina, 26 years ago, one of the first jobs on my to-do list was to remove a 30-by-50-foot patch of sod on the side of the house for our new garden plot. The sun shone well on the spot we chose, and for 15 years we had a traditional dirt garden. Then, because of the ever-growing trees in the yard, our garden spot began getting less and less sun, and production began to drop off.  An area that gets at least six hours of direct sun will work for a garden plot, but when that hourly exposure drops to four hours or less, it can devastate a harvest.

Not having a productive garden was too depressing to consider. Scanning our property for a place where the sun shone adequately revealed that our driveway was the prime location. Clearly, removing concrete wasn’t practical, but using the space by growing our garden in containers was just the ticket. Then, a few years ago, we added straw bales to the mix.



Anything and everything that can be grown in a traditional dirt or raised-bed garden can succeed when using containers or straw bales. The key to success is in understanding the needs of the particular crop type: its optimum root zone (dimension-wise), watering and feeding needs, and means of support (if it’s a vertical or vining crop). Figuring all that out took a few years of experimentation along with a bit of logic and research. We’re so pleased with the results that it’s hard to imagine going back to the typical dirt garden plot.

Planting Options and Growing Techniques

Traditional dirt gardens, raised beds, containers, straw bales, hydroponics, greenhouses, and vertical gardening arrays are some of the many options to adapt your gardening plans to the infinite possibilities of yards, conditions, and growing zones. Any of these options will work well given some trial, experimentation, and patience. Most gardeners are familiar with an in-the-ground dirt garden, and many install raised beds. Adding containers and straw bales to your gardening tool belt will increase your options, and allow you to grow something great wherever the sun shines best in your yard. Just make sure you jump into new growing techniques gradually, as each has its own set of considerations to learn for maximum enjoyment and success.

MaineDruid
4/24/2021 2:10:17 PM

This is my sixth year doing straw-bale gardening, and I can heartily recommend it, not just on the basis of the fact that you can put your bales wherever the sun strikes your property, but especially because it makes gardening possible when one is disabled. It is raised-bed gardening without the expense of buying or the trouble of making raised beds. Not having to bend over (much) will allow me to keep growing vegetables as long as I can remain vertical. Oh, yeah--there are way fewer weeds and insects using straw bales. Win-win! Rael, I hear you regarding sourcing your straw. I would suggest getting in touch with whatever organic farming organization there is in your state; that's where I found the farm that I go to now for my bales. It's true that it's hard to find; I travel quite a ways and over some bad roads every year, but it's been worth it. A word to the wise: if you have a place to store bales over the winter (shed, garage, etc.), buy them in the fall. Farms may have none left in the spring when you want them. Craig mentions corn; in a word, don't! I avoided it for the first few years because of the expected toppling effect, then last year thought I could try a dwarf variety. I could not get my corn to stand up straight and won't try again. Other things that don't seem to me to work well in straw bales are root vegetables. So I concentrate on the veggies that have been productive and healthy in the past and look for anything else at farmers' markets or the grocery store. Another idea that did have good results was mixing flowers in among the vegetable plants. I didn't go out of my way to practice companion planting but did use a lot of annuals that seemed to deter bugs and made the garden more colorful and cheery. If you use some method to stabilize your bales, when they inevitably are saggy and largely decomposed at the end of the season, they will be less likely to collapse and ruin your tomatoes (for instance). Wedging them in place with heavy stakes at the outset helps a lot with this. Joel Karsten recommends pounding in T-stakes at the end of each row and placing 2X6 boards across the tops of each pair. Then you have something to attach string or wire to, for your climbers to latch onto. And they create a frame that you can toss a sheet of poly over if frost is predicted. I gave up on the boards after a couple of years and just stretch wire between the two T-posts to stabilize other supports such as tomato cages. Finally, when you've harvested the last morsel, and before the bales have frozen, relocate them to your compost pile and remove the twine. I have been moving mine every fall to a rocky, rooty area that I didn't have much hope of growing anything on; now the soil is built up to the point where I can put in the perennial flower garden I've been dreaming about.


MaineDruid
4/24/2021 1:16:51 PM

This is my sixth year doing straw-bale gardening, and I can heartily recommend it, not just on the basis of the fact that you can put your bales wherever the sun strikes your property, but especially because it makes gardening possible when one is disabled. It is raised-bed gardening without the expense of buying or the trouble of making raised beds. Not having to bend over (much) will allow me to keep growing vegetables as long as I can remain vertical. Oh, yeah--there are way fewer weeds and insects using straw bales. Win-win! Rael, I hear you regarding sourcing your straw. I would suggest getting in touch with whatever organic farming organization there is in your state; that's where I found the farm that I go to now for my bales. It's true that it's hard to find; I travel quite a ways and over some bad roads every year, but it's been worth it. A word to the wise: if you have a place to store bales over the winter (shed, garage, etc.), buy them in the fall. Farms may have none left in the spring when you want them. Craig mentions corn; in a word, don't! I avoided it for the first few years because of the expected toppling effect, then last year thought I could try a dwarf variety. I could not get my corn to stand up straight and won't try again. Other things that don't seem to me to work well in straw bales are root vegetables. So I concentrate on the veggies that have been productive and healthy in the past and look for anything else at farmers' markets or the grocery store. Another idea that did have good results was mixing flowers in among the vegetable plants. I didn't go out of my way to practice companion planting but did use a lot of annuals that seemed to deter bugs and made the garden more colorful and cheery. If you use some method to stabilize your bales, when they inevitably are saggy and largely decomposed at the end of the season, they will be less likely to collapse and ruin your tomatoes (for instance). Wedging them in place with heavy stakes at the outset helps a lot with this. Joel Karsten recommends pounding in T-stakes at the end of each row and placing 2X6 boards across the tops of each pair. Then you have something to attach string or wire to, for your climbers to latch onto. And they create a frame that you can toss a sheet of poly over if frost is predicted. I gave up on the boards after a couple of years and just stretch wire between the two T-posts to stabilize other supports such as tomato cages. Finally, when you've harvested the last morsel, and before the bales have frozen, relocate them to your compost pile and remove the twine. I have been moving mine every fall to a rocky, rooty area that I didn't have much hope of growing anything on; now the soil is built up to the point where I can put in the perennial flower garden I've been dreaming about.


Rael64
4/22/2021 4:29:19 PM

Straw bales do work well, but it is a royal pain to track down someone who has non-sprayed straw. Some folks get a bit 'rattled' when you ask if the straw is not sprayed, as if to not spray was tantamount to being insane and not knowing what you're doing. As well, the time and expense put into prepping the bales so they are well-broken down inside, without getting too 'hot' and smelling like death (literally - you will never forget that smell - been there, done that), ought be considered. But yes, once good bales of straw are found and well-prepped (3 weeks), they are sorta magical. I had tomatoes and various greens in mine - mustard, chard, and my new favorite tomato, Stupice - and once I moved the transplants in, they just grew and grew. Little weeding, basically maintenance free. So, I might consider such again. Finding that straw was really a pain though. Go figure.







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