Without a doubt, one of the most successful garden experiments we have ever trialed in our garden here at the OWG farm is the growing of cucumbers in straw bales.
In fact, ever since our first attempt three years back, it has become a staple planting method for cucumbers in our garden each year.
And why not? It simply produces an amazing amount of cucumbers with very little effort. ( You can see that clearly in the video near the end of the article)
Just how many? Try nearly 5 times as many cucumbers as our traditional cucumber plants in the garden do!
It worked so well, we even added zucchini to the straw bale planting mix this year. And, just like cucumbers, it has been an overwhelming success.
To date this year, from just two cucumber and zucchini straw bale plantings, we’ve pulled 2+ bushels of cucumbers and 3+ bushels of zucchini. And it’s only July 25th!
The Secrets To Success – Why Growing Cucumbers In Straw Bales Works
So why does the straw bale method work so well for cucumbers and now zucchini? Well, there are a few secrets to planting straw bales for success – and we thought we would share them with today’s article.
Planting In Straw Bale Crates
To start, having a support for the straw bales is critical.
Without it, the straw bales decompose and crumple down over time. As they do, the roots become loose and exposed, causing them to dry out way too quickly.
We used 2 x 4’s and pallet wood to create inexpensive crates to hold our bales. See: How To Make Straw Bale Crates
This year, we built a few new crates and doubled the size to hold 2 bales for each crate.
Planting Day – Supplying The Right Nutrients
A lot of folks ask us if we “condition” our straw bales. In a nutshell, conditioning is the process of letting the bales weather and age.
We actually have never conditioned our bales. In fact, this year, we used bales that were super fresh.
One thing we make sure we do though is provide our new plants plenty of nutrient-filled soil when planting.
We carve out a 6 to 8″ wide diameter hole about 8 to 10 inches down in the bale. Then, we fill it with a healthy mix of soil, compost, worm castings and even a bit of coffee grounds and crushed egg shells.
Long Term Care – Fertilizing & Watering
There is nothing complicated at all about planting cucumbers ( and zucchini too) in straw bales.
But to have success, it is absolutely vital to provide your plants both water and nutrients as the season progresses.
Straw bales plants will dry out at a much faster rate than those planted in soil. Especially when the plants are young and there is not much foliage to help block the sun’s rays.
We water our straw bale plants every day for the first month or so. In effect, treating them like a hanging basket or container plant.
After that, once the foliage starts to get thick, we may go an extra day or two between watering if they are looking strong.
How We Grow Cucumbers In Straw Bales – The Video
But one thing is for sure, it is absolutely vital to give them regular doses of water.
And here is a little watering tip: As vining plants like cucumbers and zucchini grow, it can be hard to see where the plant was actually planted to water.
We stick a small wooden stake right by the roots when we plant. That way, when they grow large, we still no where to water!
Fertilizing Tips – Growing Cucumbers In Straw Bales
In addition, although the nutrient filled soil helps get plants off to a great start, it isn’t enough to carry them through an entire year.
That is why it is critical to give plants a regular dose of nutrients through the growing season.
After planting, we give our plants a weekly dose of compost or worm casting tea for the first 6 to 8 weeks. And then, every other week after that.
In addition, we add a quarter cup of worm castings around the base of each plant every few weeks.
This one-two combination of a steady supply of nutrients is a huge key to their success. And even better, the plant’s roots take in the nutrients easily through the loose straw-soil mix.
Finally, it is so important to pick early and pick often. If the plants get too many cukes on the vines, it sends a signal to the plant to stop producing more.
So the more you pick, the more you’ll get!
Here’s to a great cucumber (and zucchini) harvest in straw bales! Happy Gardening – Jim and Mary.
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