If you are looking for an amazingly simple way to grow a bumper crop of zucchini this year, you need to try growing zucchini plants in straw bales!
Not only are zucchini easy to plant and maintain in bales, the elevated growing area makes harvesting a breeze. Even better, weeds and weeding chores all but disappear.
But perhaps best of all, you don’t need a large garden space to grow a big crop. And planting couldn’t be easier.
In fact, straw bale zucchini plants can grow anywhere where there is a little sunshine and space for a bale. Against the side of a house, on a sunny patio, or right in the middle of your backyard.
We first trialed the method after having big success growing cucumbers in straw bales a few years back. I have to say we were somewhat shocked and amazed at the results.
Not only did the straw bale zucchini plants produce an earlier crop than our garden planted zucchini, they also churned out a record harvest. Here is a look at how we plant zucchini in straw bales, and a few extra tips to get the most from your crop.
The Straw Bale / Zucchini Advantage
Straw bales have several built in advantages for growing zucchini. For starters, the bales are excellent at retaining moisture to the roots of plants. And zucchini, much like cucumbers, love their water!
In addition, the straw / soil mix allows the roots of the zucchini plants to expand more easily. And the more roots, the more ability for plants to soak up moisture and nutrients.
Finally, the elevated bales provide a natural cascade for the foliage to stay above the soil level. And that is extremely important when it comes to fighting off both pests and disease.
How To Plant Zucchini In Straw Bales
Success when planting zucchini in bales all begins with the planting process. First and foremost, you do not need to condition bales before planting with this method.
Whether planting cucumbers, zucchini or even tomatoes, we have never conditioned our bales. It simply isn’t necessary when using a soil mix in the planting hole.
Creating The Planting Holes
A standard square straw bale is about 14″ high x 18″ wide and 40″ wide. It is more than enough space to evenly space out 3 planting holes for your zucchini plants.
Using a triangle-style planting method, we carve out two holes toward the back ends of each bale, and one in the front center. Using a sharp knife or reciprocating saw, you can quickly create 3 holes that are 8″ to 10″ deep, and about 6″ in diameter.
Next, we fill the holes with an equal mixture of compost and potting soil. We also mix in a 1/4 to 1/3 cup of worm castings to the mix for each hole as well. The worm castings really give the plants an early boost of readily-available nutrients.
Slightly Mound The Planting Hole Top
For both zucchini and cucumbers, we actually extend the soil out of the hole to create a slight mound over each planting hole. It is only and inch or two above, but it help prevent the main stems from sitting in water and rotting off.
We have planted transplants and seeds in our bales, and both have grown extremely well. Transplants, of course, will lead to a faster harvest.
We finish the planting process by mulching the top soil layer around the plant with a few inches of pure compost. Not only does it help to insulate the soil, it also leaches nutrients to the roots when it rains or watering takes place.
Zucchini plants need plenty of water to grow a big harvest. Luckily, the straw bales work wonders in absorbing and holding moisture to the roots.
Plants will need to still be watered on a regular basis, especially during the first few weeks as their roots establish in the soil / straw mix. Once established, plants need about an inch of rain or water per week for best results.
Watch for signs of wilt or droop in the plants to determine when and how often to water. If plants begin to turn yellow, it is usually a sign of too much water.
Once plants have become established in the bales (1 to 2 weeks after planting), apply a light dose of liquid fertilizer to the plants every 2 weeks. Do this about 4 times over the course of the first 8 weeks.
Liquid fertilizers are absorbed quickly by the plants roots, stems and leaves. Far faster than using granular or slow release fertilizers. This will help the plants to early growth and stronger bloom sets.
Always fertilize early in the morning to avoid the heat of the day and issues with the burning the foliage. Once the plants begins to produce, you can back off on fertilizing. Fertilizing too much at this point can create too much foliage, and not enough blooms.
In lieu of commercial organic liquid fertilizers, you can also create your own homemade liquid fertilizer with compost tea or worm casting tea. See : How To Make And Use Compost Tea
It is important to harvest early and often to keep plants producing. Smaller zucchini tend to be far tastier that oversized fruits, so picking them young is best.
But in addition to better flavor, early picking encourages plants to continue producing flowers and more fruit. Unfortunately, when too much mature fruit is left on the vines, it signals the plant to cease new flower production.
So keep on picking, and keep on enjoying the ease and benefits of growing zucchini in straw bales! Happy Gardening – Jim and Mary
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