Straw Bale Gardening: Don’t Overlook THIS Hidden Danger

Straw bale gardening can destroy your garden. A bold claim, but it’s true. Here’s what you need to know to safeguard your harvest.

Straw bale gardening can be disastrous if the straw was previously sprayed with herbicides

Colling-architektur, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Straw Bale Gardening Has a Hidden Risk

Straw bale gardening can destroy your garden.

A bold claim, but it’s true. And the evidence is mounting.

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Straw bale gardens have taken off over the last decade or so. I’ve seen some really pretty and clever methods of straw bale gardening. Just a quick Google image search will show you lots of beautiful straw bale gardens. It makes you want to jump right in, doesn’t it?

Are Straw Bales Safe to Use?

Unfortunately, straw bales (and hay bales) can destroy your garden for years. How? Let’s take a look.

Those of you that haven’t read Compost Everything: The Good Guide to Extreme Composting may be wondering why in the world I’d state that straw bale gardening can destroy your garden.

My friend Andi knows.

My friend Luzette knows as well, though her gardens were destroyed by manure, not directly via straw or hay.

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When I broke the story of toxic herbicides in manure back in August of 2012 via Natural Awakenings magazine, there were very few people that knew this stuff was around or how pervasive it really was. I wouldn’t have known either . . . if it hadn’t destroyed about $1000 worth of plants.

Since that first article, the stories keep mounting.

Toxic Herbicides Can Poison Gardens

Avoid straw bales that have been sprayed with herbicide

Image by Th G from Pixabay

I love the concept of straw bale gardening. It’s great. It’s a lot of fun and it’s a quick way to get a garden going without worrying about improving the soil. You could consider straw bale gardening a form of composting and gardening simultaneously. The soil beneath a pile of rotten hay or straw improves marvelously after a year or so, leaving a patch of humus-rich earthworm-populated earth.

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Yet if that hay or straw came from a field that was sprayed with one or more persistent herbicides such as Grazon™ or CleanWave™, the vegetables in your straw bale gardens will be wrecked. Not only that, you can’t even compost the contaminated straw because the toxins (usually aminopyralid or its cousin clopyralid) stick around and will destroy whatever ends up with the resulting compost.

Factory Farming’s Downstream Consequences

The reality of modern factory farming is that it’s farming based on poisons. Wheat, oats, barley and other grain fields, as well as hay fields, are often sprayed with herbicides to control broad-leaf weeds long-term. “Weeds” like blackberries, amaranth, etc.

The toxins don’t effect members of the grass family (grains included) but they will destroy most garden vegetables quite efficiently. I’ve been thanked multiple times from people that have either saved their gardens from these poisons—or who had finally figured out what had wrecked their crops.

Many people are just discovering the dangers. Check out this Amazon review of Compost Everything:

Compost Everything Amazon review

Do You Know Where Your Straw Came From?

Around my neck of the woods many farmers have discovered the amazing power of these herbicides to control weeds in their hay fields. They’re sprayed everywhere—it’s incredible.

As the grains/grasses grow, they uptake these toxins without harm. Animals can also graze on the fields without apparent issue.

Yet the resulting straw and manure still contains a potent dose of plant-killing power—and the toxins can stick around for years.

Toxic Pesticides in Animal Manure

Pesticide damage in garden - dangers of straw bale gardening

I’ve been offered free manure for my gardens many times. I’ve even been told, “We don’t spray anything on our fields.” Yet if those animals are eating hay from the feed store—or if there’s straw bedding in the stables—the chances of contamination are very high.

Just say no. You have to. Otherwise things like I’ve pictured above happen to your plants.


Protect Your Straw Bale Garden from Hidden Pesticides

Use this simple test to determine if your straw bales are safe from herbicide contamination

Image by Lisa Marie from Pixabay

If you want to start straw bale gardening, how will you know if the straw has been sprayed at some point? If you have some rotten hay you want to compost, how will you know if it contains deadly toxins or not?

Marjory recommends a simple test. (This test also works for manure.)

  1. Grow a flat of legumes.
  2. Mix the straw or hay with water in a five-gallon bucket and stir frequently for a day or two.
  3. Then, use the water on the legumes.
  4. Keep an eye on the legumes to see how they respond. If the second and third set of leaves look normal, the straw, hay, or manure is probably safe to use.

Note the word “probably” in that last bullet point. If you conduct this test with hay or straw of unknown origin, you’ll probably be on safer ground. There’s still a little risk, but it’s better than using bales willy-nilly without knowing their complete provenance and without any sort of testing first. That is going to blow up in your face.

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You won’t know, the feed store won’t know, and good luck tracing the straw bales back to a specific field so you can ask the original farmer if he’s sprayed anything within the last couple of years.

The Bottom Line on Straw Bales and Manure

I used to sweep up all the loose hay and straw every week or so from the local feed store after I got permission to scavenge it for my compost piles.

No more.

That’s a game of Russian roulette you’re going to lose.

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“7 Keys to Good Water Management in the Organic Garden”

Verdict: Unless you can verify that the fields from which your straw or hay was harvested weren’t sprayed within the last three years or so with persistent herbicides, you’re risking a lost gardening year . . . or more!

There was a time when straw bale gardening was a great idea. That time has passed.

Be safe.

What Do You Think?

How do you ensure your straw bales are safe? What are your experiences with straw bale gardening? Let us know in the comments!


This is an updated version of an article that was originally published May 6, 2016.

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This post was written by David The Good


  • ohohoh says:

    The solution is not to give up mulching and composting but to become discriminating and discerning about the source. Every year I buy straw bales from a certified organic farmer. I buy his year old bales that he wants to get rid of for the new hay crop to go in his barn. Since I am buying leftovers I get certified organic straw for the price of conventional. Every inch of my city residential yard is planted in annuals, biennials and perennials. If something I bring in to compost, mulch or plant isn’t certified organic I make sure I know where it came from and what practices were used to grow it. It would be nice if instead of discouraging people to use beneficial gardening methods you would instead warn them to educate themselves about chemical contaminants in agricultural materials and products and how to identify and avoid them. Your current approach is throwing the baby out with the bath water.

    1. Anita says:

      This is not 100% accurate. Do not forget that some of us have acreage and plant and and harvest our hay/straw and/or we buy hay from growers who do not spray. People need to do their research and ask questions. To write that this is the END of straw bale gardening is pure hogwash.

      1. G says:

        The article said big suppliers of hay basically. It didn’t say a thing about your own hay that you know it’s clean. The article is spot on.

      2. Billy says:

        I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer but I didn’t see anything about “the end” of straw bale gardening. I did pick up on the idea that we should ensure we are not getting “contaminated” straw or hay so we don’t kill our plants.

      3. Gary says:

        I agree Anita. Love my straw bale garden. Right now have a good stand of cabbage,broccoli, and collards

        1. Gary says:

          If some of you are concerned about cow manure you might want to look into vermiculture i.e. worms. Worm castings are some of if not the best fertilizer we have

          1. cre8tiv369 says:

            Speaking of worms and manure… whenever getting manure it is critical to know if it came from an animal that was recently “wormed” as in de-wormed. If you raise worms or simply like the earth worms in your garden, using/composting manure from an animal that has been de-wormed will kill any earthworms that manure/compost comes into contact with. Know your farmer and also know that a organic farmer/rancher will not hesitate to save an animal via modern medicine/ antibiotics/worming chemicals, and some may not be smart enough (or might be too lazy) to know to quarantine an animals manure during and after treatment. Unfortunately not all organic farmers “get it”, some are just stupid chemical farmers that converted to chase that sweet sweet organic money. Smart farmers don’t spray poison on food, smart people don’t eat food that was sprayed with poison, smart gardeners don’t use non Organics in thier gardens, and that includes mulch and manure, and they never assume anything is safe unless they made it themselves. Germans invented chemical farming as a result of running out of food during WW1 and WW2, while it did provide a temporary soil depleting/toxic fix, it was never sustainable. We did manage to get some beneficial understandings about plant science and biology that benefit organic gardeners, the rest of it is as bad an idea as directly eating the poisons sprayed on food to help it grow. Sometimes survival of the fittest is not about physical endurance/strength/health but about intelligence and common sense. It’s about not being stupid enough to eat or contact poisons and neurotoxins…. Go figure.

      4. Katie Church says:

        @Anita That’s what he said,,,unless you know your source..he never said don’t do it altogether,,why post negatively if you don’t read the full article?

    2. Auntie Crow says:

      Thank you! Kindness is showing the positive solution! We have enough nay-sayers. The whole world is not rotten!!

    3. Leslie Spurling says:

      I lost my seeded veg garden for about three years after using store bought hay instead of from my local source when he ran out due to drought. This was hay fed to my horse, composted for about two years before incorporating into the garden. The article/blog does not overstate the issue, it is very much real.

    4. debbie hill says:

      i agree!!!!!!!

    5. playindirt10 says:

      One should always do their homework when starting a project like growing food for ones family. Know where your materials come from and what their practices are. Always use straw bales sourced from a reliable farm grown organically. No where in your article do you even mention that. This particular technique can be a lifesaver for some families that don’t have the space for a garden. Rather then tear down this wise and eco-friendly technique,stress the importance of seeking organic resources out.
      Please support this healthy no waste important technique.
      You get a negative star from me for not writing a responsible article.

    6. Owl says:

      I didn’t get the opinion to stop this method of gardening but to simply be discriminating with the raw materials I use.

  • Ray Myers says:

    How long are these chemicals potent? Roundup/glyphosate as well. I live in North Central Montana. There are acres forever of hay and grain fields. Ten times more cattle than people (probably more than that). Its not hard to find a pile of hay bales gone bad or mountains of manure. Alot of this stuff has been sitting for years,the hay or straw decomposing for years.
    I see the spray rigs out on the highway every day, so I know some places are being sprayed. Lots of grain for major beer companies is grown here…I wonder how many spray their fields..
    I guess if a guy could find composting bales or an old stack,making their own bale would work.Thanks for the heads up..I was gonna go to town and get some bales this weekend to set a friend up with a straw bale garden. Only reason was the convenience factor. I guess we will go find an old pile somewhere..

    1. Susan says:

      You are looking at no less than 7 years with Roundup and those chemicals like it, I don’t allow any of them on our property. I used to watch our landlord (we lived next door), he would spray Roundup on his grass for weeds and then he would end up with a huge circle where the weed and the grass died and then he couldn’t figure out why his small pine trees kept dying. I tried to tell him but he didn’t believe me. Why don’t you go on Facebook and join one of the ranch pages and ask if there is any place you can get organic straw or old hay. Just do an “In search of” ad, you will probably get lots of information.

      1. Karen says:

        If your landlord was spraying glyphosate on his lawn, unless he was trying to eradicate his lawn and garden, he did not even read the label. Glyphosate is a broad-spectrum herbicide, valuable because it kills pretty much all plants. Roundup-ready corn or canola has been modified to resist it, meaning the farmers can spray with impunity, knowing that it will kill pretty much all other competing plants.

    2. Margaret Mills says:

      Composting does not break down the persistent herbicides. The persistent herbicides are broken down by soil microbes. You can’t wash them away by heavy watering. I had problems in about 2008 from horse manure I got from a neighbor. The manure was at least a year old when I got it from her manure pile. When I used it the maure was at least 3 years old so I thought it would be good to renew my garden. The potatoes did not like it–distorted stems and leaves, few potatoes (they went in the garbage). When I figured out the problem, I planted oats and vetch and got a great crop of hay which I went to the dump. Several years later I grew a wonderful crop of onions there. Finally I feel comfortable planting broad leaf plants. I no longer use manure but mulch with barley straw from a grower who assures me he does not use persistent herbicides.

  • Jeff says:

    thanks for posting this.I lost 800 plants 2 years ago to clopyralid in the the “organic” compost I bought.According to Elaine Ingham(personal Correspondence)there is one species of pseudomonas bacteria that will break it down ;over time.It’s been three years and that compost will still kill (or severely maim) any broad leaf plant .Solanacea and Leguminacea are the most sensitive.Nasty shit.My first question to anyone offering any kind of grass or manure related products is:Has it been tested for clopyralid?If there is ANY doubt,do not use it!

  • Liz says:

    What an eye opener. I tried it last year and it was awful and awfully expensive with very little yield. Never again. I never thought of this though. Pesticides are an earth curse to me and no, I have no idea where my strawbales had come from.

  • Kim says:

    Wow! The light bulb came on! Not because of the straw bales which are a couple years old at this point and have been pretty much laying fallow since I’m out of time. No, it’s because I mix manure from the box store into my container gardens. It used to be fine. The past couple years I haven’t even been able to grow lettuce! I couldn’t figure out what was going wrong, but now I have an idea. Thank you!

  • Bonnie says:

    Thank you for this article. I had thought of doing this type of gardening until I realized that spraying was a problem. I sticking with the good ol’ earth and some containers. At 74, I do not need to fill my yard with new problems.

  • Babycatcher says:

    Thank you for this info! You are a lifesaver, as I had considered getting straw for my gardens as mulch. No more. Our Manure comes from our two horses and donkey, and I think we might be OK on the hay issue, as there are weeds in the hay we buy. However, to think that it stays in the ground that long! It would destroy my farm! ( maybe that’s the nefarious purpose behind it, after all). Thanks for the warning. Blessings to you

  • Robin says:

    I actually thought of this. I love to put cow manure in my garden every few years. I was sitting outside the other day and saw the owner if the cows spraying the weeds where they graze. I’ll not be able to use that manure anymore! Probably roundup!
    What about these folks who are building straw bale homes? Just can’t get away with avoiding poison at every turn it seems!

  • d. henry Lee says:

    Never thought about it, but will now. Thanks for good advice.

  • Jana D. says:

    Very sad. I’ve also wondered about some commercial “organic” soils. Around here they come from our recycling, including grass clippings, and stuff from yard maintenance people. Is the “organic” soil from a different source? Are its organic genealogies bonafide? I don’t know. I hope someone does.

  • Joel Karsten says:

    This article is EXTREMELY misleading. Many basic facts counter to the authors agenda are simply, maybe purposefully, left out. Selling straw or hay sprayed with the listed herbicides is “off lable” use and therefore illegal. Farmers would be extremely unlikely to ever allow their crop to enter this market. In addition while this article makes many claims which might lead readers to believe this is an issue on a large scale, the fact is that very few actual cases where this has happened have ever been actually documented. These involved hay bales, and not straw. To my knowledge, not a single documented case exists of straw causing this issue. I have 23 years of extensive experience with straw bale gardening, and my opinion is that this article is simply “click bate” trying to create controversy where none should exist.

    1. Pam says:

      No. Sorry, but you are simply wrong. Almost all straw is sprayed nowadays, not only for weeds, etc but also to dessicate the grain more quickly.

      I bought round bales of straw for a horse shelter and almost 15 years later, there is still no sign of anything sprouting out of the straw. I hadn’t thought to ask at the time, but clearly it’d been sprayed.

      Not that many people yet use glyphosates on hay, but some do, for the same reason. Things have changed a lot.. I first saw what could happen when friends had to buy hay one year and every single one of their mares aborted; when they finally looked at the hay, they found it had been dessicated, something that none of us had ever run across before so it never crossed anyone’s mind to ask!!this year I saw ads that proudly ADVERTISED the fact that the hay had been dessicated!

      I live in the prairies, where grain is grown on farms from small up to townships in size, and it is getting harder and harder to find straw that hasn’t been sprayed. It is the norm now. Farmers have been told for years that it’s safe.. just as doctors used to tell people it was safe to smoke… so because they believe that they not only sell it, but they sell it for feed extender as well as bedding.

      Thousands of gardens in Britain were poisoned by contaminated manure. That product is no longer sold but it was too late for the gardens. I once got one bale of hay in a semiload that must have been sprayed with something.. it looked normal, but where it had sat on the ground NOTHING would grow for almost 8 years. NOTHING. not even the toughest of weeds. I still don’t know what was in it, but now, almost 12 years later, the grass is finally filling in the area.

      None of the studies saying this stuff safe have been done by governments, they have simply taken Monsanto’s word for it. Not the Canadian government, not the American government. If you actually look at ANY of the studies done by anyone not being paid by Monsanto et al. you will find that the results are invariably that it is NOT safe, that is DOES stay in the soil for at least a year. It’s been scientifically linked to cancers, diabetes, autism, leaky gut and a host of other diseases. It’s been banned in three countries for causing an epidemic of kidney failure deaths in farmers, specifically traced to glyphosate, and even the WHO says it is likely to cause human cancers.

      This is important stuff for people to know, it isn’t just click bait, it’s bringing people real information on just how dangerous the world has become, when farming relies on poisoning the food we eat.

      1. Martha says:

        Thank you for posting an excellent response to the dispute. You are absolutely correct, and people need to wake up to what is happening/has happened. Our government sold out to big corporations decades ago and has been in the pocket of Monsanto et. al. for way too long. Think of how much healthier our planet would be if we could get rid of the massive poisoning taking place on a daily basis.

      2. Joel Karsten says:



        So are the EPA and the NIH telling the truth in the above links to two most recent studies that all the hype over the toxicity of Glyphosate aka Round-Up, is total bunk? By the acute standard of LD50, glyphosate is indeed less toxic than either caffeine or table salt. It has an LD50 of 5600 mg/kg based on oral ingestions in rats, according to EPA assessments, placing it in Toxicity Category III. Did you know that the LD50 (lethal dose of 50% of exposed) Coffee is 192 mg/kg which means coffee is 29 times as deadly to a humans as Round-Up. Keep your head in the sand if you want, but don’t try to educate me about the use of Ag Chemicals until you get your basic facts in order.

        The attempt to manipulate people’s opinions by those who do not even a basic understanding of FACTS, is very frustrating. People like the author of this article who simply read propaganda and recites as fact anomaly occurrences that are neither controlled nor evaluated based on any scientific technique or protocols. Your arguments are similar to people that used to be convinced that the earth was flat, simply because they did not understand basic science nor would they listen to those who tried to reason with them. Keep up the ignorance at home because nobody will protect you from yourself, but don’t try to spread that ignorance to others publicly and expect to never be challenged for your ignorance.

        This article is completely “Clickbate”. Understand that the owner or this blog gets paid by his advertisers based on how much traffic he generates. I am sorry to those who believe a word of it, many of you are simply victims of this author’s ignorance and deceitful intent to generate clicks.

        1. Metermaid says:

          You don’t know what you are talking about. Glyphosate is being found in our water, soil, and our bodies. Send your urine in to be tested and you’ll probably find that your own body has glyphosate in it. The bees aren’t dying because people are “organic” gardening. The bees are dying because of some CHEMICAL being used in their environment. The soils are being DEPLETED because of CHEMICALS being used in them. And tests have shown that REGENERATIVE gardening can remove excess carbon from the air and soil. Not happening with CHEMICAL gardening. There are a lot of helpful and not so helpful comments on straw bale gardening. I can’t really comment on it yet because I am at the beginning phase of my experimentation with the straw. I AM an experienced, chemical free gardener. My current garden soil has been under my care for 13 years and is full of helpful earthworms, and no chemicals.

        2. Sandy says:

          The discussion about RoundUp (RU) has heated up quite a bit in the last couple of years since this article was published. I would not consider it “click-bait” in face of how disastrously toxic our commercially farmed food has become. Independent scientists have worked very hard to understand what is going on in the RU formula, which has been copyrighted as a trade secret. Laborious analysis indicates that it includes glyphosate, but has other chemicals in it that further leverage the herbicidal and longevity of the effects of glyphosate. And now we have the legal judgement against Monsanto for drift damage and deceptive practices regarding marketing and labeling. At right about the same time as the judgment came through, I watched a youtube ad promoting the us of a variant of RU that would penetrate deep into the soil and kill the insects in it., and recognize quite clearly that these people are not going to go away any time soon. I am fortunate to live in a rural wetlands community where farmers and farm stores in general take pride in protecting the health of their land and the water at flows through it. However, I have learned to politely ask ask about their perspectives in the use of chemicals, and to politely decline to buy from them if they don’t seem clear about the impact of the chemicals some do use. I do have ferociously tenacious weeds growing in the one area with sunlight enough to grow a garden, and have to mulch heavily and weed often. Out of practicality I have begun to look for easy to grow (and manage) compost crops and experimenting with ways to use my ferocious, but less invasive weeds as compost, mulch and living mulch.

        3. dragicaf says:

          ‘Understand that the owner or this blog gets paid by his advertisers based on how much traffic he generates. I am sorry to those who believe a word of it, many of you are simply victims of this author’s ignorance and deceitful intent to generate clicks.’
          Who do you get paid by for selling fake science?

      3. Lexie says:

        We had the problem with the mares aborting and found out it was a contaminant on fescue grass that did it. We hadn’t ever planted it but the neighbor whose pasture adjoins ours, had.

        I planted my first straw bale garden this past spring and had tremendous success with it. I harvested gallons and gallons of tomatoes off of my four plants all the way through December by building a large “cold frame” type structure over them before freezing weather hit. Now I’m growing kale, chard and brussel sprouts without any problems except bugs. I used diatomaceous earth for those with great success.

        The facts are pretty straight forward that herbicides are being used with such reckless abandon that they are being found in the tissues of babies who have never tasted anything except breast milk. We can argue gardening techniques forever but that particular point is not really disputable. I plan to start next spring with raised beds and, after reading this, I don’t know what to fill them with. I had planned to straw bale garden within them and have enough compost by 2020 to fill them with new dirt. I do have a large worm farm and use castings and earthworms in all my beds as well as manure tea from my own cows.

    2. Barron Stainback says:

      Joel, I agree wholeheartedly with your comment, this article is “click bate”

    3. John Harrison says:

      Bravo, Joel Karsten I have been straw bailing for several years without problems along with Earth Boxes
      and conventional in the soil planting. I don’t use manure on my bales or in the Earthboxes; but will use horse manure after sitting for a year or more in the garden. All my straw is from an organic farmer I know and no use of any pesticides are allowed on my property (about 50 acres). So far no problems.

    4. Cherri Hankins says:

      Thank you Joel for weighing in on this. I do believe in “buying local” and supporting local, organic farms. Doing so, and knowing that farmer and his/her practices is what will insure clean bales. My hay comes from the property across my road. My next door neighbor grows it and I can see how he does that, as well as ask him about his spraying techniques. As I read this article, I thought that it seemed alarmist. Of course, if we don’t stay informed and communicate such concerns, things can rapidly go that direction completely! Buy Local! and Be Informed about your food sources.

    5. Leslie says:

      Thanks Joel, I hate it when they write these articles because most people over react and I live in an area where there isn’t much spraying done and have not had any problems, I will still continue to teach your way of straw bale gardening for as long as people have gardens.

    6. Sam says:

      It’s a huge problem. Even soil that’s been mixed with cattle manure from conventional feed smells like someone’s sprayed Roundup and/or 2-4D on the pile around here. I’m sourcing for myself and clients, and have confirmed (livid as hell?!) when a 10 yrd pile of soil has shown up first load after frost and it smelled like a lawn guys truck!? Not funny. Many phone calls and distribution chain convos later and it’s in the manure. Just like the glyphosate is in the meat, but it’s also excreted in the urine. I’ve watched Roundup stay active on litter and straw and wood mulch… when it’s not supposed to persist ON BARE SOIL., but it DOES persist in the organic layer and destroy beneficial microbes (it’s a patented chelator and antibiotic). I’ve also seen 2-4D move throught the water table and hammer broadleaf (again, that’s not what the reps will tell anyone, but I’m sure none of us are shocked).

      Last year in southern manitoba where I am, there wasn’t a single supplier of straw to the garden centers I phoned or the guys I normally buy from could find, that wasn’t Roundup desicated straw. The stores weren’t happy either because this is what many people are buying or using it to mulch down after using on septic fields etc. The only way they could get not-sprayed flax or wheat straw was if it was from an organic farm, and that’s not an option for the big garden centers *yet*. I sourced my own from a local guy who has flax that’s not sprayed for using around a cottage we bought last year, but even that took me through 4 local farmers before finding one who wasn’t spraying flax. It’s ubiquitous though Manitoba, Saskatchewan and I’d guess Alberta too after seeing the glyphosate levels in health Canada’s testing of legumes, grains and flax.

      Clearly some people still don’t realize how badly dessication has spread now that foliar application got the green light for GE crops. The 20 year-fallow hay field by us was sprayed last fall, cut, and stems dead within 24 hours… I have no idea what scary-a $$ formula was used to do that, but someone bought hay that would have destroyed the gut flora of their ponies this winter. The only issue I have with this well written and useful article, is that, no, the animals aren’t unaffected… their guts and immune systems get ravaged by the chronic exposurexposures to this too. And, since the nutrients don’t get into the plants, the consumers (us or Bessie the cow) don’t have them available to use either… so it’s a synergistic whammy.

  • Sodbuster says:

    So what are people supposed to use plastic barriers and synthetic fertilizers I think not simple solution is to source your compost or mulch From an organic certified source

  • Amanda Evans says:

    This may be a silly question, but what if the straw or hay is organic? Certainly organic farmers cannot spray these pesticides on the hay. Has anyone ever found organic straw at there feed store?

    1. panhandlepam says:

      I have never found organic Hay or Straw at any feed store.

  • Sabrina says:

    Now I understand why my vegetable garden never did thrive, on the island of Maui of all places!
    I knew other gardeners who had bountiful gardens with the same exposure, soil, etc. The only difference was I had hay baled my compost pile and that compost was all I used on my plants, besides azomite.
    I guess not even the azomite could overcome using the hay bales. I am definitely glad to learn this as it was a very disheartening experience which I thought had to do with gardening in a tropical climate.

  • Lindsey B says:

    Oh great. Last year this was the thing to do.
    This year it’s dangerous.

    After I invest in the whole dang plan, now this comes out.

    When the backyard gardening conference last summer was held, I was sold on the straw bale garden concept.
    Bought the book & followed the directions…

    I hope this isn’t a big waste of time & money.

  • Candee Silveria says:

    I take it then that using straw to mulch on top of my garden soil is going to have the same effect?
    I have collected some bales of straw the last few years from our April Off-road motorcycle races here
    just for the purpose of mulch. Have no idea where the straw came from. Haven’t used the soil from underneath,
    and haven’t used any in my compost barrel. I have a new, very small 10 x16 garden plot which I have been preparing over time with manure I’ve collected from all the wild horses we get here. I’ts against the law to feed them, so their diet is
    local flora. Made sure it was dried out in the open for a year before working it in along with my compost.
    No trees to speak of that I can collect the leaves from, and no lawn at all. My neighbor used to use an herbicide on his!
    so I was looking forward to using the straw. I’m in Virginia City, NV, zone 7a, elev. 6000′.

    1. Joe says:

      Issue with the feral horse manure is that they travel down to the bottom of Geiger where the neighborhoods are and eat all the sprayed lawns and bushes they want. Since most people rope/fence off maybe its not much of an issue, but you still wonder.
      It’s beginning to seem like the safest source of organic material is that which you grow yourself, or perhaps collect from un-populated areas in the Highlands or maybe BLM areas.
      Not certain what we’re going to do once we start up our patch.

      1. Candee Silveria says:

        You’re right, Joe! Hadn’t thought about them eating my neighbor’s grass, which was sprayed, duh!
        Guess I’ll have to buy some reputable bagged compost, since i don’t make enough on my own. I did use straw from one of VCMM’s races a few years ago to ‘ring’ a potato tower, and got potatoes! But no guarantee the bales are still coming from their same source and I need to find out who to ask about that. Really want decent mulch, since our water bills are so high now! Thanks for your feedback, appreciated.

  • Kurt says:

    For years, I’ve added a couple of bags of mushroom compost (from a big box store)
    to a raised bed with good results. Last year – a disaster! Beans, squash, etc looked anemic
    r didn’t grow at all – I suspected a residual herbicide.

  • Linda Conlon says:

    Does this mean that straw also cannot be used as a mulch?

  • Daryle in VT says:

    There was a well documented clopyralid residuals attack from compost that was distributed in upstate Vermont a few years ago. A test was developed using pea seeds to verify yea or nay quickly. If the peas sprouted then withered, the soil failed. It seemed that rotary tilling exposed the residual toxin to the heat of the sun, where it broke down in one to two years. Affected fields were planted with corn which was not affected by the toxin residuals. I suspect a soil blend containing the straw sample in question could be devised.
    I remember doing several “pea tests” to identify clopyralid residuals. Either UVM Extension or Cornell published instructions. I’m guessing the information is still on line, google it.

    1. Perri Morrison Smith says:

      Yes, the information is still online concerning clopyralid remaining in horse and cow manure for years, as well as an often used chemical by DOW named “Grazon”, which is a chemical named aminopyralid, and the chemical found in Purina horse feed, known as picloram. These chemicals remain in composted horse and cow manure for many years. I did not find anything related to chicken or rabbit manure, yet, but I would be sure to check where ANY feed is coming from.
      And for those who question this, let your fingers do the ‘googling’ – it’s there, and it is not good.

  • I hadn’t thought of this risk. Luckily we only by hay from one farmer who is too cheap to use spraysm. I told him I’d rather have the weeds 🙂 the problem with straw is that it often comes from grain crops that have been sprayed to ripen them. Great post. Will help people avoid this potential garden disaster!

  • Angie says:

    Very true! I am doing hay bale gardening this year, for the first time. I made sure I got local, no spray, “not weed free”, hay. Not straw! Straw is made from grains, not grasses. Almost all grains are GMO now, too. So using hay just made more sense to me. Also, this is in a separate area from my vegetable garden, so if by some chance, all my herbs start dying, at least my veggies will be safe!

    1. Bear N. Hardin says:

      You will end up having to water much more than with actual straw bales, if you use hay instead. It is the water holding capacity of the straw itself, due to the capillary action of the individual tubular stalks, which stores the water and allows the quick internal composting action to occur. Once the interior of your bales are composted, however, (which may take much more frequent watering and a longer time than with straw, fair warning!), hay should work as well. Used old “mulch hay”, myself last year, so I speak from experience. I am a Master Gardener as well.

  • cat says:

    I just wanted to add that I had my whole yard and veg garden ruined for 10 years or more from accepting some cheap ‘farm topsoil’ sold to folks who were helping me level and landscape. So it is not just hay and manure you have to watch out for.

  • Marianne Slattery says:

    I had NO idea, I never thought about toxins in the straw but it makes sense! Thank you for the warning and info!

  • Kate Alvo says:

    Yup. Same thing happened to my garden after I used straw as mulch. Also happened to my compost pile, that apparently had the same straw in it. It just wouldn’t heat up, no matter what I did.

    I now am very diligent about warning students and clients about this to make sure they use organic straw for any gardening or compost applications. I have been trying to re-establish the health of my garden for the past two years. For two summers in a row, nothing would grow in my garden, even after I removed all the straw. Hopefully this year will be better.

    ALWAYS use organic.

  • M. Perry says:

    Please make a suggestion of what we CAN use for mulch/compost. It sounds almost impossble to find something that’s really safe to use.

    1. Cheryl says:

      Leaves from known trees. Chop them up (mower, reversed blower) and they won’t be a slimy mess.

  • DD says:

    Hay bales and straw bales are not the same thing. Do your research. Also manure that comes from a stall that uses wood shavings for bedding I would think would be okay for compost and fertilizer (need to make sure it is old, as in at least a year old because the urine will burn the plants if it is not allowed to sit a while). Not everyone uses straw for their stalls.

    1. Bea says:

      What about the hay that the animals eat? If that is sprayed, then would the manure be contaminated, also? Ugh!!!

      1. Gordon says:

        Yes, it can be. It passes through the animal.

  • Reed Verdesoto says:

    What should I ask the farmer that rents on my grand parents property? He grows 25 acres of corn yearly and sprays cow manure on it multiple times a year. Thanks for the help in advance.

  • Pam says:

    you can use straw or hay that’s organic, there won’t be any problems at all. You can use leaves. Some people use wet newspaper or cardboard, others wouldn’t touch it. Wood chips are super, as long as they aren’t from something like walnuts. Sometimes sawdust can be used, NOT from chipboard or MSB because of the glues!! – but it tends to pack so you have to be a little careful, also if it gets mixed into the soil it can draw out nitrogen while it breaks down. You can solve that by peeing on it, lots of nitrogen ( and other nutrients!) in urine.

    Coffee grounds are wonderful if you can get them. Or you can grow green manure crops and chop and drop them in place, buckwheat is good for this but you have to drop it before it starts to go to seed or you’ll never get rid of it. clovers, alfalfa, mustards -grow your mulch in place!

    1. Sandy says:

      Nice list, Pam. to the not-for-mulch list I would add cedar, which takes a long time to break down, and fine sawdust, which can form a dense clump and smother soil organisms unless it is mixed with mulch of a rougher texture. And I have also often wondered about commercially raised coffee, which I have been told is heavily sprayed with ag chemicals while it is growing.

  • This is a great article! One thing to remember with most of these persistent herbicides, wormers, etc is that they do break down rapidly with exposure to UV light (i.e. sunlight). One way to be able to utilize the often times plentiful and cheap resource is to spread it out thinly in a sacrificial area and turn it every so often to get the material plenty of exposure to the sun and air. That’s probably why David had pretty good success with the feed store swept up free hay. Fungal action does a really good job at remediation of the toxic components in the sprays as well. I’ve had good success soaking straw bales and keeping them moist for a season. They get some pretty massive fungal flushes (nothing edible or that you would want to eat of course!), but after that the material seems to work well as mulch. I don’t think this would be as easy with hay because of its tendency to want to compost down (quite a bit more N in the hay vs. the straw).
    Don’t rule out this resource, just be aware of the potential problems and take measures to mitigate them!!

    1. Seamonkey says:

      Thanks for this! At this moment my whole jump-on-the-bandwagon straw bales are spread on my whole garden in a thin layer getting soaked by rain. i had spent so much money on organic fertilizer to prime eight bales, so i thought i’d make sure to re-use them. I am not a fan and won’t be strawbaling again, but my cover crop is doing fine so far so i dont think i need to go out and scrape it all off as poisonous!! Thank you for some remedial advice. This sensationalist article needs balanced with info on what to do if you have already “!!!completely destroyed!!!” your garden.

  • This is the same that Joe Lamp’l experienced with a batch of manure he used. It contained harmful chemical via the grass the cows were eating and passed right through his garden.

    My solution that I have found is to create your own compost by using your own grass clippings, leaves, food scraps, etc., and for mulch, what I like to do is use the pine needles that fall from the trees in the park behind my house.

    I have been doing this for nearly 14 years and it works well for me.

  • Josh says:

    It’s best to impossible to find straw that has not been treated. Look for bark mulch, not the large pieces of bark, but some that has been ground down. It is a much better mulch than straw anyway. It may be hard to find but is well worth a drive and the cost.

  • david hartlin says:

    If this is true how can farmers grow different crops in the next year. They rotate crops from grains, grasses, corn and soy as well as others, how could they do this if what you say is true?

    1. Jeff says:

      It is definitely possible there is some chemical residue in the straw. The labels of herbicides have a section stating what crops can be planted after application. We call it plant back. If I want to plant cotton behind grain sorghum and I applied atrazine to the grain sorghum, there is a certain waiting period I need to follow or there is a chance the cotton could be damaged. Climate plays a huge factor in this. Hotter climates break down the herbicide at a quicker rate. Soil type also comes in to play with application rates and plant back intervals. Once again READ AND FOLLOW THE LABEL.

  • Costa Rica Prepper1 says:

    I’ve experienced symptoms of this but didn’t connect the dots. thanks!

    1. Arlie Haig says:

      Wondering where you are in Costa Rica? We have a farm in Rivas, all organic and don’t use bought material but know of others who do. Hope to hear back from you!
      Arlie Haig ajhaig@sonic.net

  • Christo says:

    Love your logic John Harrison. Why on earth would you go organic if you are unafraid of Monsanto and company? Why would you ever see to it that all your straw came from organic farmers if this was no issue? Yes, the heading was disturbing, but not worse than any newspaper. Thanks David for the heads up.

    I always thought Americans were really going the whole hog on organics until I saw Ty Bollinger’s site The Truth About Cancer. I have no connection to him whatsoever. On of the things I saw in one of his video’s was comment about herbicides. Apparently there are two ways of fighting off weeds and insects. One is the known Roundup issue, but the other one is a real shocker. It was said that there is a virus which actually make a bactericide and this gene is spliced into the grain. The grain you eat (or rather the killers in the grain) then kill microbes in your digestive tract.

    Nice going. I don’t think I need to have Certified Scientific Research Papers to tell me to watch my step. Especially as other reports reveal how “papers” can be written up by copywriters not having a clue about the inside knowledge of the subject, purely pushing a political agenda.

    Stunning to discover that Carnegie and Rockefeller started the entire big pharma thing we battle today. Also thought the Americans were a bit health nuts, going overboard about it.

    I humbly apologize as I stand corrected severely. In South Africa our agriculture is a carbon copy of that in America. But, as I said, I have no connection to Ty. Before you hit me with the big mallet, please go and do your own research on this.

    1. Sandy says:

      Chemicals will leach into soil and travel through it. Also soil insects and microorganisms that aen’t kill off by the chemicals will consume the straw from underneath and travel freely through the looser soil in your beds.

  • Kim says:

    I don’t put hay or straw IN my garden, but I do lay down flakes of hay or straw on the pathways thru my garden so I don’t have to walk on the muddy pathways after watering or a rainy day. I do not till the pathways or remove the material, it just breaks down. Will this harm my actual garden beds?

  • Mr Bill says:

    Any idea about using grass trimmings from commercial sod for compost or top mulch? It was installed last fall and hasn’t had anything added to it since then.

    1. Mary Hayden says:

      A grass seed grower I talked to said she definitely uses aminopyralid on her crops because it kills only the broad-leaf weeds and leaves the grass and sod unharmed. This product is used on grain crops or on hay eaten by animals without apparent harm to them, but it lingers through their digestive tracts so the manures are as deadly to broadleaf plants as the straw waste product often sold by feed and farm stores. My Wilco farm store said I should consider all straw contaminated unless purchased as organic or grown on my own land. If in doubt, make a strong tea from your straw, steep it a couple days, then use it to water bean and corn seeds planted in clean compost. If this herbicide is present in the tea, the beans, if they germinate at all, will be stunted and deformed. The corn, which is a grass, will be unaffected. It’s worth taking the time to do this.

  • Jeff says:

    One thing not being mentioned is the carbon to nitrogen ratio when using a straw bale. A straw bale is NOT an ideal growing media. When decomposing, it creates an environment that is too “hot” for many plants to thrive. We see this in fields with high levels of decomposing plant matter such as sugarcane the first season after terminating that crop. The microorganisms are literally heating up the soil while decomposing the crop residue and an unfavorable growing environment is created resulting in poorly growing plants. Nutrients are also temporarily tied up. While you may have some pesticide residue in the straw bale, I do not see how there would be enough to harm the plant if the pesticide was applied according to label. The statement above concerning glyphosate killing a tree is one example. I would bet that the neighbor did not measure the amount of glyphosate he put in the sprayer. 2 to 4 oz per gallon is usually the rate. There are also some glyphosate products with additional herbicides in the mix. Glyphosate alone will not sterilize the soil or kill a plant it does not touch. It is a contact herbicide that must enter through the leaves and is translocation to the roots and kills the plant. If it doesn’t touch the plant it won’t kill it. We use hooded sprayers in cotton and only the plants that come in contact with the glyphosate are killed. The main negative I have seen with glyphosate over time is a reduction in soil health. This can be quickly resolved by adding applications of humid acid and a high quality soil microorganism product. It is all about knowing how to use the tools you have correctly. But remember to keep the carbon to nitrogen ratio in mind with straw bale gardening.

  • Bryant Redhawk says:

    I have been using straw bales for gardening for several years. This is a great technique but you should always know your sources for anything you are going to use for growing food. My bales come from one wheat farm, it is not certified organic but he doesn’t even own a sprayer and he doesn’t use chemicals anywhere on his farm. He is a “natural” farmer.

    If you have straw that you suspect then mychorrizal fungi are one part of the answer. I get hay for our hogs from the same farmer and when we are done for the winter, the left overs go into the compost heaps. I then put on a 2″ thick layer of spent coffee grounds, this nitrogen rich waste material does great things for a compost heap. It adds nitrogen which causes the heap to heat up quickly, it contains several bacteria and fungi which also help in the break down and they help break down any “nasties” that may have come along. I have worked for three years to get plenty of hyphae growing in our soil, we have an earthworm per sq. inch now as well as fungi spawn and a multitude of bacterium. Being mindful of what you are using is a key, then you can take time to remediate suspect materials with bacteria and fungi prior to using these in the garden.

    Straw bales need a “break in” period of at least three weeks. You set them in place, water to saturation, add nitrogen and water the bales daily for this break in time span. Once this is done, you are ready to dig your holes, add some soil and plant. Properly prepared bales will be in the process of myco-remediation when you plant, this goes a long way towards decomposition of any “cides” the bales may contain. Of course it is always best to know your materials and what they may have hidden within them.

  • Terry Stranger says:

    He’s partly right. Planting veggies, herbs, any broadleaf plant in a bale that has pesticide carryover will wreck your crop; it will NOT wreck your garden. Southern blight, for example, WILL wreck your garden perhaps for years if not forever. There is a simple test determine if pesticides are purchased bales: cure one making it ready for planting then insert a transplant or insert a seed. It will die if pesticides are present. Then, what do you do with all those bales you purchased–mulch your grass. Pesticides do not kill grasses. This article contains too much hyped information for me.

  • As a landscaper in Sweden, one of the worlds strictest countries when it comes to the use of pesticides, I have still advocated this for years. Always check where your organic material, straw, manure or other, comes from, and if you can´t ensure it´s pesticide (and antibiotics) free, don´t use it, at least not to grow vegs in. Although using mykhorizza and promoting microorganisms may take away some of the effect of the bad things, when it comes to things we are supposed to eat it is better to be safe than sorry.

  • james says:

    One partial solution might be to ‘grow your own’ rabbit manure. Just make sure you get non-sprayed Timothy Hay for them to eat. Their pellets do not need composting before you put them on your veggies. ‘They’ don’t want you to be able to feed yourself. Rabbits + veggies goes a long way towards self-sufficiency. So does aquaculture, but rabbits are just a lot easier and can tolerate a ‘growing environment’ that does not have to be very carefully controlled for ph & whatnot.

  • Holly says:

    Dang, so we started buying straw thinking it was better than hay that may have been sprayed with grazon. Mostly we use in our chicken coop. What else can we use? So frustrating.

    1. Ginger says:

      Holly, simply buy a grass alfalfa mix, grazon does not affect broad leaf plants, so if there alfalfa in the mox it wasnt sprayed.

      1. Jan says:

        Alfalfa is also a GMO plant.

  • Diane Deming says:

    I have straw that has been in my barn for nearly 50 years. Would that be free from pesticides? The article was probably a life saver for my garden.

  • Chris says:

    I have some old Hay I was going to put on my garden, now I won’t. But I was wondering if I added it to my burn pile and then spread it out on the ground would that destroy the bad chemicals in it if there are any?

    1. Diane Balsara says:

      All chemicals, when heated, go through a change so sometimes something that hasn’t been heated isn’t harmful until it is. Think of the reports on Aspertame changing into wood alcohol when left out in the sun and being the suspected culprit of illness of our troops after Desert Storm. I’d do a test area before using it everywhere.

      1. Chris says:

        True. But fire is over 1000 degrees and should cleaner about anything. Don’t you think so?

  • Debbie says:

    The article makes some good points in that I was not aware of the persistence of toxins, but had assumed that they would break down naturally within a short time of being applied. Isn’t that the excuse people who use them have for frequent reapplications?

    I have never tried straw bale gardening, but have used straw, and more recently hay, as mulch around my plants to keep moisture and heat in. Any problems I have had are not due to my vegetables dying, but rather “volunteers”, as we like to call them, sprouting from viable seeds left in the bales and trying to take over the space. It helps to cover the bales and let them bake in the hot sun for a few days before using them, for natural weed control.

    If you cannot grow the straw or hay yourself, it is best to know where it came from and whether the farmer uses any herbicides or pesticides. I would not ever buy it from a big box store.

  • Sheri says:

    I was against the concept of planting into bales of hay/straw to begin with. It’s not composted enough and robs vital nitrogen from plants. The composting process requires nitrogen. I don’t use it as a top mulch for any perennials either, vegetable or flower. It puts to much stress on them as it robs them of needed nitrogen to be stored in their root system to get them through the winter months. The worms compost it until it’s broken down to humus and worm castings, only then is it applied in my garden in the spring. In my northern region that compost process takes 2 years. What is very noticeable is the “earthworm” population in my compost. It use to be only red wigglers and tiger worms but that has changed.

  • Lindal says:

    Last year was my first year using straw bales. I needed extra gardening medium as my raised beds were already planned for. in January, I purchased straw from a big box store which sat idle and seasoned themselves for 5 months. I planted watermelons, cantaloupes, cucumbers, and several varieties of winter squash in 10 bales. I watered and fertilized as required. ALL seeds sprouted successfully and produced lush plants and due to our abundant pollinators, bumper crops. The bales were not contaminated with herbicides as many weeds also sprouted in the bales. In my area seedless straw bales are primarily used as animal feed.

    Yet still, the article is a warning to test a batch of bales prior to full out planting. I reason that a good test would be to plant peas in a random bale to see if the seed comes up and produces a quality plant.

  • Thomas Thompson says:

    Buying straw is a crapshoot. I live in Binghamton, New York. First year, I bought expensive bales from our local Agway. They were bigger bales out of Canada. Agway people had no way of knowing if it had been sprayed. This was the best stuff I ever used. Second year, I bought wheat straw from a beef farmer in Pennsylvania. Very good stuff, cheaper, and smaller bales. I bought another bunch of bales, late season, from another beef farmer in New York who baled “swamp grass.” This stuff was crap, although it did produce some good cucumbers. In 2015 we had tons of rain and the garden went crazy in a matter of 3 to 4 weeks. Abundance of produce galore. In 2016, we had a severe drought and I didn’t have a catchment system under the bales. Daily water usage skyrocketed. Pulled out all the bales and put them in a big compost pile. I’m switching over to the rain gutter grow system and the grow bag grow system touted by Larry Hall of Brainerd, Minnesota on YouTube. Gonna try this in 2017. I also love the keyhole gardens. They produce every year without fail. Very good YouTube videos by Larry Hall and George Hendren Sr. This is my favorite https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bUHWUs9372Y I grow within a high fenced area on asphalt that was 4 old tennis courts. All growing is above ground. I started many, many years ago with the Earth Box out of Scranton, PA. If money is not an issue, keyhole gardens can be purchased here http://www.keyholefarm.com A cheaper method is here https://thesimplehive.wordpress.com/2014/03/31/build-a-keyhole-garden/ I can make a 4 block high, 17 block around garden for about $107. What I like is the root depth and you can pile tons of stuff in these gardens. Put in a chicken wire composter and load it up. The blocks make it easy to put a PVC pipe cage over for green house effect. Don’t forget the worms. And if you ever need to take it apart, it’s easy.

  • Diane Balsara says:

    Good article. Not something I had thought much about. I have just a little city mini-garden and generally I save my compost, dig a hole and bury it. I’m in S FL so a compost could get pretty stinky. I use eggshells, veggies and any crustacean shells. I have some great soil now in what was a very sandy area (after two years of this). But! I most certainly will think a little more about what I compost. I generally buy organic as available.

  • Cab says:

    I hate to say it — but the U.S. is dead meat, literally. Plentiful crops and prosperity come from God — and since the U.S. is into better living through chemistry — poisoning our kids with vaccines and our soil with weedkiller and all the Satanic stuff going on now in the government and all the through the culture — we’re cooked. These are the end days, and the very worst place to be living in these last days is in the U.S. The sudden and total demise of the U.S. is prophesied all through the Bible, and it’s huge, and the precipitating event of what the Bible calls the Great Tribulation. There is a sky sign in Rev. 12 that when the coordinates are put into a sky canopy program such as Stellarium, we get one date out of 7000 years — that being 9/23/17. This date may be AFTER the destruction of the U.S. There are other scriptures that speak of a springtime destruction that begins with an eclipse that begins at noon and goes into the night, obviously not an ordinary eclipse by the moon, but by something else.

    This is disgusting to see all this farm work for naught. I know I keep buying bags of potting soil that nothing will grow in. And I also have a shed full of straw, and I think the only thing it’s good for is bedding in the dog kennel when it rains, to soak up the mud and water.

    There is no use trying to prosper in the U.S. Nothing will grow and people I find are hooked on drugs. The Medical people put people on addicting pain meds when they have back or knee pain, or any pain, and next thing you know they are hooked and finding out that it’s cheaper to buy heroin.

    Really — we need to be looking to form an intentional community somewhere else on this planet, as far away from the U.S. as we can get.

    1. debbie hill says:

      you are a drag.

  • Renata says:

    This is really amazing information. We want to grow organic plants, collect organic foods and do not harm the environment and what we could end up with!!! Now I will be afraid to use any compost or manure bought in a garden store. Do you know if these chemicals are also being used in Canada and Europe or only in the USA? How it is even possible that such poisonous manure or straw are being sold? Shouldn’t it be tested and safely destroyed? And why in the fist place such toxic chemicals are allowed to be used on the food growing fields and around animals? I think there should be a law prohibiting doing it and I hope soon something will be done to stop using such poison anywhere and even make it a crime. It is great that people like you are teaching us about what is done to the animals and plants and our planet in general, rising the alarm. If more people know about it, we will have a bigger chance that something will be finally done in this matter.

  • Deb Miller says:

    Very interesting article. I will have to pay more attention to where my straw comes from. As an alternative, my sister introduced me to a process where you make piles of deadwood and other compost-type materials, cover this pile with good soil, and plant on top of that. The idea is that the stuff at the bottom will break down quickly, and you will get richer soil to grow in every year.

    1. Christine Buckingham says:

      That’s call hugelkultur by the way and was pioneered by Sep Holzer in Europe. Great way to do it if you have the materials.

  • Christine Buckingham says:

    Thanks for posting this. While the doom and gloom may be a bit over stated, it does note a serious issue for those of use that do not have the ability to grow our own straw for gardening.
    I am so glad I had yet to buy my bales that I was going to overwinter for the garden next season. Now I guess I will be sheet mulching instead. Of course there is the issue of where to get the compost since I can’t do that just yet either. The pit falls of first start ups.

  • morgan says:

    I do think the title is too over the top however it’s a good red flag for us to be mindful of our straw/hay and batch test. Monsanto is clearly the devil and once again clearly wins the prize. I live in Italy where Monsanto has far less juice but certainly this article was a good heads up. I do find it interesting how heated some people get over posts about Big Ag and associated products. Are they paid trolls or really that programmed to believe Glyphosphate is the next great breakfast food from Kellogs?


  • Ginger says:

    We have avoided this problem by only using mixed hay/straw/alfalfa bales. If the alfalfa ( a broad leaf) is part of the mix the bales cannot have been sprayed with grazon or the like.

    1. Jan says:

      Alfalfa is a GMO plant now.

  • anna says:

    thank you for sharing this seriously important and helpful knowledge!!!!

  • Dirk says:

    Well , what exactly is the effect on the plants ? How exactly is it bad for them ?

    1. Mary Hayden says:

      Aminopyralid or clopyralid kill, stunt, or deform broad-leaf plants, if they germinate at all. This is a weed killer for lawns, pastures, and grain crops that doesn’t harm the grass or grain. Even animals can eat grass treated with it without apparent harm to them, but the herbicide persists even in their manure with deadly effects if used on broad-leafed garden plants. Even if you just compost the clopyralid-contaminated straw in your chicken coop and use it as a garden mulch, you risk residual herbicide damage to your plants. Buy organic, and if in doubt, test your straw by making a tea of it. Bean seeds watered with it will be deformed, corn seeds will be unaffected.

      1. Joel Karsten says:

        First of all, in order to end up in this pickle, where you have straw contaminated with clopyralid or aminopyralid herbicides, we have to operate under the assumption that the farmer we are buying them from is a criminal. We must assume that the farmer used the chemicals in question for an off label use, which is illegal, and punishable under criminal and civil law. He then must have sold the straw or hay bales to a customer secretely using an elaborate ruse to hide his identity, and thus avoid ever having those sick bales traced back to his fields, where he would face serious ramifications for his subversive actions to break the law. Jail time, huge fines, loss of his license to buy and use farm chemicals which are restricted use, all are consequences every farmer knows, and is tested on his knowledge of in order to gain his applicators license from the state he operates in. After all he probably made $3 selling you that bale of straw, it is definately worth the risk for $3, and we all know farmers are just out to screw over every poor unsuspecting bale buyer. The whole time he is offering you a cup of coffee from his kitchen when you come to pick up your bales he is thinking about “how can I take money from this person and sell them some bales that will ruin their gardens for the rest of eternity.” You must believe this in order to believe that this happens on a regular basis. Come on people!

        With that said, if you have a bale made from straw which was treated with a clopyralid or aminopyralid herbicide, and you planted vegetables into that bale, would the vegetables grow and thrive? OF COURSE NOT! Thus you would not get a crop and you would have nothing to consume, thus the risk to you is nil. The conditioning process in Straw Bale Gardening will easily generate vigorous bacteria and fungi growth, so much so that they cause the bales to generate heat often exceeding 140 degrees. This bacterial colonization of the bales completely metabloizes these chemicals, and certainly with a half-life of 30-40 days these chemicals will be long gone once a bale of straw is completely decomposed. A paper from NC State claims ” According to the labels, plant materials treated with these herbicides should not be considered safe for growing sensitive crops until the plant materials are completely decayed. Breakdown of the herbicides is most rapid in sunlight under warm, moist conditions and may be enhanced with irrigation. Accelerate breakdown of plant residues by incorporating them evenly into the surface soil.”

        Essentially, the best thing anyone could do with a contaminated bale would be to use it for a straw bale garden, which would completely degrade any contaminate such as those of concern in this discussion. I am not saying it would produce a vegetable crop, as it probably would not, but once decomposed the straw would no longer contain levels of the chemical that would damage any future crops where the straw was integrated into the suface soils.

        Running a simply assay test on any media one intends to use in a garden is simple and easy to do, and will quickly identify any potentially damaging chemicals in that media. If you are concerned, visit this link from the University of Nebraska http://extensionpublications.unl.edu/assets/pdf/g1891.pdf

  • David Lee says:

    I tried a couple of bales and it seemed more trouble than it was worth. I will stick with my conventional gardening.

  • Kathleen says:

    OMGosh, so glad you brought this up. I never associated my gardening with the possibility of being contaminated by pesticides from the straw I use. Duh, I should’ve thought of this myself. Thank you for bringing that to our attention!!

  • Joan says:

    Thanks for the warning. I never thought about these risk factors. I’m glad I read the comments here though to realize I could still use organic bales.

  • Margie says:

    Ok, now I am wondering about my chicken poop that I use in the garden and rabbit poop too. My chickens eat wheat and barley and other grains, my rabbits get a bit of barley and wheat as well, along with alfalfa and other greens. So this means I now can’t use their manure in the garden where I want to grow stuff other than grain?

    1. Grumpy fish says:

      The roundup will kill the alfalfa and the roundup is invert in 14 days. BS

  • Ac says:

    look up “roundup ready alfalfa” — it’s grown/used in many areas — so just because your compost has alfalfa does not mean it doesn’t have roundup. This alfalfa can be sprayed with roundup & grazed or harvested in 5 days.

    1. Jan says:

      So true, and it is expected to contaminate non GMO alfalfa quickly because it is a grass.

  • Many NH & VT towns , contractors , farmers & landscapers have surprises at what grows when they put down hay or regular straw as mulch.
    On my farm in Charlestown ,NH I grow & harvest immature cereal rye as hay, Being immature, there are no seeds & any weeds are immature also.
    It is the same as straw, that meaning it shakes out well, will go through a chopper/blower well & looks good on the ground.
    I make regular farm size bales[ 35 to 40 lbs. ]. The bales are palletized on a 4 by 8 pallet 40 or 50 to a pallet that I can load onto your flatbed truck or trailer.
    I have never had a problem with contamination because I don’t use any of those sprays because I don’t go to maturity

  • Many NH & VT towns , contractors , farmers & landscapers have surprises at what grows when they put down hay or regular straw as mulch.
    On my farm in Charlestown ,NH I grow & harvest immature cereal rye as hay, Being immature, there are ¬¬no seeds & any weeds are immature also.
    It is the same as straw, that meaning it shakes out well, will go through a chopper/blower well & looks good on the ground.
    I make regular farm size bales[ 35 to 40 lbs. ]. The bales are palletized on a 4 by 8 pallet 40 to a pallet that I can load onto a flatbed truck or trailer
    It is also pesticide free because I don’t use any on the rye, no need to, making it great for straw bale gardening. the only problem is I am not near everyone.

  • Perri Morrison Smith says:

    Dear David Goodman – I am so glad I linked to this information before I started actually finding some straw bales to try gardening that way. It had not occurred to me the possibilities of contamination from the very poisons I have spent years trying to avoid. I noticed this article is from 2016. It definitely needs republishing this spring – 2017 – as I know many of us older folks were looking into the straw bale method of planting because of aging issues.
    Thank you so much for saving me much money and misery!

  • anita white says:

    Thank you so much for this information. Who would have guessed? I’m thankful you posted this.

  • The truth says:


  • Thomas Little says:

    FEAR FEAR FEAR… Everyone should verify all their sources when using materials from off their own properties… but Straw bale Gardening is AWESOME when you just take simple precautions… Tom Little – President/ CEO/ Founder Greenfeet Inc.

  • James Mess says:

    I found out that I have alot of spiders under the straw bales what to do?

    1. Tiana Waterfall says:

      Use citrus essential oil in water and spray if needed. Spiders hate the smell of citrus:)

  • Jeanette Taljaard says:

    I am extremely grateful to Mr Karsten for his introduction to bale gardening. It has saved my sanity and my back!
    We grow beautiful food in our bales, use alfalfa instead of straw for the extra nitrogen and do not use anything on the bales
    other than reputable potting soil and a good commercial fertilizer, as per his instructions.

  • Tiana Waterfall says:

    I have followed Joel Karsten’s book and have had straw bale gardens for 6 years now. My straw bales grow the most amazing and beautiful crops of vegetables. I rotate the straw bales with tomatoes every year. My roses and and everything else around that I use the old bales with after the season is over with grows like the garden of Eden around here, packed with earth worms. How can these bales be full of toxins if my vegetables look so healthy and my garden flourishing??? Due to the drought in the last years out west we have only been able to get access to rice straw bales which is used for straw bale gardening and also chicken coops. I am very confused and alarmed by this article.

  • Melanie says:

    I never thought about that.

  • Larry Reed says:

    Yeah, I loved the idea of straw bale gardening, too. I’m a beginner gardener and didn’t know much… Well, 24 bales, hundreds of hours, and three months later, I sure know something now- this medium is so problematic. From herbicides, to moisture retention, to microbial health, and, to eventually dismantling my garden, this love affair and adventure has turned a bit sour. Out of my eagerness for success and the necessity to find ways to save my plants, I’v discovered that gardening is so much more than just water, dead fertilizer, and novelties such as straw bale gardening. Next time, it going to be raised beds with good soil, compost, and rich hummus. Thanks for your article- it confirmed my experience.

  • I have been growing in Straw Bales for about 6 years and I teach Joel Karsten’s methods and in the area of the country i live in there is not a lot of herbicides sprayed. I have yet to hear of anyone getting bales of this type. If the bales are conditioned right it seems that the composting aspect of it, where the bales can reach temperatures of 130 + during the conditioning phase, seems to remove most chemicals and or pathogens and or weeds before you even plant them. I would advise someone considering this wonderful form of gardening to do their homework and learn the correct ways to condition the bales and to try to find out the history of the bales you use. I use Hay and Straw interchangeably with no problems, so you have a larger list of places to secure your bales.

  • Katie Church says:

    Thank you for the warning, I was contemplating a hale bale patch, and I do always choose organic but for some dumb reason completely spaced out when it came to organic straw, duh ? thanks again, good article.

  • Deb Hogan says:

    I am a market farmer who lost 1200 potted tomato and pepper seedlings one year due to using worm castings (in my soil mix) that had clopyralid contamination (as I found out later from the local Extension Horticulturist). The person who made the worm castings had used a new source of barley straw for the worms. The clopyralid went through the digestive tract of the worms and was still intact. Apparently, clopyralid (and similar herbicides) can be active for years. I now test my worm castings before using by planting tomato seeds with it. If they grow normally after 3-4 weeks I know there is no contamination. I have since talked with many people who have had terrible herbicide problems from using straw as mulch for their home gardens. The local farmers often do not read the label fully or understand the problems, and sometimes aren’t even aware that their straw has been sprayed with clopyralid.

  • Grumpy fish says:

    I have farmed for over 50 years. All I can say is BS to this article. You can plant seven days after applying round up. If what you are saying is correct farmers would not be able to grow crops soil poisoned.

    1. David The Good says:

      This isn’t RoundUp, Grumpy. This is discussing long-term persistent herbicides used on grass crops to target broad-leaf weeds.

  • Renny says:

    Is rabbit manure a problem?

  • Kevin Harris says:

    it is sad that people use scare tactics to push their beliefs. There is no danger of ruining your garden or soil in using straw or hay bales. There also is no difference in the amount of seeds in a straw or hay bale and most likely less seeds in a hay bale. If you use alfalfa you will need less fertilizer. Deb you really need to read the clopyralid label and a farmer surely would know what he has sprayed on his crops as he is most certainly going use to use it according to the directions on the label. It is the home owners that cause more contamination to the soil and water than any farmer ever will. So with that said use whatever bales are available at the most reasonable price in your area.

    1. David The Good says:

      “it is sad that people use scare tactics to push their beliefs”

      You have no idea what you’re talking about, Kevin.

      Here’s one example: http://www.theprairiehomestead.com/2016/08/curled-tomato-leaves.html

      “In the years I’ve been advocating for the deep mulch method of gardening, I’ve had a couple people ask if I’ve ever had problems using non-organic hay. We get our hay from a variety of sources, and looking back, I’m almost certain some of it had to be sprayed at some point. However, as I always had thriving gardens by using our compost and hay mulch, I figured people who were concerned about non-organic hay or non-organic animal manure were worrying unnecessarily. I was wrong.

      I was playing that game of Russian Roulette, and I didn’t even know it.

      A couple of readers sent me links to articles about contaminated compost, and I read them with fascination. Upon closer inspection, I realized my tomato leaves looked identical to the photos I found of aminopyralid poisoning.”

      And here’s another:


  • Karen says:

    I know it’s okay if the straw bales were sprayed with Harmony but what about Caramba and Headline? thanks for any info.

  • Scott Sexton says:

    I was wondering where this article was going, at first. I was like, “what’s wrong with straw”? But I’m with you now. I get it. Good info. Thanks.

  • fishnlady says:

    I believe some folks like to post according to their own beliefs and experiences and truth is that people like Joel Karsten cannot possibly know all things about all straw in all parts of the world. Obviously some have had evidence of gardening gone wrong by using straw or hay bales and it has to be from what has been sprayed on them. I have experience of trying to garden in an area once that had been sprayed with Roundup for 20 years but was told it had not been used on there for many years. So I shoveled up the area and added some extra nutrients like blood meal, bone meal and organic fertilizer. Every single plant did not do well at all. Stunted or did not grow at all. So if it was not Roundup then I guess it was the imaginary garden devil who did the dirty work.
    People have to go by their own experiences and do their own research into what to use on their gardens. Things change too in commercial practices all the time so when you overcome one herbicide or other poison then they come up with new ones. Good luck to everyone with your gardening work and choices.

  • Tasha Greer says:

    I used straw bales in my garden for years. I would set the bales at the ends of my garden beds and let them partially decompose before spreading them on my beds as mulch. Usually after a rain, they would explode with ink cap mushrooms.

    Two years ago I got some local straw bales and even after two months, with lots of rain, no ink caps showed up. The straw was decomposing, worms had moved in, but there was no fungal development. That had me worried. I still used the straw and noticed some very minor stunting in some of my plants.

    After checking around, I learned that our local bulk seed distributors had switched to selling only wheat seeds that had been pre-treated with fungicide. (I also used to grow wheat fodder for my animals and now it’s impossible to find local untreated seeds to sprout for them).

    I still use straw as litter for my animals, though I tend to process it through my worm beds before applying to the garden. I haven’t noticed any ill effects from applying it as worm castings. However, I also now lean more toward double-shred hard wood or leaf litter as direct mulch for my garden which likely increases the fungi load in my soil.

    I haven’t researched fungicide treated seeds and soil health in detail or done any controlled trials myself. But my intuition tells me to use more caution with wheat straw now that our local seed supply is always pre-treated with fungicides. This is not a research-based opinion, just a gut-level one.

  • Lexie says:

    So question: if straw bales grow everything I planted for 2 seasons, are they probably safe? I had amazing success with this method and yes, mushrooms and weeds also grew in it.

  • zakalu says:

    Little Shop of Horrors, FEED ME!

  • Owl says:

    Great article! I have been toying with the idea of using the leftover “horse” hay from last year that our hay provider says is clean and free of pesticides and herbicides and now I know how to test it myself.

  • myisland2001 says:

    I’ve never used straw bales but I usually buy a half dozen bags of manure from Home Depot. It hasn’t killed anything yet.

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