Does Your Straw Bale Have a Checkered Past? The Hidden Dangers of Straw Bale Gardening

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.

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.

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.

Read more: How to Make Composting Easy

Toxic Herbicides Can Poison Gardens

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.

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.

Read more: Nature Is an EXTREME Composter – You Can Be Too!

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

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 this happen to your plants:

Pesticide damage in garden

Nasty.

Protect Your Garden from Hidden Pesticides

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?

Eventually, it’s going to blow up in your face.

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.

Read more: Convert Your Lawn into a High-Yield Food Forest

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.

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.

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David The Good


Contributor

David The Good is a Grow Network Change Maker, a gardening expert, and the author of four books you can find on Amazon: Compost Everything: The Good Guide to Extreme Composting, Grow or Die: The Good Guide to Survival Gardening, Totally Crazy Easy Florida Gardening, and Create Your Own Florida Food Forest. His upcoming book Push the Zone explores growing tropical edibles outside the tropics. Find fresh gardening inspiration at his website http://www.TheSurvivalGardener.com and be sure to follow his popular YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/user/davidthegood.


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125 Comments
  • ohohoh

    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.

    • 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.

      • G

        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.

      • Billy

        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.

      • Gary

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

        • Gary

          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

      • @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?

    • Auntie Crow

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

    • Leslie Spurling

      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.

    • debbie hill

      i agree!!!!!!!

  • 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..
    Cheers

    • Susan

      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.

      • Karen

        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.

    • Margaret Mills

      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.

  • 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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

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

  • Jana D.

    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.

  • 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.

    • Pam

      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.

      • Martha

        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.

      • https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2016-09/documents/glyphosate_issue_paper_evaluation_of_carcincogenic_potential.pdf

        https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4866614/

        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.

        • Metermaid

          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.

    • Barron Stainback

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

    • John Harrison

      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.

    • Cherri Hankins

      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.

    • 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.

  • Sodbuster

    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

    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?

  • Sabrina

    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

    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

    David,
    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′.

    • Joe

      Candee,
      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.

      • Candee Silveria

        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

    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

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

  • Daryle in VT

    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.

    • Perri Morrison Smith

      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

    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!

    • Bear N. Hardin

      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

    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

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

  • 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

    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.

  • DD

    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.

  • Reed Verdesoto

    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

    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!

  • 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!!

    • Seamonkey

      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

    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

    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?

    • Jeff

      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.

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

    • Arlie Haig

      Hi,
      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

    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.

  • Kim

    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

    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.

    • Mary Hayden

      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

    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.

  • 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

    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

    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

    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.

  • Diane Deming

    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

    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?

    • Diane Balsara

      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.

      • Chris

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

  • Debbie

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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.

  • 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

    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.

    • Christine Buckingham

      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

    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

    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?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lUL0mg0xZpI

  • Ginger

    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.

  • anna

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

  • Dirk

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

    • Mary Hayden

      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.

      • 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

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

  • Kathleen

    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

    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

    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?

  • Ac

    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.

  • 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

    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

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

  • The truth

    Bullshit.

  • Thomas Little

    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

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

    • Tiana Waterfall

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

  • Jeanette Taljaard

    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

    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

    Thanks!
    I never thought about that.

  • 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.

  • 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.

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