Straw Bale Gardening to Feed the Hungry
Authored by: Robert Pullen and Ann Hart
When Jesus told Peter, “Feed my sheep” he was probably not talking about tomatoes, okra, beans, and squash. But Jesus and his church have always been committed to providing food for people who are hungry. St. Mark’s Episcopal Church has sponsored a food pantry for many years and church gardeners have often donated fresh vegetables during the summer months. We decided to increase the fresh vegetable part of our food ministry by starting a garden on the Church property. We used wheat straw bales as the foundation of the garden beginning in 2019-2020 season.
The first year, the garden produced approximately 650 pounds of fresh vegetables including beans, tomatoes, okra, peppers, and squash. Our food pantry customers were delighted to have this addition to traditional canned and dry foods. This year we expanded from 20 to 50 wheat straw bales along with the construction of three 12-foot-long cattle panel trellises. The current garden’s vegetable production is very promising and we are expecting a significant yield increase over last year. We added climbing cucumbers this year and they have been very prolific.
Straw bale gardening uses ordinary wheat straw bales as the foundation of raised beds. Foot deep trenches are dug to contain the bales and the excavated soil is piled around the sides of the bales. Once installed the twine is removed from the bales. Conditioned with a small amount of compost and natural fertilizers, the straw breaks down gradually providing a nutrient rich growing medium for plants. As the growing season nears its end the bales have totally decomposed and are used for soil enrichment and compost for the next year’s planting.
Although relatively easy to maintain, the garden does have its share of challenges including neighborhood critters such as deer and rabbits as well as other common garden pests. The pest threat is kept to a minimum by using creative animal deterrent methods such as motion activated water sprays, animal sound noise makers and flashing lights. Insect pests are controlled using natural, organic solutions. This year we added flowers to attract pollinators and birds for additional natural pest control.
The garden has been a source of pride and pleasure for many in the church. We were concerned that some might miss the ragged flower beds and trees that we removed but there have been no complaints. In fact, many members have expressed their appreciation for the neat and orderly appearance of the garden. Of course, the greatest satisfaction comes from knowing that we are providing delicious, nourishing food for our neighbors who are in need.
If you have questions, you may contact our garden coordinators:
Robert Pullen - firstname.lastname@example.org
Ann Hart – Elizabeth.email@example.com