Where do the plants get nutrients from, when they are planted in a Straw Bale?
One of the biggest misconceptions about the entire concept of Straw Bale Gardening, is that we plant and grow vegetables in straw. Let me explain what is really happening. We do start with a straw bale but we don’t plant anything in the bale for several weeks, until we first “condition” the bale. This conditioning process builds up the bacteria level inside the bale until the bacteria completely colonize the bale. The bacteria begin to consume, and digest the straw, breaking down the cell walls, and releasing the molecules inside those stalks inside the bale, essentially creating “soil.” All productive soil that covers the surface of the earth is made from decomposed organic material. Whatever has ever been alive, eventually dies and is decomposed and ultimately becomes soil, which is then the source of nutrients for the roots of new plants to adsorb and grow. When Mother Nature grew the oats or wheat, it took a variety of specific nutrient molecules to create the cells of each plant. Nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium are the three key nutrients, the basic building blocks of most plant life on earth, then there are a large number of micro nutrients, those molecules that are required for cell construction, but only needed in very trace amounts. These trace elements might include iron, calcium, zinc, etc. The cells expand and divide and expand and divide, growing an oat or wheat stalk and seeds. The seeds are harvested, but the stalks are baled up and now arrive in our gardens. It is now up to Mother Nature to help us decompose these cells that she constructed (grew) last summer using soil, and deconstruct them back into soil once again. This happens naturally, but much more slowly than we need it to happen for our purposes. We can help speed up this deconstruction process by feeding the naturally occurring bacteria in the bales, in order to speed up the process. Mother Nature has a tool box of decomposers that she uses for this intricate job of deconstructing every living thing on earth. She uses insects, worms, fungi, mold and the real heavy lifter, bacteria, too perform this amazing task. These little workers get busy digesting our straw bales, and very quickly break down the cells of the wheat, oats, barley, rice, grass, alfalfa or whatever substrate we have in each tightly bound bale. The brand new soil created by this process contains all of the micro nutrients and trace elements as well as the Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium that were contained in the stalks. So when someone sees a bale of straw in your garden and says “you can’t grow plants in straw”, you’ll need to explain that they are exactly correct but the bales are not really straw, they are simply quickly decomposing sources of virgin soil.