Arranging and Planting the Straw Bales
Straw bales are often treated with chemicals before storage, so make sure your straw is untreated - otherwise it won’t decompose and nothing will grow.
When the bales of straw first arrive at your school, allow the children to play on them in the garden as much as possible. Straw is an amazing material which stimulates all the senses.
Children can draw a map of your school’s outdoor area and discuss where the straw bale garden should be constructed.
By pulling, pushing and rolling the bales of straw, children can work together to move the bales into place.
Spread a layer of soil over the straw bales.
Water the straw bales as much as possible. Water and soil will speed up the decomposition process needed to grow plants in the straw bales.
The children can decide what to plant: seeds, bulbs or seedlings. Poke a hole in the bale and then pull out some additional straw to enlarge the hole. Fill the hole with soil and place the seed, bulb or seedling into the soil.
Making labels for the plants is a good way to practice writing skills. Any weather resistant material like stones, wood or foam is good for this.
By measuring the growth of the plants, children develop their math skills. Together with the children, make measuring sticks using a tape measure to mark centimetres. You can also make charts to keep a record of each plant’s growth.
The children should continue watering the straw bales depending on the weather conditions.
Caring for the Plants
All children should participate in the watering of the plants (as needed, depending on the weather). Place a water barrel near a tap, so children can easily fill their little buckets, carry them to the straw bale garden, and pour water over the plants.
Small plastic bottles can be recycled and used instead of buckets for watering the plants. These will allow children to explore the effect of a vacuum.
For bigger and wider straw bale gardens, it might be helpful to run a hose with holes in it alongside the plants.
As the plants start to grow, children become increasingly excited as they watch the seedlings sprout different kinds of leaves, blossoms and last but not least vegetables.
Any kind of pumpkin seed is a particularly good choice. If you have any trees nearby, the pumpkin plant can grow up into the tree. I like to make three-legged trellises out of strong branches to support the plants. Pumpkins will grow fast, lending themselves to regular measurement. When the first little vegetables appear, it is like magic for the children.
Using strings to tie the plants to supporting stakes is a good way for children to practice making knots.
Snails love fresh plants. Experiment with organic methods such as broken eggshells or a copper snail barrier to keep them away from your straw bale garden.
Towards August or September, children will begin to discover vegetables and sunflowers amongst the plants. As the vegetables begin to change colour and ripen, it will be time to harvest them.
Red and green paprika, eggplants, tomatoes, pumpkins and even strawberries... everything should be picked by the children.
Have a big table ready to collect everything. The children can count and measure the length and weight of the different vegetables.
Last but not least, celebrate a harvest festival. Together with the children, prepare and serve food from the straw bale garden.