One of the things to consider when setting up a polytunnel is how to create your growing areas. There are a range of different options when it comes to creating beds for growing your fruits, vegetables and other plants. Of course you can simply grow plants directly in the ground. However, many recognise the benefits of growing in raised beds. Raised beds can make access easier, and can make it easier to control the environment. Well made raised beds can also incorporate a range of organic materials which will provide the nutrients that your plants need to grow and thrive. You my be surprised to learn that plants will grow well in materials other than soil. Straw bale gardening offers one option that minimises the need to import soil or vast amounts of composted material.
Straw bale gardening involves creating raised beds from straw bales. The bales are simply placed into position, wet with a liquid, organic plant feed, and then topped with a thin layer or thin pockets of compost, into which your plants can be placed or seeds sown. For neater look, these bales can be placed within containing walls, so as they break down, the appearance of your beds will not suffer. The principles are similar to those involved in 'lasagna' type raised beds, with all their layers of organic matter, except that in a straw bale garden, straw bales act as the growing medium and will release the nutrients needed by plants as they break down.
Straw bales as they decompose can provide good quality nutrients for growing plants. They will also create heat as they decompose, which can be good for many plants and can help to mitigate the problems caused by the unreliable British climate. Straw bale gardening also allows you to harvest 'clean' plants, which are not covered in soil. This makes some harvests – of potatoes for example – much quicker and easier.
Straw bales can be acquired cheaply in some parts of the UK and can be an effective way to quickly create a number of raised beds for growing your own food and other plants. The straw will help to retain moisture and so can also reduce the amount of water required in your polytunnel. Straw bale beds could be a good option, especially where the polytunnel is placed over hard standing and raised beds must be created.