Straw bale gardening

It’s time to devote some time to learning (and practicing) straw bale gardening. I’ve been aware of this technique/system for a while but have not paid much more attention.

Here’s a great starting point, an article from The Dirt I Occupy “The Amazing Straw Bale Garden“.

And another from No Dig Vegetable Garden.

Here’s an article, “Human urine: An excellent and safe liquid fertiliser for your vegetable garden“, about human urine from Otepoti Urban Organics. It’s a great source of urea (the sraw bales need this added to help with decomposition).

A collection of straw bale resources

Straw bale building guidelines for wet and humid climates
Climate and Straw bale construction
Five tips for keeping straw bale walls dry in a wet climate
Yes you can! Build with Strawbale in Wet Climates
Moisture and straw bale walls.
Sun Plans
Strawdio Template
Straw Bale Futures
Passive Solar Design
Lime paint, lime wash and paint lime wash in Edinburgh Scotland
IronStraw – Calculating How Many Bales of Straw You Need
Harvest Homes: Straw Bale Material Calculator
Green Building: From the Basement to the Roof
50 straw bale house plans
Descriptions of solar homes from the owners
International Straw Bale Registry Project
Straw House – Home
Straw Bale Articles |
Magyar Szalmaépítők Egyesülete
Solar Haven – self sufficient living without utility costs or a big mortgage … straw bales resources [Austrian/German site]


Common-Sense Compost Making by the Quick Return Method

by Maye E. Bruce


This book describes a way of making compost, i.e. humus, which is simply, labour saving (no turning) and quick, both in ripening the compost and in getting results in the soil. It is adaptible to all conditions and to every size and type of garden, allotment or farm, the process being based on nature’s own methods.

Miss Bruce tells how to make use of the natural heat of disintegration, which liberates the vitality of the plants; how to retain that vitality within the heap, and how to quicken both the disintegration of plants and the energizing of humus by treating the heap with a simple activator. This is a herbal solution which contains in living plant form the chief elements necessary to plant life; formulae are given.

From Vegetable Waste to Fertile Soil affirms a belief in the universality of Life, this Life being manifest in varying ‘rhythms’ in the mineral, vegetable, animal and human kingdoms. Health, productivity and perfection of growth in the vegetable kingdom, says the author, can best be achieved by feeding plants within the ‘rhythm’ of this kingdom.

Common-Sense Compost Making by the Quick Return Method

Checking straw bale wall moisture levels & all things monitoring

Moisture meter

I have the opportunity to add “smart” technology to my house as I’m building. I’m considering using either, or both, arduino boards & Raspberry Pi computers as the main processors to which I’ll attach various sensors and switches.

Primary considerations will be power consumption, heat production & cooling, and reliability. Both Arduino and Raspberry Pi units use very little power, especially when compared to their utility. I’m not sure about how much heat they produce however, hopefully, I’ll be able to position them within the house in a place where they can be easily and consistently cooled. Maybe the heat can be re-used somehow?

Moisture sensors are an obvious requirement – dampness & water being the worst problems for straw bale walls.

If we have the budget I’ll add controls for automation of lights and other electrical appliances that we can run to a central control


  1. Arduino
  2. Arduino at Wikipedia
  3. Arduino User Community
  4. Top 40 Arduino Projects at Hack N Mod
Raspberry Pi
  1. Raspberry Pi
  2. Raspberry Pi at Wikipedia
  3. Raspberry Pi Community site
  4. R-Pi Hub at eLinux
Moisture Sensors
  1. Moisture sensor circuit at Rob Faludi
  2. botanicalls
Home Automation
  1. Home Automation Tutorial at Hack N Mod

Dimensions of straw bales

Straw-bales can be made from a range of plant fibres not only grass-family species like wheat, rye, barley, blue-grass, and rice, but also flax, and hemp. Bales of recycled materials like paper, pasteboard, waxed cardboard, crushed plastics, whole tires, and used carpeting have also been used or are currently being explored for building.

Basic straw-bales are produced on farms and referred to as “field-bales”. These come in a range of sizes from small “two-string” bales (W460mm x H350mm – H400mm x L800mm – L1200mm) to three-string “commercial bales” (W540mm x H410mm x L1200mm). These sizes range in weight from 18kg to 45kg.

Larger “bulk” bales are now becoming common, H1000mm x W1000mm – W1200mm x L2000mm and even W1200mm x H1200mm x L2400mm, weighing up to a ton. All of these “economy-size” units also offer unique potential for imaginative designers.

A newer trend is the use of high-density recompressed bales, sometimes called strawblocks, offering far higher compression strength. These bales “remade” from field bales in massive stationary presses, producing up to 4 MN of force, were originally developed for cargo-container transport to over-seas markets.

Innovators soon discovered that, where a wall of “conventional field bales” is able to support a roof load of 900 kg/m, the high-density bales can support up to 4500kg/m to 7000 kg/m. This makes them particularly suited to load-bearing multi-storey or “living-roofed” designs.

They are available in a range of sizes from different companies’ presses but L600mm x H600mm x W450mm might be considered “typical”; because they are bound with horizontally ties or straps, at 10mm or 12mm intervals vertically, they may be recut with a chain-saw at a range of heights. They are usually used in “stacked bond”, with the straws running vertically for greatest strength and tied with “re-mesh” on both sides before stucco application.

A 1-acre self-sufficient small-holding


We’re shopping for land in Hungary and while prices are relatively low, when compared to those in Scotland, it’s possible that our budget will only stretch to a 1-, or 2-acre plot. Ideally we’re looking for 4 or 5 acres minimum however 1 or 2 acres will be suitable.

With this in mind I’m collecting information and learning how to “survive” on smaller plots.

Download: Start-a-1-acre-self-sufficient-homestead

Nashville’s First Straw Bale House

Local USGBC members and families build Nashville’s first straw-bale house
The owners of the house, Bob and Irma Bernstein, worked with general contractor Ryan Nichols to create this eco-friendly structure that not only draws upon pioneer tradition, but incorporates proven ideas that pre-date the founding of the New World. Straw, used as insulation and then covered with a natural earthen plaster, allows the house to breathe, and is also less expensive and fire-retardant. The project was sponsored by Green Home and Manuel Zeitlin Architects.
Read about the house
Read about the architects

Using Passive Solar Energy to heat your straw bale home.

Passive Solar Energy

Passive Solar Energy as a free heat source for your straw bale house. Read the article

A rule of thumb for installed window area

East side of the house 4%, west side 2%, north side 4%, and south side 7-12%. So if you had a floor plan of 1000 square feet, on the east side of the house you would allow for a total square footage of 1000 SF x 4% = 40 square feet of glass and so on.

Read more: