Something is Growing in the Straw Bales

Inky cap mushroom in straw bale
This one is about to ink-out!

I haven’t planted anything in the straw bales yet, but something is growing! I have a big crop of mushrooms in one bale and a smaller crop of grass popping out of some of the other bales. Both of these are expected events, though still a bit surprising. The mushrooms are “inky cap mushrooms,” which are mushrooms that dissolve into a black goo after a day or so — I noticed the goo pretty heavily on one of the bales.

One bale is covered with mushrooms.

Cornell University’s mushroom blog has an interesting post on inky caps and their tendency to destroy themselves. In addition to sprouting mushrooms and grass, the bales are definitely heating up and I expect to be planting them out within a week or so.

75 thoughts on “Something is Growing in the Straw Bales

  1. My Bales have been doing great , except for tiny flying insects all over ,it’s very discouraging.I have followed every step and used organic fertilizer.My plants are being destroyed .Does anyone know what’s going on.

  2. My pepper and tomato plants started well, but the peppers now have very small leaves, and the tomatoes have black spots on the leaves. I removed affected leaves, and sprayed the plants with a fungicide. We have had lots of rain, so maybe that is the problem.

  3. This is my first attempt at using straw bales. I laid them in one of my raised beds, with landscape fabric underneath. I am in Minnesota as well and comditioned the bales with organic blood meal. As I’ve seen here I really didn’t see much in the way of heat from the bales and just decided to plant. After about two weeks I certainly see the Chia Pet effect in several bales, while some have sparse grass, but I had/have no mushrooms. The extent of planting right now is cucumbers, pumpkins, zucchini, lettuce and I had an extra cabbage to I through it in. How often should the bales be watered now and is there any need to use fertilizer throughout the season since everything appears to be growing well?

  4. a lot of the “slime ” some of you are experiencing comes from the mushrooms. They decompose into a slimy substance, I’m not sure if that is detrimental to the plants. I tend to pull as much mushrooms as I can, but that does get tiring.

  5. The “grass” growing in your bales is not grass. It is sprouted grain, either oats or wheat that the thresher missed. There is bound to be some left behind when it is stripped off the shaft. Also, there is a big difference between hay bales and straw bales. It’s unlikely someone would sell you a straw bale that turns out to be a hay bale. They look quite different and it would be difficult to get them mixed up.

  6. Michelle, Obviously conditions are different here in Arizona. But I water every day. I do try and fertilize at least every two weeks. The bales are great but most plants eem to want more nourishment here in AZ.

  7. For Sue – sounds like you are dealing with soil, or fungus, gnats. Harmless in theory, except that larvae from the eggs they lay will eat the roots of your plants and destroy them. It takes persistence and determination to get rid of them. I am using vinegar traps and yellow sticky traps for the adults, and a weekly soil drench with BTi to kill off the larvae. Have saved all but one plant (my tomatillo ). Population decreased by 90% this way. Sick of dealing with them, but it was that or lose my ‘crop’. Will cover bales next time I conditon any to see if that cuts down on gnats during composting. Good luck, ang happy gardening!

  8. These inky mushrooms are very interesting indeed! I’ve also heard they are not harmful to any of the plants you’re growing, so I guess you have to deal with them.

  9. I just started nine straw bales, on day six of conditioning and it’s chia time o a lot of the bales..can I still plant in the chia? Will it choke out the plants? Should I try to pull it out?

  10. Chelito — Continue with the conditioning. You may want to trim the weeds that are growing or, if there are not too many, pull them. Make sure the bale has heated and cooled again before planting. Good luck!

  11. What do you think of the idea of using my weed burner to burn them after I soak the bales down. Let them roll a bit and then do that.

  12. I’m not sure fire is a good idea around stawbales. Have you checked out Joel Karsten’s books on strawbale gardening? He’s much more of an expert than I am.

  13. I’ve read and reread his book a few times. He really hardly mentioned the possibility of having straw with seeds in it. Tell you the truth, I gave up. My bales are totally full of oat seedlings . The bottoms are matted with roots. I finally just cut them out and am getting a different source for my straw and seeing if that will work. I think it’s a problem more common than he thinks.

  14. I agree it is a more common problem than people think. The source of your bales should know what kind of straw the bale i and whether it is “clean” straw. It sounds like you got oat straw with a lot of seeds still in it.

  15. I had very little trouble with grass last year. Got my straw bales from the same place this year, and I have lots of grass. I pulled some of it, but this takes a lot of tge bale with it. They must have changed the source from which they purchase staw.

  16. i usually get my bales from Home Depot, and I’ve NEVER had a problem with weeds in my straw.

  17. I have fresh organic rice straw bales this year. I have the biggest crop of beautiful mushrooms (huge clumps of really meaty and very healthy). They actually have crowded out the plants on all the straw bales. I can’t really grow anything because of the mushrooms heaving up the surface and crowding out the plants. What the heck are these and will they stop of do I just have to give up growing anything useful this year?

  18. Hi Folks. No mushrooms – yet. BUT a huge crop of wheat or barley shoots. Waiting now for a truck load of compost. I have built a raised bed around the bales and plan to cover and surround the bales with compost. I deviated from Joel’s book to allow for my situation: AZ intense heat drying the bales out, flood irrigation washing the straw away, Tomatoes in one gallon pots. I planted the bales in parallel with a one gal pot size gap between them. The gap make sit easy to transplant the tomatoes.
    To solve the grass problem: First I will take off the structures and drip system and then use a hedge trimmer to cut the “grass” down. Then cover with compost, then cover with black plastic. Then plant tomatoes between the bales and melons etc in the bales. Any comments would be welcome.

  19. What do I do to the grass growing,on my straw bales, how do I get rid of them, I havnt planted anything,yet, waiting about another week, to make we dont get another cold front, frost

  20. Update on my two raised beds with 4 bales in each planted on their sides with a 6 inch gap between bales filled with compost.
    Summary – use black plastic to completely cover the bales until no more signs of grass growing.
    My wheat grass grew so profusely that I was forced to use a hedge trimmer to cut it down. Cut a few strings. Pain to repair. Then I tried Joel’s vinegar, dishwasher soap and salt solution brushed on. That worked fine for the seeds that had sprouted. But just as soon as I got rid of the first batch another lot started up. I finally covered both bed areas with black plastic and that stopped the grass. Then I cut holes and planted tomatoes from one gall pots into the compost filled gaps between the bales. The toms did not like the reflected heat from the black plastic. So I covered the black plastic with 2 inches of mulch and the tomatoes are going gang busters. The second set of 4 bales with 8 barrow loads of mulch on top in a 16 inch raised bed with black plastic removed. So far no grass and the toms are thriving. Getting ready to plant summer squash and melons etc in the bales between the tomatoes. Did not have this problem last year, so it must be a bad batch of bales.

  21. I had a huge wheat crop in my bales this year. Tried mowing it. Came right back. Tried vinegar and soap. Came right back. Covered them with black plastic in full sun and REALLY heated them up. Finally got rid of the “grass”.

  22. See my prior post for my “raised bale beds” system.
    My primary crop in the 10 bales and compost was tomatoes. Planted 16 plants between the bales in the compost. Got great crops of tomatoes. Planted leeks at the ends of the beds and melons, watermelons and squash on the end bales. The leeks confuse the heck out of the squash beetles and I have not had my usual attack of beetles so far. Great crops of zucchini, crookneck and the water melons and melons are coming along fine. The heat is decomposing the compost around the bales at a very rapid rate. So I have to keep topping up the endge of the beds with compost.

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