No matter if you’re kept livestock or if you have a large gardening operation to keep going, straw bales are a critical part of your success. They work as livestock feed, and you can use them in a huge range of applications. Depending on where you live, you may buy your straw bales in advance, or you may buy them as you go and you’re wondering how much is a straw bale?
If you’ve bought straw bales many years in a row, you may have noticed that your prices tend to fluctuate, and this is due to a range of factors, including inflation. You’ll never pay the same price two years in a row. This can be frustrating, especially if you’re trying to get a budget in place. So, how much is a straw bale today? We’ll break this cost down by bale size and tell you the biggest factors that influence the final cost. Then, we’ll go over a few popular projects that involve straw bales that you can incorporate into your garden to be more eco-friendly.
Straw bales are very popular in gardening applications as they break down and decompose relatively quickly.
The first thing you have to realize is that straw is different from hay. Hay is one or more types of grass that get cut and dried to use as animal feed. It has seed heads and seeds mixed in.
Straw is the byproduct of grain production, and the stem of the particular grain plant is left behind and harvested after mowing and threshing. The grain is the plant’s seed, and this is what the farmer is harvesting. So, generally speaking, strawy don’t contain seeds as a rule. There may be a very small amount left, but this is usually easy to deal with. Straw is what is left behind from threshing grains like barley, oats, and wheat.
Some gardeners will use hay for many different projects, straw is usually a much better choice, mainly because it doesn’t have large amounts of seed. It also makes great use of a natural byproduct material instead of using a valuable feed product that gets put to better use elsewhere.
How Much is a Straw Bale?
It’s not fair to restrict straw bales to feeding livestock. It is much less nutritious than hay. Straw is a waste product or byproduct of the grain harvest, and it’s not used for just feeding cattle, horses, or goats, but it’s also popular for use for mulch or bedding.
How much is a straw bale? The answer isn’t as cut and dried and you may think at first glance. Several factors go into determining the final price. Straw prices are usually stead with very little fluctuations, and the following are average prices for a straw bale.
- Small Square Straw Bale – If you don’t need a huge amount of straw for bedding, feeding, or garden beds, you can go for a small square bale. It’s an economical option because it costs less. The average cost for a small square ball is $4.50, and the price fluctuates from $2.00 to $6.00 each.
- Large Square Straw Bale – Large square bales are much heavier in weight, so they last a lot longer than a small bale. Most people tend to purchase large straw bales as it works out to a better deal in the long run. Large square bales range from $40.00 to $90.00 each. The average cost is $64.00 each.
- Large Round Straw Bale – Buying large rounded straw bales are the go-to choice for most people because they’re easier to handle. When you go purchase a large rounded bale of straw, the cost ranges from $40.00 to $85.00. The average price is $58.00
Is Straw Cheaper Than Hay?
Hay is usually much more expensive than straw as it’s usually bought as the main feed source for horses. You can get a smaller square bale for under $4.00, but it’s not possible to find hay at this price. Straw isn’t a food source because of the low nutritional value, and it’s just giving as a side to the regular diet. Mostly, people use it in nesting boxes in chicken coops. Since it has a lower nutrient profile and minimal use as livestock feed, it’s not nearly as expensive as hay.
Straw is much less expensive than hay because it’s not as in-demand as a feed product, so you can get much more for the price.
Factors Affecting the Straw Bales Cost
To understand how much is a bale of straw, you have to know which factors affect the overall costs. It can confuse some buyers to the point that they doubt a seller’s credibility, but the prices will fluctuate due to the following factors, including:
Some states have straw bales listed at much more affordable prices than others. In areas where you grow wheat, the prices are usually far less than compared to other regions where you have to export straw bales to.
It is no surprise that the size of the straw bale you want to buy will impact the cost, and larger bales are more expensive than smaller ones. These prices are usually relative to the size you want to purchase.
If you don’t know already, you may be surprised to find that there are multiple types of straw available to buy, including Wheat Straw, Barley Straw, and Rape Straw. Depending on the type you want, some will be more expensive than others.
If you want to buy your bale by weight, the prices are different. It’s worth noting that even bales of the exact same size will weigh differently. So, if you want to buy 100 pounds or a ton, the prices will fluctuate.
8 Popular Straw Bale Uses
Figuring out how much is a straw bale and how large your budget should be depends entirely on the project you want to take on. Straw has several uses in flower and vegetable gardens. You may consider it mulch, but there are many other ways to use straw in gardening. Those ways are worth noting too, because you can usually reused a single bale of straw several times.
The nice thing about using straw is that it is 100% usable in the garden, and you can even upcycle the strings to find a new use. It’s a multi-purpose item that uses recyclability to make it a great investment for a smaller cost.
1. Cold Frame
If you’re not 100% sure what a cold frame is, we can describe it best as a type of mini-greenhouse. A cold frame usually isn’t heated, as the name suggests, but adding a thick layer of manure to the bottom will release some heat as it decomposes. However, manure isn’t necessary to have a successful cold frame.
Cold frames work well to grow transplants and haradier seedlings like cauliflower, broccoli, greens, kale, and other brassicas. They are also very useful to use to harden off your transplants before you put them out in your garden. Cold frames also work well to extend your growing seasons if you live in a climate with shorter summers, and they work well as homes for salad greens or cutting greens late and early in the garden season.
It’s easy to use straw bales to make a cold frame. You’ll need to buy enough bales to make an enclosed “frame” and something to work at the top. Old windows are a great option, but you can cut a big piece of plexiglass or get an old storm door for the top too. Ideally, the older your glass is, the better because it’s less likely to offer UV protection, as most modern windows or doors do today. You can buy cut plexiglass through local window and glass suppliers too. Window replacement professionals are also a great source for old windows because they have windows available that they need to get rid of.
So, once you figure out that you need roughly six straw bales to make a good-sized cold frame, you can work out how much is a straw bale. This is enough to work well with many standard doors and windows. This being said, the beauty of the straw bale cold frame is that it’s very flexible and you can scale it to use as few or as many bales as you can comfortably budget.
To make it, put two bales end-to-end on each side and one bale on each end. The bales need to touch to form a totally enclosed rectangle from the inside perimeter. Lay the windows across the tops of the bales to bridge the gap and completely cover any open space.
- HappyDIYHome Note: It can get very warm in your enclosed cold frame from just sunlight exposure. You might need to pull the windows apart a bit or totally remove them to give the plants enough ventilation and cooling periods on sunny, hot days. Close up the frame again at dusk to help maintain the warmth and protect your cauliflower seedlings from colder temperatures.
On colder nights or when it hits below freezing temperatures, you want to add more insulation. To do so, you’ll break open another bale of straw and lay whole sections on top of your glass. It’s best to do this at the end of the day when the sun is still out to help trap the warmth inside. Straw bales lend a large amount of insulation, and they can keep your plants inside the cold frame quite warm.
However, you do want to do research to see just how low the temperature can drop for your plants to survive. If the temperature falls below this level, you’ll want to bring your seedlings inside for the night. The temperature inside of your cold frame, especially when you insulate the top layer, should stay several degrees warmer than the air temperature. When you finish using the straw bale for the cold frame for the year, recycle them for another garden use.
2. Compost Bin
Very similar to straw bale cold frame builds, you can use whole straw bales to build a simple compost bin. As a bonus, you can use the sides as compost when they start to fall apart and decompose.
The straw bale compost bin can be virtually any size you want to make it. However, you should plan for enough bales to make it one or two bales high, and it should be as long and as wide as you want your compost bin to be. It can be as small as a single bale by a single bale, but you’ll probably be happier with a bin that is at least two bales wide on all sides. This is usually determined by the amount of material you have on hand that you want to add to the compost bin. The beauty of this easy and cheap setup is that if you find that you made it too small, it’s simple to add on.
To build your compost bin out of straw bales, you’ll make a three-sided square or rectangle by stacking or placing the straw bales to your bin’s desired size. The opening should be to the front to make it easy to turn, load, and unload.
If you plan on stacking your bales from a taller compost bin, it is best to stagger and offset the bales with the middle of the second bale straddling the seam where the two beneath it come together like you stack bricks. This will make your walls more stable, and you can put your bales with the strings up or the cut ends up, but strings up is a bit more stable and it also tends to last longer. This is due to the fact that the strings-up method sheds water and weather slightly better. Two or three bales high makes a stable stack, and you won’t want to go much higher than this. But, if you need a larger bin than two or three bales high, it’s better to make it a longer design.
To use the bin, follow your regular compost bin management. This is a process of layering brown carbon-based materials like cardboard, sawdust, straw, or shredded newspapers with green items like grass clippings, food waste, and manure. You then leave them to decompose and turn them when they become a dark, beautiful soil amendment.
When the walls of your compost bin are no longer firm and they start to fall apart, you’ll replace them and reuse the old bales somewhere else in your garden, or you can turn the bold bales back into your compost heap. You can also plant larger plants like squash, pumpkins, or cucumbers right on your compost heap and break the old bale open onto the pile for mulch use. After the growing season, this compost is something you can use elsewhere.
3. Disease Control and Soil Splash
Straw can be a very effective tool for fighting soil splash and the resulting disease issues. This is done using it as mulch, but it’s worth mentioning because a lot of people don’t think about reducing soil contact by reducing splash back from water and rain. Issues like tomato blight can be managed very effectively if you can eliminate or reduce the pathway for soil-borne pathogens to infect the plants. Blight spores live in the soil and travel upwards on plants when the soil splashes on the lower leaves.
Straw mulch can also help you manage plant diseases like blossom end rot. Most people think of this as a result of a calcium deficiency, and this is true, but it is more accurately a calcium transfer problem. In other words, if the soil conditions and moisture aren’t maintained correctly, the calcium that is in the soil, even in suitable quantities, isn’t something the plant can access. So, they can’t use it. Consistent moisture levels make calcium more available to the root system, and inconsistent moisture is a disease contributor.
Applying a bedding of clean straw mulch can also help reduce disease and splash for pumpkins, squash, cucumbers, and other vining plants, and you’ll end up with less blemished, cleaner produce.
4. Erosion Control
You’ll commonly see straw bales sitting at construction sites, and they get used as erosion control and for waterway protection. The same rules can apply to your garden. Any time you leave soil uncovered and open, whether with a protective layer or by a crop, it’s vulnerable to erosion in the form of rain, wind, and runoff. To protect your open ground, cut your straw bales open and spread the straw down in a thick layer over the entire bare ground.
You want to get an inch thick layer if erosion control is your goal, but you can also lay it on thicker. So, the size of your garden will dictate your budget and how much is a straw bale. To keep the soil from running off your garden space, you can also line the perimeter with whole straw bales. If you need to keep the soil from running into a waterway or stream, line the edge of your stream bed a few feet back using intact, whole straw bales.
5. Hill Potatoes
Growing potatoes using straw takes some of the back-breaking labor out of the growing process. The result is a soil-free, clean potato that is easy to dig out and suffers no to little damage from shovels or forks.
To hill potatoes using straw, you’ll plant your seed potatoes in the ground like you normally would. When the plants get six to eight inches of growth above the soil level, you’ll hill them by piling them with loose straw, and make sure to leave the top two or three inches of plant growth, just like you would if you were hilling them with soil. Repeat the hilling process one or two more times as they grow and mature.
Check on your potato patch regularly and any time you see an exposed totale, even if it’s just a small skin patch showing, add more straw to cover it completely. Potatoes need to be left in the dark or they will develop toxic green skins. When the plant tops die back and turn 100% bown, dig the potatoes out. To do this, all you have to do is pull the straw away to expose the potatoes.
Mulching using straw bales is one of the most well-known uses of straw in your garden. It’s a great way to get rid of weeds around your garden plants, and this will work to keep your plants from having to compete for water and nutrients. Straw can also be used to mulch in the empty spaces in your garden rows. Since water can flow through your mulch, you could potentially mulch your entire garden surface with straw without having to worry about moisture accessibility.
Straw mulch also helps to reduce evaporation and retain moisture, and this is an important component for drought defense as it reduces your irrigation and water needs. It also helps to keep the soil temperatures moderated by keeping it cooler in hot months and warmer in colder months.
To mulch with straw, you’ll have to figure out how many you need and how much is a straw bale in your area. Once you get them, you’ll break open the bale and shake the sections to loosen and fluff the straw. For the best results to suppress weeds, you’ll lay a barrier of five sheets of newspaper, a single layer of cardboard or another barrier too. Spread three or four inches of loosened straw over the surface or barrier. If you don’t want to put another barrier layer in, you’ll increase the thickness of your straw layer to five or six inches. The thicker this layer is, the longer it’ll last and the less likely you’ll need to top it up before the season’s end. A well-applied mulch layer should last the whole season.
The nitrogen tie-up that straw is known for isn’t an issue when you use it as a mulch alternative. Any nitrogen utilization would only happen at the soil’s surface. It doesn’t happen deep in the soil where the plant’s roots are trying to get to the nitrogen. This works in your favor because it means that small weed sprouts don’t have access to the nitrogen they need to thrive, so you get better weed suppression.
Since straw heats up relatively quickly in the sun and retains heat well, it’s a great way to regulate soil temperature and keep your plants thriving. Straw Garden by Scott Sherrill-Mix / CC BY-NC 2.0
7. Plant Protection
Straw bales make a nice portable plant protection from the elements, including the sun and wind. It’s easy to do, and all you have to do is place the intact straw bales accordingly so they cast a shadow and work as shade for vulnerable plants. This is best done at the hottest part of the day when the sun’s rays are at their strongest. Not the position and timing of the hot sun for your target plants, and put the straw bales wherever you need them.
A few good reasons to do so include shading any heat-sensitive plants that are very quick to bolt in the heat, like lettuce, spinach, or radishes. This can help extend your summer growing season for these plant types. You may also use straw bales to shade delicate, young seedlings that burn in the sun or any new transplants in the first few days after you put them out in the garden.
If the conditions are very windy when the transplants are smaller, you may choose to place your straw bales strategically as a windbreak to prevent them from breaking. Using straw bales to protect young plants is one way to help them survive unexpected bad weather conditions.
8. Seed Germination
If you struggle with seed germination when you’re direct-seeding into your garden, adding a layer of straw can help. When seeds don’t germinate correctly in the ground, more often than not inconsistent moisture is the cause. A second factor is the cool soil at the top where the seeds are laying. Adding a layer of straw can help maintain temperatures very consistently too. For beet and carrot seeds, moisture fluctuation is very often the case for poor germination.
These seeds won’t bounce back well if they dry out at any time between planting them and sprouting. One trick is to briefly cover the row after you seed it with a barrier that helps keep the moisture in the soil so that the seeds don’t dry out. Many people use a board to accomplish this, and it works great. However, it’s unforgiving if you forget to check the row every day and remove the board once half or more of your seeds germinate.
Straw is much more forgiving if you get distracted and forget it because carrots tops can push through the layer of straw as they mature, as long as it’s not thick enough to smother them. To use stray to help directly-sown seeds germinate, you have two options you can try.
The first option you have is to lay the stray thickly and place full sections of straw from the bale side-by-side over the row. When you cut the strings of the bale of straw they will fall into flakes that are roughly four inches thick. You can use these sections in this full thickness for the germination period and then remove it or spread it to mulch the row after the beet or carrot tops establish. This will help preserve the most moisture and, in most gardens, this will keep the moisture levels high enough to germinate the seeds. It’s very similar to the board trick, but the straw will have to be removed or it’ll smother the sprout at this thickness.
The second option is to shake out your straw flakes and spread them out thinly, no more than an inch thick. This will also help you retain water in the soil and keep your swollen seeds moist as they germinate. But, it won’t be thick enough to smother the seeds if you don’t remove it in time. If you want to use straw much to help with weed suppression in your beet or carrot row, you can add more straw to reach three inches thick after the plant top surpasses this height. Don’t crowd your plants too closely, and leave a bit of breathing room so you don’t smother the plants.
This method works to help germinate beet and carrot seeds, but it can also be applied to several other types of direct-sown seeds without any issues. Any straw that you choose to remove completely can be reused somewhere else in your garden or landscape after the seeds germinate.
So, how much is a straw bale and how can you use it? Now you know, and the fact that straw can be used over and over again throughout your garden cycle means that it is very cost-effective. A single bale of straw could easily start life as a seasonal decoration before being broken down and used to protect tender seedlings as a cold frame before moving it to use for mulch or raking it to use it as a soil amendment. It’s 1 100% usable garden product that will improve your garden productivity and time.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.