Agri Leader

Starting a hay bale garden

There are many benefits to planting a vegetable garden in straw or hay bales.The rectangular bales are ideal for wheelchair-bound or mobility-reduced gardeners and create a raised bed effect without the expense of lumber and soil. Hay or straw bales drain well, but also hold water once they start to decompose. The decomposition of the hay provides fertilizer for the growing plants, soil-borne diseases and weeds are reduced and nematodes are no longer a worry. Because the bales can be placed on concrete surfaces, this type of garden is also ideal for people without adequate yard space for planting. Here are the steps to creating a hay or straw bale garden at home:
Days one through three: Water the new bales thoroughly each day keeping them moist. Make sure they are situated where you want them; once they are wet they will be too heavy to move. Days four through six: Sprinkle the top of each bale with one cup of ammonium sulfate (21-0-0) or one-half cup urea (46-0-0) and water the fertilizer in. The high nitrogen content will accelerate the decomposition process. Keep the bales moist, but don't water excessively or you risk runoff. Days seven through nine: Cut the amount of fertilizer per bale in half. Day 10: No more fertilizer is needed, but keep the bales moist. Day 11: From here on out, check the temperature of the bales with your hand. If they are hot, the conditioning process is not yet complete. When they start to cool down, they are ready for planting. Keep them moist. When the bales have cooled, gardeners can spread a few inches of growing medium such as potting soil or compost on the top of the bales and plant seeds directly in them. If planting seedlings, simply spread the hay or cut out a pocket and fill with growing medium. Water every other day or as needed. Good crops to grow include cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, squash, broccoli, beans, herbs, lettuce and spinach. Generally, gardeners can fit two to three large plants per bale or fill a bale with lettuce.