After a search online to find the simplest and easiest “no work” gardening method, I stumbled upon straw bale gardening. The concept is simple: You plant directly into bales of straw, and as the season progresses, the straw is broken down into virgin soil that nourishes the plants from inside the bale. One amazing benefit of this method of gardening is that the bales provide a raised bed, which keeps predators away and makes picking your vegetal treasures at the end of the season easy on the back. I watched every video I could find on the subject, and have since concluded that using HAY bales instead of STRAW bales is far superior.
Before we get into why hay bales are superior to straw bales, let’s first define what they are:
Straw bales are basically stalks of plants, usually corn, that have been dried out and baled together into various shapes and sizes.
Hay bales are grasses that have been dried and baled together.
In my research, the idea that hay bales may have seeds in them and could grow weeds is the same reasoning reiterated time and time again by proponents of straw bale gardening. The reason why this idea holds little water is that when nitrogen is added to feed the bacteria and fungi to start the decomposition process of the bale, a process called “Conditioning your bale”, the interior of the bale can reach temperatures as high as 130 degrees Fahrenheit or more.
The likelihood of seeds surviving these extreme temperatures is slim, and a number of other benefits that come from using hay bales make it a far superior approach in my opinion.
-Straw is likely made from genetically modified plant matter – The problem with straw bales is that they will usually be made of genetically modified corn or soy. Do you really want your food growing in decomposing genetically modified plant matter?
-No fertilizer needed with hay – Hay is made of dried grasses, and for its ability to convert sunlight and soil minerals into dense nutrition, it has been said that grass is the healthiest plant on the planet. When we use hay bales for gardening (as opposed to straw bales), the compost that is formed within the bale to feed the plants is far superior in nutrition and, unlike straw bales, no fertilizer needs to be added to feed your plants throughout the season.
-Less Watering – Straw holds water less effectively than hay, so instead of watering once per day with hay bales, you might have to do it 2 or 3 times per day.
The first step to growing a hay bale garden is to acquire your hay bales. Take a look on your local classifieds like Kijiji or Craigslistand find a local farmer who is selling them. Once you find a nearby farmer with 40lb hay bales for sale, email them and arrange a time to pick them up or have them delivered to you.
Once you have the bales and have arranged them in your yard, the next step is to “condition” your bales. Buy yourself some 42-0-0 fertilizer, or some urea (nitrogen), and from here you will be introducing nitrogen into the bales over a 10-day period that will have the fungi, bacteria and insects breaking down your bales into fresh, virgin compost to feed your plants. You can also pee on your bales, as it is high in nitrogen and minerals, so start saving up pee in bottles for a fertilizer cost savings of about $40.
Days 1,3,5,7,9 – Add 1/2 cup of nitrogen to your bales and spray them with water so the nitrogen will soak in.
Days 2,4,6,8,10 – Soak the bale with water only.
During the conditioning process, the temperature of the bale will rise significantly, from my research, up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit.(related article). In fact, the bales will become so hot that it’s important to keep the bales wet to eliminate the risk of a fire. Although risk of fire is minimal, keep this in mind when deciding where to stage your bales. When the conditioning process is complete, you’ll know it because the temperature inside the bale will have come back down from hot to warm. Now you’re ready to plant!
Simply plant your vegetable seeds or germinated seeds into the bale, water them once a day and you’re on your way to healthy produce in a few exciting months. The best part is, at the end of the season you’ll have yourself a heap of fresh compost that you can further compost or add to your other gardens or perennial plant beds for nourishment.
See the video below for more information on how to get started: