Hay-Bale Gardening

So far, we’ve discussed raised-bed gardening and, within that post, square foot gardening techniques.  Another method of gardening that can help people who have poor soil conditions or just don’t want to put all that effort into tilling the ground to get started, is hay-bale gardening.

More emphasis has been given to straw-bale gardening and you can find a ton of information about using straw-bales to garden with, but your results will be much better using hay-bales, rather than straw-bales.  If you consider just the nutrition available from hay versus the almost complete lack of nutrition in straw, you can make a strong case for using hay instead of straw.

As the name implies, it involves the use of  hay-bales to use in planting your garden plants.  You can grow most vegetables on a hay-bale, with the possible exception of top heavy crops, such as corn.  But, the rest of your typical vegetable garden crops should do fine, vegetables such as tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, zucchini, peppers, and such do just fine.

It will take about two-weeks to get your hay-bales ready to plant in.  Here’s what you need to do:

  • Set your bales out in an area the drains well.   You will be keeping the hay wet, but you don’t want it sitting in water and rotting.
  • If you put out more than one row, make sure they are far enough apart that you can fit your mower between rows.
  • Water them thoroughly for the first few days.
  • The interior will heat up due to the decomposition process…that’s normal.
  • When it no longer feels warm, you’re ready to start planting.
  • Remember to continue to water your hay-bales and keep them moist.

You can plant seeds if you add some topsoil or potting mix to the top of the bales, but its much easier to transplant plants that have already been started.   Open a space with a garden trowel, add some mulch, topsoil, or potting mix and transplant your plants.  Press the space close and make sure your plant is securely in place.

Another difference between using hay instead of straw, is that using hay-bales you will only have to water your plants once a day versus twice a day with straw.   Hay holds moisture very well.

This video does not have the best audio, lots of noise, but it does deliver a lot of helpful tips that can help you get the most from your efforts.  Some key points to watch for are using fish-emulsion to add nutrients the plants may not get from the hay and using urine to help in the composting process, in addition to adding nitrogen.  Note:  There is a discussion of someone who uses sheep manure in her garden, but it has been advised not to use sheep manure because of pathogens found in it that could infect humans.

As I’ve mentioned, you should use mulch rather than plain dirt to supplement the nourishment from the hay.  By not being in the ground, you also reduce the problems you might have with bugs and plant diseases that are often transmitted from the soil.   You will not eliminate all bug and disease problems, but you would handle them the same way you would in any other garden.

By the way, if your hay starts to grow, simply clip off the new growth as it sprouts.  At the end of the growing season, simply breakdown the bales and spread what’s left of  the hay around to biodegrade back into the soil.  Next season, set out some new bales of hay and you’re ready to get started with a new garden.

So, if you have a bad back or bad knees or you can’t easily till the soil in your garden, this is yet another option that will allow you to continue gardening.  So, now you have container gardening, raised-bed gardening, square-foot gardening, and hay-bale gardening to consider as alternative methods where a traditional garden may not work.