What Hay Bale Gardening is About

hay bales

Picture by donwhite84

Have you ever heard of hay bale gardening? This is a great way to grow fruits and vegetables when you have soil that is of poor or depleated condition.

Hay bale or straw bale gardening is an interesting and productive way to garden. It has benefits that more traditional gardening styles and methods lack and yet it can result in less effort than those other types of gardening. It is a good idea to get an overview of what bale gardening is about, prior to planting the garden, even when planting time is many months away. Many gardeners who try it love this gardening method so much that it becomes their preferred way to garden.

What hay bale gardening is

Using bales of hay or straw for planting or growing vegetables and other plants is easy to understand, though there can be variations. Bales of hay, such as standard 135 pound bales, are laid on their sides so that the twine or wire strands that holds the hay together are roughly parallel to the ground. Note that it isn’t absolutely necessary to have the twine parallel to the ground. These bales become the foundation in which to grow the garden plants.

Benefits

Bale gardening usually takes less initial effort since the plants are grown directly in the bale. The method is also easier from the standpoint of weeding and maintenance, since a gardener can sit on a stool, chair or bench to do most of the work. Both hay and straw retain water well, making it simpler to assure adequate moisture to the growing plants. The bales tend to be fairly small, which makes it possible to garden even if the available gardening area isn’t very large.

Additionally, this style of gardening can be used in places where the soil is exceptionally poor, quite rocky, acidic or alkaline or where it might otherwise take a long time to adjust the soil for gardening. Since the hay or straw break down naturally, using the bales can even help with the amendment of bad soil. After the growing season, simply break the bales open and the following spring, till the rotted material into the soil.

Disadvantages

Hay and straw bales weighing 80 pounds, or even smaller bales, can be a little difficult to carry and place, particularly for older gardeners. Such a person may need to have assistance getting the bales into the places where they will be used. Hay and straw also break down fairly easily, so the bales usually need to be replaced each year.

Additionally, the bales need to be conditioned before use and this is a key to having a good production. The cost of the bales is often a consideration, too, though not as much, provided that the bales aren’t purchased individually. For example, say that a ton of 80 pound bales might cost between $100 and $200. That is about 25 bales, so the price per bale works out to between $4.00 and $8.00 a bale. Purchased individually, the bales might cost in excess of $12.00 to $15.00. Still, cost should be figured in.

It should be noted that while hay is usually better to use for heavier production, it is best to use alfalfa hay rather than grass hay. Grass hay will usually include more grass and weed seeds than in alfalfa hay. The seeds will often sprout, increasing the labor of weeding. Straw usually has even fewer seeds, though it isn’t quite as high in nutrients when it breaks down.

Conditioning

The hay or straw bales also need to be conditioned before use. This usually involves getting the bales wet, adding nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus (NPK) and allowing breakdown to begin before the plants are planted. This can take a few weeks. Both hay and straw are normally low in nitrogen, though alfalfa hay might have higher amounts. As the bales start breaking down, they can create substantial heat, so the conditioning is partly to get past the major heat production to prevent the crops from literally cooking after they are planted. The addition of nitrogen often speeds the process along.

Planting crops

Planting is simple, since the seeds or seedlings are placed directly into the hay or straw, as if they were raised beds. Just by keeping the seeds and developing seedlings moist, they usually grow well, fast and easily. In fact, they grow more easily than in most soil since there are so few obstructions for the developing roots.

hay bale garden

Picture by Ruth Temple

Cutting expenses

Often, farmers who grow hay don’t have the means to cover it all, especially during the winter. Once it becomes damp, it normally isn’t used to feed cattle, horses and other livestock, which is the primary use for the hay. It is worthwhile to check with such people to see if they would be willing to sell the product for a lower price.

There have been instances where farmers have been willing to give away bales of hay that were in this condition, though it should be remembered that if the bale is wet, it will almost certainly weigh more than it would if it was dry. Depending on the condition of the bale, most of the conditioning might already be finished, though.

Hay bale gardening is a great method to use if garden space is at a premium or if the available soil is extremely poor. This style of growing can save a lot of effort while producing surprisingly well. It is well worth consideration for gardeners, even if their soil is good quality.

The hay isn’t even wasted after the growing season, since it can be tilled in. Bale growing may not be common in all areas, but it certainly is worth thinking about as a viable alternative to traditional gardening.

 


 

 

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