New here - Hay Bale Gardening

SoonerNPMarch 18, 2012

Hello Everyone,

I am wondering if anyone has experience with Hay Bale Gardening? This is my first attempt with gardening since I was a teenager. We live in Edmond in our new home and my husband really didn't want the ground tilled up (hopefully I will convince him next year), so I have read about this and watched videos on YouTube. OSU also has a sheet on how to garden with straw bales (although I am using hay bales that were given to me). My 4year old twins are very excited. We started prepping the bales with 1/2 cup ammonium nitrate per bale and soaking them the last 3 days. I'm making sure they are wet enough, but cannot feel a rise in temperature inside the bale yet. Should I be noticing a difference in tempt yet?

If there is anyone with success or failures with this technique of gardening I would love to hear them. I have heard tomatoes grow very well. We started pepper and tomatoes by seed indoors, but my lighting is insufficient so we may have to buy plants.

Anyway, we have 9 bales that we are experimenting with this year. The kiddos have loved seeing seeds sprout and I can't wait to see there faces when they see veggies growing. I hope that my efforts aren't in vain.

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Welcome to the forum. I have only read about or seen it on tv, but do know a little about hay, having come home one day to an uncle and a neighbor pulling smoking hay out of our barn. We'd baled and stored it too moist and it was on the way to spontaneously igniting. Evidently barns have actually burned down that way. But if your hay was well cured when it was baled, it won't get that hot even with the extra nitrate.

The tv show I saw showed cutting round holes out of the hay and filling them with potting soil to start the plants. Is that what you plan to do? I would think that doing that and keeping it well watered all summer would give you a good chance at success. Good luck with it and come back and let us know how it works.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2012 at 11:21PM
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Thank you so much! I was starting to think that way especially since the bales of hay were literally 30 years old. But since they were protected in a barn, I didn't think they would be considered "seasoned".

Yes, the hay is easy to spread apart now even without cutting a hole, but then I will put potting soil in the area and plant. I'm trying 2 tomato plants per bale, 4 pepper plants per bale, 2strawberry plants, 2 squash plants, and hopefully some watermelons that can vine onto an old wooden crate.

I'm also going to grow mammoth sunflowers in the tiny area between my hay and 7 foot wood fence. And will have some type of small flower growing in the side of the hay at the base for a more pleasant look.

Thanks for the info. Also, I guess there is no way to post pictures here? I just see a URL link.

    Bookmark   March 19, 2012 at 12:19AM
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I've grown tomatoes in straw and it works just fine. I've also used praire grass hay and it works too. Don't ever use alfalfa though, it will start to compost in 2 or 3 days and blister your fingers in the middle of the bale.

    Bookmark   March 19, 2012 at 1:20AM
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Sooner, the best way to post pictures is to use a hosting service like Photobucket. They will provide a link so you can paste it in here.


    Bookmark   March 19, 2012 at 11:51AM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

The difference in hay bales and straw bales is that the straw could be full of weed seeds depending on what kind of hay it is. That's especially true if the hay is from native pasture land with a variety of prairie grasses and forbs. We have friends here in our rural location that frequently gift us with old, spoiled hay that I use in my compost pile and as mulch in my garden beds. Weeds will sprout from that hay and you have to be aggressive about pulling them quickly or they'll take over.

How quickly you feel a rise in the temperatures inside the hay will vary depending on how old or how fresh it is. About this time last year we got 206 bales of old hay that was only 6 to 8 months old and those bales weren't decomposing inside yet. However, when I broke some bales apart in January 2012 to use as mulch on the dogs' muddy pathway in the dog yard, those bales were pure compost in the center and were smoking hot. The bales I've been breaking apart to use as mulch in the veggie garden since then also have been compost in the middle and really hot. If your bales are really old, they might already have decomposed to some extent inside. Most hay bales don't last but 2 to 4 years even if kept inside a barn.

If you have allergies to mold and fungi, be careful when breaking open the bales because once they're wet, they are prone to have mold and/or fungi in them.

Depending on what kind of wildlife you have in your neighborhood, you may have issues with field mice and snakes and some insects getting into your hay bales. Here where I live we have tons of wildlife and the mice and snakes love the bales of hay. We have friends with cattle dogs that have been bitten by rattlesnakes that climb up into/onto the bales of hay. I have to be really careful and watchful when breaking apart bales of hay in the spring and summer because of the snakes and scorpions here. That won't be a big issue if you're in a pretty urban area where venomous snakes are rare, but you also may find scorpions and fire ants in your hay bales if those are common pests in your area.

It is easier to raise plants in bales of hay or straw in a wet year than in a really dry year like last year. In a really dry year, they dry out too quickly. Judging from the weather we are having now, this ought to be a good year to grow in hay bales.

    Bookmark   March 20, 2012 at 5:29AM
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I measured the tempt of the bales today: some were 75ish, some lower 90s but 1 bale was 118 degrees! So maybe I have to wait a little more for the rest of the bales to season, if they do.

Hopefully, okiedawn, the composting inside the bale will kill the weed seeds because this is native pasture hay. At least that is my hope and what I have heard should happen. :)

We live in the middle of Edmond, so hopefully no snakes. Thanks for the warning. I'll definitely be more cautious with my kiddos around them.

My concern is the heat and wind drying out the bales this summer. I know I'll have to be diligent about watering. The plants may not survive, but I'll give it my best shot!

Thanks for all the warm welcomes and replies. I am learning so much by reading your posts. I will try to figure out how to link pics and keep you all updated on our small project.

    Bookmark   March 20, 2012 at 2:10PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

The heat from the composting will kill the weed seeds in exactly the part that is decomposing, which generally is in the middle portion of the hay bales. I won't kill the weed seeds some distance away at the far ends of the bales.

I watered my 206 hay bales almost daily last summer because they were lined up along our property line fence and I didn't want a wildfire to sweep onto the property and burn them up. You can keep them wet with diligent attention to watering....and at least you won't have to worry about watering 206 of them!

Hopefully you won't have snakes, especially venomous ones, but you never know. It is always better to be safe and watch for them than to have one surprise you in the worst possible way.

Good luck with growing in hay bales. If the rain keeps falling here, I may find myself planting into some of my decomposing hay bales if the ground stays consistently too wet to plant.

If you have a really, hot and dry summer with little rainfall, the easiest way to keep the hay bales moist is to use a soaker hose that runs across the top of them, back and forth several times, and to water at a low/slow rate so the water can seep into the bales and not just quickly run right through them.


    Bookmark   March 20, 2012 at 9:24PM
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Thanks for the suggestion on the soaker hose. All the bales are >100 degrees today with 1 being 135 degrees. WOW!

If you do plant in hay bales, let me know how it does. Im ready to plant once the tempt goes back down. Hopefully some time next week.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2012 at 7:34PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

If I plant in bales it will be as a last resort if the rain just doesn't stop. I'd rather break them down and use them to mulch the whole garden heavily. Since they are halfway composted already, it will take a lot of them just to mulch.

I have about 150 containers I likely would plant before I'd resort to hay bales, though I don't plan to plant that many containers, unless we get rain for 40 days and 40 nights. My hay bales grow things all on their own---just not the things I want them to grow. : )

    Bookmark   March 21, 2012 at 9:17PM
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