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Do I wait or do I start?

Olympia, WA

As a newbie who can't find the precise answer quickly in the archives, I need to look to your wisdom and experience.

Do I wait to start the seasoning of the bales, or can I get the area set up NOW (with ground cloth etc) and position the bales to begin the weathering/breakdown?

Obviously - here in the Pacific Northwest - it will be a long wait for the start of the next growing season. Patience may be a virtue, but I am NOT virtuous!!!

Charlevoix, MI(Zone 4b)

What I've gathered from reading all of the posts (I haven't done the gardening yet) you should be able to get it ready this fall and be able to plant next spring. Some people use the bales for two planting seasons and they don't have to "cook" or season the bales for the second use. If I'm wrong, I hope someone will speak up!!!

Michelle in Michigan

Phoenix, AZ(Zone 9b)

Here in The Valley of the Sun - I am planning to plant the starts I have been nursing along in the house since July 1st. I started seeds of tomato's, hot peppers, cabbage and tomatillo's and they are MORE than ready to get planted. Just waiting for our temp to break. It's still triple digits. I plan to start 'seasoning' my bales this weekend.

Northeast, WA(Zone 5a)

This is the first year I have tried re-using a bale. The only one that held up good enough to try it. I don't know if it had anything to do with the flavor of my tomatoes in it or not. I put my cherry tomatoes in that bale and one was one I had never tried before, so I am not sure if it tasted correctly or not. The other was Sweet Million which I have planted for years, and the flavor came out the exact same as the other one. And neither of them had any sweetness to them at all. They had a very strong flavor, but I don't know how to describe it. Very acidic is the only thing I can think of.

I watered and fertilized them the same as the new bale plants. I am not sure I will re-use the bales again. Just not sure. Probably will try one more next year. More out of curiosity than anything. Again I will plant one that I am familiar with in it.


Wake Forest, NC

If I get my bales early, I'm going to get them out by April 1st for a May 1st planting, and not add any ammonium nitrate. Just keep them moist and let nature take its course, and see how that works next year.

I wouldn't put the bales out all winter. No need to. You'll be fiddling with them, checking on them, etc. and it'll start to seem like a never-ending job by the time planting time rolls around.

Just count back 30 days from when you would normally plant and use that date to set them out.

Why 30 days? Just a nice round figure.

I have not performed anything scientific. It just seemed like enough time for the bales to soften up and do a "slow cook". Call it the crock pot method.


Charlevoix, MI(Zone 4b)

LOL>>>> I read that as "crack pot" method. :)


Wake Forest, NC

Crack pot method!

I like that. Probably fits closer. :-)


Northeast, WA(Zone 5a)

I am wondering if the bales I re-used this year are the reason my cherry tomatoes don't have the flavor they should??? I planted Sweet Millions and they have no sweetness about them. I have been planting them for many years.

I think this year I am going to cover the bales with tarps for the winter instead of leaving them to the weather and then trying to re-use them. They were covered with snow last year which they will be this year even with the tarps but I don't think they will break down as much.

Guess it's just an experiment. Can always use them for mulch.

Waaaay Down South, GA

I'm reading and wathing. I can tell it's gonna be a looong winter. :)

Northeast, WA(Zone 5a)

For all of you newbies, I01, when you read our posts, just be sure you look to see where we are posting from. Because that will make a difference in the weather.


Waaaay Down South, GA

Thanks ... any advice is sure appreciated. I was thinking about Kent's post where he dstates to wait 30 days before your normal planting season before setting out your bails. I * am * reading that correctly to mean waiting until then to start the entire process of breaking down my bails? :)

Northeast, WA(Zone 5a)

So Kent is saying it takes 30 days to "cure" your bales? Or whatever the word. There again, I would think it would mean wherever you live that your weather would help to compost them. If it is dry all that time, maybe you would want to water them with the hose??

Maybe Kent can get in here and answer your question. I think sometimes it is easy for all of us to forget that our weather is different than some people who take us literally. That is quite some statement isn't it. Hope you know what I mean.


So.App.Mtns., United States(Zone 5b)

I think Kent's 'curing' of the bales included daily watering.

Waaaay Down South, GA

That's what I understood ... but sure appreciate y'all keeping me straight on this! :) It is so new and different ... but definitely has me thinking.

Wake Forest, NC

Moisture in the bales is a crucial ingredient in the preparation stage.

If you're not adding the the ammonium nitrate or some other nitrogen source, then you won't necessarily have to water the bales each day - just make sure they stay damp.

If you're adding a nitrogen source, just add enough water to dissolve whatever you're adding.

Since there's no nitrogen source in straw bales to speak of, I would factor in a longer time for the bales to soften up some.

Hay/grass bales are a little different since they have a higher nitrogen content by default.

The nitrogen plus the moisture plus temperature make a better environment for the decomposition process.

In my area of NC, a good rule of thumb is to plant around May 1st. That way all danger of frost has passed. Much sooner than that and the plants just sit in the ground/bales anyway without doing alot.

That's why I'll put my bales out around April 1st IF I go with the nitrate-free prep.


Waaaay Down South, GA

Thanks Kent. I'm sure there'll be lots more questions the closer planting time comes, but that sure helps. :)
... Susan

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