Let me toss this out first, my whole gardening experience revolves around growing a few tomato plants in five gallon buckets. So I don't know much about this but have been reading everything that I can. I love forums and this looks to be a great one! So many people that are willing to share. Not that it really matters, but I also have a disability that simply doesn't let me get down to ground level and work there. However I am confident that I can do this bale thing.
I live close to Louisville KY on the Indiana side. I am a little confused about a couple of things that I have read. First is that I have read instructions for positioning the bales with the strings not touching the ground. Then I found other folks saying that it works better with the strings against the ground?? Is one better than the other?
Also there seems to be some debate about using straw or hay and I have seen some folks talking about how well that hay works.
The kids are all excited about doing this so I would really like to hit a home run and use whatever system will work the best. Any suggestions that you have to help are greatly appreciated!
Bales held with twine can rot if the twine is lying on the ground. Mine are bound with the melted plastic ties, so I put mine on the ground to have more planting space. My opinion is If you have humid conditions - try straw. If you are dry, like me, hay holds moisture better. Keep asking questions. This is a great forum.
I agree with Kent, the cost of hay around here is way too much for this to be cost effective so I will probaly stay with straw. I had very good results with straw last year anyway. I'm expanding to 3-4 more rows this year to grow cukes, squash and pumpkins in. I will still have two rows of four bales dedicated just to tomatoes. Jeff this will be a blessing if you are unable to do traditional dirt gardening. I am able to do it either way but was so pleased with the output of the tomatoes, less pests and diseases that I will probably never go back to dirt for them. Good luck and if you have any more questions, we are all willing and able to answer them!
Thank you for all of the advice. I'm shopping around for my bales now and I'm finding some hay for $2.50 to $4.00 per bale. I'm only going to buy a total of twenty bales so I might try some of each and see how they compare.
I was going to try this last year, but never got around to it. I am definitely doing it this year! I have about 40 bales of year old hay in my old barn (We have 15 acres of hay that we bale each year). I am going to start moving the bales outside, to the old pasture next to the house today.
The hay bales are tied with that thick orange string that does seem to last forever.
As I understand this, I water them each day, correct? And wait for them to start cooking. I'm going to go back and read all the how to do it threads. I'm anxious to get a lot planted at a level that is easier on my back.
I haven't used hay, only straw, so I don't have first hand knowledge of the pre-treatment characteristics of hay/grass bales.
Since your bales will have a natural supply of nitrogen, just monitor the inside temps and see what happens.
I don't know what the weather is like in KS, but the pre-treatment process involves moisture, warm temps and nitrogen.
The warmer it is the better decomposition microbes perform.
A major point to consider is just don't transplant into your bales TOO SOON, before all the energy is used up in the initial decomposition process. You don't want to kill your plants which has happened to some of us before.
I know it's a lot of reading, but there's a lot of good info in all of these threads.
Thanks for the encouragement. I hauled 6 bales of hay out of the old barn which is on the other side of the farm up to the field next to the house.
I forgot how heavy those things are! I also forgot that I'm really bad at backing up a small trailer to load the bales on. That took me longer than anything else - and I have a lot more bales to go just to get them in place.
I have compost piles from last summer with chickenpoop/goatpoop/straw/hay/horsepoop and grass clippings. I'm thinking I might use that compost under the bales or maybe bank some of it up against the sides of the bales?
It's going to take a while for my little seeds to grow big enough to be transplanted - probably a month. Our weather is goofy. today, it is 65. Tomorrow it could be 40.
I wonder if I would be wise to just put the bales where I want them, put some of that weed barrier between them and then wait until our last frost date before I start watering them.
Miss J: yep, make a crack in the bale. It'll probably help if you have something like a trowel to help. That's what I use, or I just use my hands. Drop your plant down to the first leaf. I put some commercial potting mix, also, in the crack and then push back together.
I found a local farmer that had some hay bales for sale. He is delivering them to me for $4 ea. I originally thought I would take twenty but I decided not to get too carried away until I have a little more idea of what I am doing. So I ordered twelve... that should keep me busy for this first year I think!
I want to get these set in place this weekend and start getting them ready. I wonder if I should prepare them the same way that folks are the straw bales? If it doesnt hurt anything I will, I want to make sure they are ready on May 1st.
I have a problem I need some advice on. Here in Kansas, I cannot purchase AN. You have to hold a special license to buy it because it was used in the Oklahoma City bombing, and it was purchased here in Kansas. Sigh.
So, what can I use instead? I have chickens - is there something I can do with their poop that I can use?
Is there some kind of powdered fertilizer? Or could I use maybe liquid fertilizer?
Any high nitrogen fertilizer will do. Urea or bloodmeal is what most use if they can't get AN. If you're not going to plant for another month or so I would just water them every day and let the softening up of the bales happen on their own.
Somewhere on here, I had tripped over a post by Gary about volunteering at Thienemans and we had exchanged several DMail messages. So today while I was at Thienemans I looked Gary up and said hi. We had a nice chat but that place was really busy so we didnt get to speak for very long. Gary gave me some great suggestions for plants and I will be trying several of them. (Thanx for the help Gary!)
They had an amazing selection of heirloom tomatoes and peppers and I brought too many of them home with me!
Here is a list of what I bought at Thienemans today.
Australian Heart (Joe Thieneman)
Cherokee Purlple - Potato Leaf
Franks Large Red
Hazelfield Farm Red
Large Red Cherry
Sun Gold Cherry (hybrid)
Sweet Baby Girl (hybrid)
I planted three tomato plants in my first bale. Since I'm not sure what I am doing, I want to make sure these three survive a day or two before adding the others. These timothy hay bales have been sitting out and wet for three weeks. I did not use any AN on them at all.
The first small plant on the left is a Sungold Cherry, the two large plants are Early Girl.
Kent, It was an amazing place to shop for plants. I'm lucky I got out of there without going bust!
Thanx Doug, we are learning as we go. I bought a bunch of maters hoping that a few of them will survive my rookie mistakes!
I went shopping for a good fertilizer / feed for my mostly mater garden. I ended up buying a Miracle Grow feeder hose attachment deal and a small box of Miracle Grow Tomato Food. Those little boxes of tomato food are about $5 each so I suppose this could get expensive over the course of the summer if I feed every week or so.
Doug, did I see you post somewhere about using some kind of slow release fertilizer that you only put down once? If so, could you tell us a bit more about it here? That might be the best route for me, and I would rather copy success than experiment on my own and kill everything!
I had gone to Lowe's and their garden shop and got so confused looking at the various feeding options. The Miracle Grow appears to be almost idiot proof so I thought I would give that a go to start with.
ALSO, since I just transplanted my plants into the bales... should feed them right away or wait a week or so? It seems that I have read where people have done both. Is there a best practice on this?
Thank you all for your help in getting me into this, we are having a blast!
Jeff I got the organic Miracle grow. Its a real stinker, but ...well... its organic! It says it will keep on working for up to two months, so far it has woked really well. A powder compost that I watered in . My potatoes love it. I dont know whether its the straw or the fertilizer but they are really jumping right now! E. Oh ... and no Burn!
Jeff, I just sprinkled some slow release organic fertilizer (or use Osmocote) on top of the bales after about two weeks and I never fed them again. They were still going strong late into October. They outproduced any that I saw planted in dirt.
I planted twenty three varieties of tomato and four kinds of peppers. After getting them all set we used some MG and watered them in good. I thought they looked a little rough after the transplant, but they are looking good this afternoon after yesterdays feeding and the rain we had today.
I appreciate everyones ideas!
This weekend we build the trellis system... then we wait. Knife in one hand... salt shaker in the other! lol
I'd guess about 1/2 cup per bale. Are you using hay this year? That may make a difference. At that point I didn't keep records. I planted 7 Better Boys today in last years leftovers in the enclosed rows. I'm waiting a few days to plant in the new bales. Two are new straw and two are two year old hay which seems to be ready, but I'm gonna wait to plant at the same time to see if there's a big difference. I'm off this week so I'll try and take a couple of pics of my new setup if the weather cooperates.
Hi, I subscribed to Dave's Garden mainly to read this forum.
Kent, I read your article about bale gardening in Tideland Topics (our electric co-op) and decided if I want veggies this is my last option. My neighbor's 18 dogs use my garden as a latrine and they were filled with worms. Health department said no more using it for edibles. So here I am.
My bales are packed so tight that I couldn't get a plant in:
1. use trowel-no
2. got knife-nope
3. got bigger knife-no go
4. got bigger knife with serrated edge-ha!
5. husband got small saw- he gave up
6. husband got sawsall- exhausted at this point but we had lift off
We had the worst weather when I stared the bales. Temps in high 30's at night and really severe winds. In spite of it my tomatoes are doing wonderfully well and, to my surprise, there are two tiny cukes! I also planted peppers, watermelons just for fun, and zucchini.
Are you pinching out the side shoots on your tomatoes? Usually I do but my farm supplier said not to.
htcoe: good afternoon, my Pamlico Co. friend and new bale gardener!
I, too, started my bales when it was much cooler and it took longer to get them softened up.
But, they have really gotten better over the past 2 weeks. Yours will, too.
I'll definitely remember this post.
Probably the first mention of using a sawsall!
I usually sucker my tomatoes for the first 18 inches or so, but this year I'm about 80% leaning toward not suckering at all.
Some say by not suckering you get more tomatoes, although they may be a tad smaller, and the extra greenery helps in case some branches catch a disease or some other problem and you have to prune it off.
As for the "cute" part, it's amazing how these computer screens create such an optical illusion! :-)
So, jump on in the discussions. This has been our best year, yet, for new bale gardeners.
Jeff, your tomatoes, the ones you posted pics of, look great. Hey everyone, we want pictures!! I would love to see you guys cutting the holes with a sawzall. LOL
Can't believe you guys are so far. I have my bales but due to both my DH and I with problems with our backs and feet, they are still on the truck. Just a couple of days and I will have them down tho. AND started.
It's a problem only if you get a freeze like we are suppose to tonight. Isn't that always the way it is? Things start blooming and then a freeze hits. If I were you I would watch the weather reports and cover them if it sounds bad.
Just went out a few minutes ago after 10 o'clock and brought in some plants.
Here is a pic of my bales as of today. Most of my plants seem to be doing well and many of my tomatoes have fruit on them now. Some of the bales have broken down more than I expected. I hope to have my trellis in place in the next couple of days so these plants have somewhere to go. Gee this is a lot of fun and I wish I had found this years ago!
Thank you to everyone that took time to offer advice and help me keep this project moving in the right direction!
Hi folks! I wanted to post a follow up to all of my questions from a few months ago. First off let me thank each of you that offered suggestions and answered my questions about this straw bale garden stuff.
This project has been more successful than I ever imagined. We grew a whole bunch of maters and peppers and had great success. I always said I wanted to grow more than we could eat and we managed to do that!
The straw bale garden (hay in my case) was very easy to set up and maintain. Everything grew well and was overall a pretty simple process. I see us doing this every year from now on. Matter of fact, I am already sketching out the layout for next year. I have a few ideas on how to improve my garden and add some different veggies than I had this year!
I wish I had found out about straw bale gardening years ago!
Jeff, congrats on your success! Our unusally nice weather this year probably had a lot to do with it. After saying that though I thought about last year (my first year) and I had tomatoes up through October although I did water considerably more. You are now considered "Officially Hooked on Bale Gardening" like the rest of us thanks to Kent the Enabler!!!
Hey, I'll be up your way the 5th of Oct. I'm going to Munchkin Nursery that morning and Bob Hill's Nursery that afternoon.