Am I too late to join the fun this year?

Piedmont, SC(Zone 7b)

Hi All,
I've been pondering how I can have a garden this year after just moving into my house and my backyard is just plain old red clay cement!! Really impossible to dig into. Happened into this glad i did but am I too late to try this?? I've seen some people saying they've had difficulty getting their bales ready to plant with regards to decomposition. I'm a little confused on what exactly I need.
Anything else I can use other that amonium nitrate and pee? LOL ;-)
Help a newbie out haha!!
Thanks, Tia

Saylorsburg, PA(Zone 6a)

You should still be able to perk a bale - it only takes 10 days of fertilizing and watering. You can use Urea or Blood meal as well. Since you are so much warmer in SC compared to me in PA it might be too late to plant tomatoes, peppers and eggplants for you but advice on that score will have to come from others closer to you. But there will be plenty to choose from, I am sure. It sounds like you have the perfect situation for using bales - lousy soil! Good Luck!

Saylorsburg, PA(Zone 6a)


Since you sounded a bit confused about getting started here is the synopsis of the 34 threads on DG concerning Strawbale Gardening. I did not include that you can also pee on the bales! LOL Anyway I am constantly updating this little synopsis so hope it helps as a guideline, definitely not the Bible on the subject but works for me!

Straw or Hay Bale Gardening Formula

Need: Wheat, Oat Straw or Hay Bales (Alfalfa is best); Long Thermometer; Fertilizer; Spatula; Potting Soil; Wire fencing.

What To Plant: Any Annuals; Annual Herbs; Non-root Vegetables: Tomatoes, Peppers, Eggplants, Beans, Lettuce, Squash, Melons, Okra, etc. Potatoes may be planted the following year in the decomposed straw or hay!

To Prepare Bales
Purchase bales of wheat / oat straw or hay (alfalfa is great). Hay will require less nitrogen since it has a lot. Straw has no nutrients. I use both. Ask if and which herbicides were used. Avoid if “Growzone” was used. Remember you are planting your vegetables in them! They cost between $4-$6 depending on vendor. Placing them in double rows will cause them to heat up better but is not necessary. I put them on newspaper or cardboard to avoid weeds. I prefer placing bales with strings on the ground for less water run-off. Some may prefer strings off the ground.

In the spring water all the bales for two days before starting the prepping with fertilizer so they are moist. Bales will handle up to 5 gallons easily but if it rains in between you don’t need as much water. After adding fertilizer if the bales do not heat up as much as you want just add more water.

You need a nitrogen fertilizer in the spring to help the bales heat up and begin breaking down. You can’t plant in them until they are cool and workable. They get soft after heating up and breaking down. I prefer Blood Meal (Espoma is good) but the original formula recommended Ammonium Nitrate or Urea (not organic). I have used Urea. You will need less nitrogen fertilizer for the hay bales. Formula below is for straw. Buy a long meat thermometer to check the temps as they heat up.

Use the fertilizing regime below to start bales in the Spring. If you start your bales in the Fall skip to day 10 in the Spring. Add the fertilizer before planting unless bales didn’t break down well naturally over the winter. Then start at day 7 with Nitrogen fertilizer but don’t expect the bales to heat up. Once they are prepped (soft and workable) you will be able to separate the straw with a spatula or your hand to plant in them. Be sure to add Potting mix, NEVER soil from your garden!

Day 1: Add 1 cup of Blood Meal or ½ cup Urea plus 5 gallons of water. Water slowly so the Blood Meal
doesn’t all run off.

Days 2 and 3: Add up to 5 gallons of Water each day as needed.

Day 4: Add 1 cup of Blood Meal or ½ cup Urea, plus water as needed.

Day 5: Add just Water as needed

Day 6: Use thermometer to check temperatures; record them. Temps can go to 140+º but usually low 100’s.
Add 1/2 cup Blood Meal or ½ cup Urea and Water as needed.

Day 7: Check temps. Add Water as needed.

Day 8: Check temps. Add 1/2 cup Blood Meal or ½ cup Urea plus Water as needed.

Day 9: Check Temps Add Water as needed.

Day 10: Check Temps Add 1 Cup Organic granular fertilizer like Espoma for Vegetables and Flowers (I also add rock phosphate, bone meal, and gypsum) and Water them in.

If the bales never heat up over 100º you may need to add more water or fertilizer. If the bales were not really new and had been sitting outdoors most of the winter they may never heat up as they already perked throughout the winter. From Day 11 on you might be able to plant in the bales but watch that they have cooled down sufficiently inside or you will burn the roots of the seedlings. You may have to wait several days. The internal temp should be 85º or lower to be safe. When planting, separate the straw with the spatula or your hand, then add potting soil or coir (I mix in worm castings as well) and the seedling or seeds. With seeds sprinkle potting soil on top or shallowly so the seeds are covered. Keep watering - DO NOT LET THE BALES DRY OUT!!
About every two weeks I foliar feed tomatoes, peppers and eggplants with Fish Fertilizer (like Neptune’s Harvest) and Kelp. I add Epsom salts (1 tbs. per gallon of water at transplant, flowering and fruit set). Then watch ‘em grow!

Put wire caging around the bales. For tomatoes you need at least 5 - 6 ft. high wire fencing so you can attach the tomato plants to it. The bales will continue to break down throughout the summer and not offer the support you need. Tomatoes can grow tall and get heavy. I put a 2-3 ft high fence around the rest of the bales, especially for squash and melons as they get really huge and can fall down the sides. The fencing really helps keep the bales together as they sink. In the fall you can gather up the used bales, pile the straw high to make a regular height bale (the worms go crazy in these!) and replant in the spring. Two old bales usually make 1 new one. Some people suggest planting potatoes in the old straw. That works well. Experiment!! This is not an exact science. Each bale will do its own thing temperature and growth-wise. Keep notes on what you do so you can report to others what works and what doesn’t!! Have FUN!


Piedmont, SC(Zone 7b)

Fantastic! Thanks so much, just what I needed. I'm looking forward to trying this out

Pelzer, SC(Zone 7b)

Hi Tia,
If you start now, you should be in time:). I'd use hay bales rather that straw, because they'll prep more quickly. Bloodmeal will work instead of the ammonium/urea, and it's pretty cheap at Walmart. You will need to use something, unless you'd rather just let them go naturally, and plant for a fall crop.
If you have them ready in 10 days or so, the Jockey Lot has pretty nice plants (and cheap!), and probably will still have plenty by then. That would give you enough of a head start to get in on the season. Or, you could start things like squash and melons, cukes etc in pots to be ready when your bales are.

Good luck, it's great fun:)

Piedmont, SC(Zone 7b)

Hi Cat!
Thanks for the info. You are really close to my area, any tips on where to get the bales? Did you see a SuperWalmart opened in Easley-maybe they might sell them? I plan on picking them up somewhere this weekend and get them going. So exciting! I'm really looking forward to this.

Pelzer, SC(Zone 7b)

We get them from a man near the Jockey Lot who sells us hay for the cows, so I'm not really sure. I've never seen hay or straw at WalMart, but have found straw at Home Depot to start grass. I'll see if I can find some info, and let you know if I have any luck.

Wake Forest, NC

Tia: welcome Aboard! You'll do just fine.

Gloucester County, VA(Zone 7b)

If you have a Southern States they carry hay, but my suggestion is to look in the newspaper and see if anyone is selling hay or straw. This time of the year, those folks are trying to get ready for the new hay season and will sell you last years hay or straw at a discount or in my case, my hay man just gave me hay bales for free that had been on the bottom row all winter and were no longer usable as hay for horses or cows. It's worth a try.

Piedmont, SC(Zone 7b)

Thanks everyone, I contacted someone on Craigslist that said he was getting rid of last years to make room for the new bales. $1.75 a peice for small $2.00 for large...not sure what the dimensions are but the price is right. Question, if they are last years bales do they need to be conditioned in the same way?

Thanks to you all!

P.S. Kent, your photos of your bales in previous threads are inspiring, thank you for the warm welcome!

Pelzer, SC(Zone 7b)

mms, they'll at least need a lot of water, depending on where they've been kept, and how old they actually are. When you get them, let us know how they look, and feel. Can you get your hand inside easily, and how heavy they are. Make sure they are where you want them to stay, they aren't really moveable onse they get wet and start to cook:).
Glad you found a source.

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