Newbie here. Please help me not mess this up! ;-)

Memphis, IN

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!


Tempe, AZ(Zone 9b)

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.

Wake Forest, NC

Jeff: I initially oriented my bales with strings OFF the ground because that is how the "original" recipe stated to do it.

My 3rd year I went with strings ON the ground.

This works much better if you are using straw.

With the strings OFF the ground, the orientation of the straw stems/shafts act almost like drinking straws and let a lot of water through the bale.

With the strings ON the ground the water has to work it's way down through the bales.

I like it MUCH better with the strings ON the ground. Not as much runoff, thus it doesn't take as much water.

I haven't used any hay/grass bales, but those who have love it.

Hay just costs a lot more in my area, so I'm sticking with straw.

Bardstown, KY(Zone 6a)

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!


Kingman, AZ(Zone 7a)

are you talking the Yellow/black color plastic twine as apposed to the natural brownish twine that is like hemp?

My bale has the Yellow plastic twine on it, will it rott on the ground?

Wake Forest, NC

MissJestr: that plastic twine will be here until the Rapture!

Kingman, AZ(Zone 7a)

Then it will be on its side. I will be planting this weekend, it is moist and ready to go...

Memphis, IN

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.


Bardstown, KY(Zone 6a)

Hay around here is in the $5-6 range but today I am visiting a farmer who is GIVING me about 20 bales for free of year old hay! Let the warmer weather begin...


Memphis, IN

Doug, I like FREE, that is a great price!

Hey, I was planning to plant my tomato's, peppers, squash and cukes around May 1st. Do you think that is ok for our area? Or should I wait a bit longer? I want my tomato's going asap!!

Bardstown, KY(Zone 6a)

I usually plant mine after Derby Day so you should be fine.


Easton, KS(Zone 5b)

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'm really going to do this!

Tempe, AZ(Zone 9b)

LOL - sounds like an affirmation, Beth! I'm really going to do this, I'm really going to do this . . .

Wake Forest, NC

Beth: welcome, Aboard!

Looks like you're jumping in big time! :-)

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.

Easton, KS(Zone 5b)

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.

Kingman, AZ(Zone 7a)

Kent, My bale has been outside since last october and I am thinking it should be about ready to use... Now here is the toughy question.

Seeds or plants which is easier to start?

Wake Forest, NC

Miss J: all I've ever worked with are transplants from flats/4/6-packs, so you can see I'm partial to that method.

Maybe others who have seeded straight into/on top of the bales will weigh in.

Kingman, AZ(Zone 7a)

you just pull apart the straw and plop it in there? Cajun told me she uses a level to make a hole.

Wake Forest, NC

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.

Eufaula has another way of doing it:

Check it out at her March 22nd post. She uses a bottle.

Cajun uses a level, you said.

Lots of different ways.

This message was edited Mar 25, 2009 9:12 PM

Janice~ Gulf Coast, MS(Zone 9a)

Has anyone had any luck growing pumpkins with haybales? To date I have NEVER been able to get a pumpkin to grow full term..

Never tried haybales before. So this is all new to me.. Reading every thread I can click on. lol.. I can't wait to give this a try with maters and cukes..

I am very worried about mold down here on the gulf coast.. Im sure my neighbors (and hubby) will think I have lost my mind..

Sorry didnt mean to hijack the thread.. Just saw the word pumpkins and thought this would be a great place to ask question. :)

Tempe, AZ(Zone 9b)

I'm tryinmg melons this year, I don't see why squash wouldn't work.

Bardstown, KY(Zone 6a)

I'm doing my squash and cukes for the first time in bales this year. After the squash are gone I plan on putting in pumpkins too so I'll guess we'll find out how they do!


Janice~ Gulf Coast, MS(Zone 9a)

Well I can't wait to see if pumpkins will work... Dreaming of the day I can grow my own!! I can't wait to see everyone results.. Fingers crossed it works..

Memphis, IN

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.

Memphis, IN

Alright, we have 12 timothy hay bales in place and wetted down!

Any suggestions about AN on the hay? It won't hurt anything will it?

Looks like I have about a month until I intend to plant so I think the bales should be in good shape by then.

Thumbnail by Hondo_Lane
Tempe, AZ(Zone 9b)

AN will have the same effect on hay - but watch the temp, you may not need as much or as many traetments because I think hay has more nitrogen in it already.

Wake Forest, NC

Hondo_Lane: your nitrogen source on the bales won't hurt anything. You're gonna have some green grass around the bales for sure.

Do take the time to check the temps with your hands and with a thermometer if you have one. It's fun to feel the progress as the temps rise up and then drop back down.

Add just enough water to the bales to wash in the nitrogen - about 2 gallons or less/bale.

You're doing fine.

Easton, KS(Zone 5b)

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?



Bardstown, KY(Zone 6a)

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.


Wake Forest, NC

Beth: agree with Doug.

I'm using more time and just water this year. I may add some nitrogen to a few bales to see if they "cook" back up.

The nitrogen addition is mainly for the quick-start method, it seems.

Ammonium sulphate is usually what most vendors use, but just check the NPK and if it's high nitrogen with low P/K, and readily water soluble, that will work.

Easton, KS(Zone 5b)

Kent, I found some blood meal - 12-0-0 - I'm gonna try that and see what happens!

Wake Forest, NC

Beth: 10-4 on the Blood Meal.

The only amounts I've read about from others who used it was about 1 cup/bale every other day beginning on day 3, but use at your discretion since this is definitely not an exact science.

This year I didn't use anything but water.

A few days ago I added some ammonium sulphate/urea (34-0-0) for 2 days to see if the bales would heat back up.

They didn't.

So, the slow-start method seems to work OK, too.

I just enjoy watching/feeling those bales get up to temp.

Memphis, IN

I am just itching to plant something in my bales but I know its awful early here. Matter of fact I had frost just a couple of days ago.

However, looking at the forecast through May 2nd, I don't see anything forecast temps for lower than fifty.

I think I am going to go ahead and plant a bale or two just for fun. I think I can protect two bales if I see the temps taking a dip on me.

Wake Forest, NC

I know what you mean my Indiana friend!

I had the itch too strong this year and planted a tad early for me.

Lost some plants and plan to replant tomorrow. We've got some gorgeous weather forecast for the next week and I'm off until Tuesday.

Bardstown, KY(Zone 6a)

I'll probably drop in a couple of maters too this weekend.


Mobile, AL(Zone 8b)

I started my veggies from seed in early March. How big do the plants need to be before I put them in the bales. I put some marigolds in and they are doing good. The itch to plant is very bad LOL


Memphis, IN

I'm off to Thienemans for Tomato Days! They have a huge selection of Heirlooms to choose from. I'll let you all know what I buy when I get back.


Bardstown, KY(Zone 6a)

Jeff if you haven't left yet one of our DG'ers works there on a volunteer basis. Gary Millwood (VGMKY)

Memphis, IN

Thank you Doug!

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!

Memphis, IN

Here is a list of what I bought at Thienemans today.

Amish Oxheart
Arkansas Travler
Australian Heart (Joe Thieneman)
Black Cherry
Cherokee Purple
Cherokee Purlple - Potato Leaf
Cherokee Chocolate
Dwarf Champion
Franks Large Red
Hazelfield Farm Red
Indiana Red
Ky Heirloom
Ky Plate
Large Red Cherry
Linnie's Oxheart
Opal's Homestead
Red Kimberly
Riesentraube Red
Sun Gold Cherry (hybrid)
Sweet Baby Girl (hybrid)

This ought to fill up most of my bales!!


Post a Reply to this Thread

Please or register to post.

Upload Images to your reply

    You may upload up to 5 images