Each fall, I decorate my front yard with a few hay bales and some cute scare crows. Mix in some pumpkins and some fall flowers, like mums or sunflowers, and you’ve got yourself a super cute fall display! After Thanksgiving, I packed away the fall decor in prep for Christmas.
My dad asked if he could have the hay bales that I had decorated with once he found out that I was just going to throw them away. He told me about this gardening process that he had seen online and wanted to try. Low and behold, he grew so many tomatoes that year that he didn’t even know what to do with them!
Hay bale gardening has become increasingly popular over the last year or so. It is a relatively inexpensive way to grow your own fruits and veggies and can easily be done in a very limited amount of space. We are currently renting our home and even though we are on over an acre of land, we didn’t feel like it was appropriate to dig up the yard in order to create a garden. The other option we had was to build a raised garden bed which looks great but the cost is higher and would still require the ground to be prepped. Neither of those were going to work for us this year.
I started researching hay bale gardening and decided to give it a try for myself.
Check out my budget friendly step by step process of prepping your hay bale as well as some helpful tips and tricks I’ve learned along the way.
Hay Bale Gardening 101
Phase One – Purchase your hay
You can purchase hay bales at almost any home improvement store or feed store and they can range anywhere from $5 to $20 per bale. We got our hay from a local feed store and to be budget friendly, we decided to go with Coastal hay, which ended up costing us about $7 a bale. We got a total of 6 bales.
Phase Two – Prepping your hay
Prepping your hay is the foundation for a great garden. Without prepping the proper way, your plants won’t receive the nutrients they need to thrive, so be sure to take the time to do this step properly.
Basically what is going to happen – Without being all technical, because that is boring – is that using a combination of water and nitrogen, the hay bale will trap moisture and heat on the inside of the bale and will begin to decompose itself from the inside out. The sun will cause the outer border of the hay to harden causing a self contained, “container garden”. Pretty cool, huh??
This process will take roughly 10 to 14 days in warm weather.
Once you get your hay home, go ahead and position it in the location that you are going to want to it be for the growing season. A sunny location is best! Once the bales get wet, they become extremely heavy and difficult to move, so do your self a favor and take my advice 😉 I’ve read that you should place newspaper under the bales to help control the weeds from growing up into them, however, I did not do this. I just placed the hay directly on the grass. I will update in a few weeks and let you know how that worked.
Once your hay is positioned, you are going to want to start with a high nitrogen lawn fertilizer (DO NOT GET FERTILIZER WITH WEED AND FEED <—– very important!!!) I used Bayer Advanced Triple Action Lawn Fertilizer that I got at Home Depot.
Now you are ready to prep!!
Day 1 – Water the hay bales thoroughly and sprinkle fertilizer over the top of all the bales. I used roughly 1 cup per bale). Be sure to use a high water pressure to drive that fertilizer down into the hay bale. Water, water, water.
Day 2 – No fertilizer today – Only thorough watering. Really soak those bales.
Day 3 – Sprinkle some more fertilizer on your hay today (the same amount as day 1). Water thoroughly to drive fertilizer down into the bale.
Day 4 – Water only Today.
Day 5 – Last day of fertilizer! Whoo hoo! Water super good after applying fertilizer.
Day 6 – Water, Water, Water!
Day 7 – Water today too!
Day 8 – Are you seeing a trend? Water those hay bales!
Day 9 – Keep on waterin’
Day 10 – Before you water, you are going to check your hay to see the progress. Using a small trowel, penetrate the top of the bale. Is it soft? Can you move the hay around under the surface? If so, you can go ahead and get those veggies ready to plant. If not, give your bales a few more days of watering. You be the judge. Oops, I forgot to say WATER today too!!
Phase Three – Planting the Bales
Now comes the fun part! Planting into the bales.
I did a quick google search to find a planting compatibility guide to find out which plants do best next to others and which plants can hurt the growth of a different species. This is something that is always good to know, even in standard gardening.
Next, you are going to want to lay your plants out where you want to plant them. I made a chart and attached it below so you can see how I laid mine out. I chose to do an “L” shaped garden, hoping to have easy access to all plants as they get bigger.
Once you have determined your layout, using a metal trowel, remove enough hay from the bale to put some garden soil and your veggie plant. Typically about a 6 inch hold is big enough. Fill remaining space with potting soil and top with discarded hay.
Continue this for all plants then water thoroughly.
Phase Four – Maintenance
You are going to want to ensure that you are monitoring your plants needs very well as they will need more water than normal because hay quickly dries out. I water mine anywhere from 1-2 times a day depending on how hot it is. Just keep the roots moist.
Also, about every week or two, you will want to fertilize with a liquid fertilizer which you can easily pick up at your local Home Depot, Lowe’s, Walmart, etc.
Congratulations! You have officially planted your Hay Bale Garden!! I wish you all the best in your growing season and I hope you reap the many benefits of home grown food!
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