Grow Your Garden in a Bale

By Sara Welsh / For The Chronicle

Hay bale gardens are a quick and easy method of gardening, especially for those short on space. Decomposing hay bales provide all the nutrients plants need to grow. Just add some potting soil and regular watering. Here, Lewis County Master Gardeners at the Southwest Washington Fair demonstrate the outcome of hay bale gardening.

Hay bale gardens are a quick and easy method of gardening, especially for those short on space. Decomposing hay bales provide all the nutrients plants need to grow. Just add some potting soil and regular watering. Here, Lewis County Master Gardeners at the Southwest Washington Fair demonstrate the outcome of hay bale gardening.

Are you renting or can’t imagine digging in the rocks that you call the soil in your yard?

“Straw-bale gardening uses the sun and water to create compost inside the bales which continue to absorb the heat and the water to grow the garden of your choice,” said Brown, 57, of Toledo. “It’s easy to be as creative as you want to be.”

Straw-bale gardening is a form of gardening using dried hay or straw bales, which are best placed in areas with direct sunlight. The bales are then thoroughly soaked in water for 5 to 6 days, which breaks them down for planting. This allows the hay to release all its heat from within and cool down. No fertilizer should be added to the dried bales during the breakdown period. After the 5 to 6 days, use soil and fertilizer and begin planting your garden.

Straw can cost a little money but, since it has no seeds, is largely weed-free. Old hay is less expensive but has seeds. People who own horses or other livestock are eager to get rid of any hay bales that get wet over the rainy season, according to Debbie Burris, Master Gardener and MRC volunteer extension coordinator.

“For the workshop on Saturday I’m supplying my own bales, but they are easy to find,” said Brown.

Straw-bale gardening is simple and does not involve a lot of movement or bending and there is no digging or tilling the ground necessary.

“Straw-bale gardening is great for older people and a lot of fun for children,” Burris said. “There’s not a lot of bending with the hay-bale gardening so if you’re less mobile or have problems with the up and down of regular gardening this would be a great workshop to experience.”

Brown said online research can really help people learn more about straw-bale gardening as well.

“I will show people how to best utilize the straw-bale garden and plant your garden to be successful, but if you can’t make it, online research can show you hundreds of options for a successful straw-bale garden,” said Brown. “There are no set rules; it is just what works best for you.”

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