Straw Bale Garden Part IV: Almost Ready to Plant?

straw bale garden

Over the past fifteen days I’ve been “conditioning” my straw bale garden by adding blood meal and a lot of water. During the conditioning process we had both a freak rainstorm (helpful) and a freak heatwave (not so good).

The bales did not heat up as much as I expected–as of this morning they are around 80° F, around 15° to 20° higher than the ambient temperature. Several sources I checked, however, suggest that this is hot enough. The test will be when I plant seedlings. If they end up stunted, I’ll know that I did not let the bales compost long enough.

One problem I had with the conditioning process is that the straw on most of my bales was oriented with the stem sides facing the wide (vertical) side of the bale. This made it difficult to get the blood meal into the bales. One or two of the bales had the straw oriented with the stems facing up and these bales seemed to heat up faster.

Another problem was keeping the bales moist in our hot and dry climate. Tarps may have helped.

The next step will be to plant seedlings and add a balanced fertilizer (fish emulsion) every other week.

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  1. I’m so glad I found your site this morning! I read the NYT article and got my bales within a week.
    I’m using the same guidelines and on the same schedule as you. I have six bales, using blood meal, (plus my big dogs peeing on them, ha) and will be planting in about a week.
    Can’t wait! I will be following your progress.

    • Hey Roma, Keep us posted on your bale garden–interested to hear how it works for you.

  2. Hi Eric,
    You might want to consider finding a fish hydrolysate product, maybe labeled as “cold-processed”, instead of the emulsion. Hydrolysates are enzymatically digested, and so make better food for fungi, which will break down the bale more quickly. My favorites are Neptune’s Harvest and Drammatic K. The stinkier emulsions will attract more dogs and skunks too! Good luck!

  3. When you use fish emulsion in the garden, how do you prevent the skunks, raccoons, and other creatures from digging in themselves? I live down the street from you guys, and I gave up after losing too many plants to neighborhood foragers who would just dig them right up and leave massive holes in my yard.

    • I was hoping, and maybe this is naive, that the skunks will not climb on top of the bales. It looks like they have already started exploring. It might be time to get a dog or do some skunk relocation. But if we do relocation they might end up at your place!

  4. I started my straw bales the Saturday after you, so mine are a few days behind plus we had a freak May snow storm here in Iowa last week that put temperatures in the 30’s for 3 days and put 5 inches of snow on top of my bales. The bales got no additional fertilizer during this period and received their last dose of fertilizer last night. I am using blood meal and urine for fertilizer.

    I took the temperature of all of my bales this morning. The ambient temperature this morning was 60 degrees F. I have 3 bales that are straw end up and 3 bales that are straw side up. My 3 bales that are straw end up had temps between 80 and 95. The 3 bales with sides up had temps between 105 and 115.

    The straw end up bales are supposed to be the preferred method and do seem easier to wet. I find it interesting that it appears the straw sides up bales are heating up better. Though since this is the first I’ve taken the temperature it’s possible that the straw end up bales have already passed through their hot period. Given the weather conditions, I doubt that.

    I hope to plant this weekend, but will monitor the bale temperature to see.

    I started 3 more bales (2 ends up, 1 sides up) after the freak weather and they got their first application of fertilizer last night. I’ll try to take their temperature everyday to see any differences between ends and sides up.

  5. Ever since I first heard of straw bale gardening I’ve been reading article after article about it. I really like your blog and I’m sorry that they’re so short. I started one bale, straw end up this last Sunday. I’ve watered twice a day since then and I’ve decided to try to cure my bale with urine only. I haven’t found anyone who wrote about doing this so I’m hoping it works but not really sure how to tell other than wait and see how the plants grow. Can’t wait for your next blog entry.

  6. Our hay bale is urine-only too. Also, I went out to soak it this morning and I found a bunch of little green shoots coming out of it. Does anyone have an idea as to what that means for using the bale to plant in?

    • It just means there were a few seeds in your straw bale. Try to reach in and pull clumps of them out together, and you should be able to get a good amount of the seeds out with the shoots. Pull them up now before they get roots going that could compete with your veggies. 🙂

  7. StacySix, my bales have been sitting out for about a month and I’ve been “feeding” them for the last two weeks. We’ve had a lot of rain and some unseasonably warm weather and mine have been sprouting some grass recently as well. I assume that means they’re becoming a hospitable growing medium, at least for grass! I’ve not checked temperature in my bales but they appear to be breaking down nicely inside.

    I’ve read elsewhere that you can cover them with black plastic for a few days to stifle weeds and help them heat up too. Double-check me on that; this is my first time doing straw bales. I’m letting mine be for now.

    • Thanks so much, Roma! Ours is breaking down pretty well, too, but we’ve had it out for about two weeks. Covering it might easy my fretting – I’m a bit of a fretter. 😉

  8. Did anyone get a mucky wet dirt like substance in their bales before planting? I also have some white looking mold in them and mushrooms growing out of one. This has been a change, hopefully for the better. My bales are still warm inside.

  9. Are they ready to plant yet? It’s been over a month since “almost ready”. I’m starting a 2 bale garden today and would love an update on your bales!!!

    • I’m behind in my blogging! Yes, I planted them earlier this month and things are growing. Will do an update this week. Good luck with your bales!

  10. I’m conditioning my first bales for my first straw bale garden. I live in CA and the weather ranges from 74 to 94. I’ve been watering them for two weeks, and adding MiracleGro daily in a gallon of water for the past six days. I’m using a turkey thermometer, but think I should get one like in your photo, because it registers 190 degrees, but I don’t think that’s right. What type of thermometer is best, and what “ambient” temperature am I going for, prior to planting anything? Thanks for the guidance. theladycoyote

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