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Hay Bale Gardening

Hay Bale Garden With Soil
A raised hay bale garden filled with garden loam
The picture here is a good illustration of one way to use hay bales to create a productive backyard garden. It's simple, but it's effective.

Ten or twelve bales is enough to make a good sized rectangular garden bed. This number will probably leave a bale or two over that can be used for mulching. Of course there is no size restriction except your own needs.

The layout of the bales is up to the gardener. It's a matter of choice. Make sure the bales are in position before you start watering. The hay bales will absorb a lot of water and get very heavy when saturated so they are hard to move.

It's generally a good idea to position the bales with the twine exposed horizontally, not on the ground. This can have some advantages later on.

A layer of newspaper or cardboard on the ground is a good option. This will help keep the weeds under control that are there in abundance.

In fact, there is nothing stopping you from putting this garden on a slab of concrete or on gravel if it suits. The hay bale garden becomes a large container of soil with all the nutrients on board. The hay bale walls allow excess water to drain off.

A layer of hay put down first in the garden itself is a good idea. It will break down quickly into compost and it will add good nutrient to the garden.

The garden is then filled with a good quality garden loam, preferably organic. 

A layer of hay mulch over the garden completes the plot and you are ready to plant your seeds or seedlings ready for a good harvest.

Why Build A Hay Bale Garden?

There is work to be done initially to set up the bales and add the soil but once that is done, you have a productive raised garden that should produce a good harvest. 

The older we get, the more we appreciate the advantages of working with a raised garden bed. 

The question always arises as to how long the hay will last. Generally speaking the bales will last about twelve months. If the bales have been packed tight back on the farm they may last longer.

Now that might sound like a real problem having to renew the hay bales every year or so.

However, the hay is not wasted. Over this period the hay will decompose and gradually turn into compost. When this happens, it is a rich addition to the garden and just needs to be mixed into the existing soil. In this way the hay bales become a constant source of good rich compost.

If you have chosen your garden loam and your hay bales carefully, this garden should produce a minimum of weeds, if any. Take care with hay. Depending on the source, some hay can contain a lot of seeds which will start to germinate when the bales are watered.

Rainwater and watering with your garden hose will soon saturate the bales of hay. The nature of the plant structure in hay means that it absorbs and holds a lot of water. This can be a good thing as it will help to keep moisture in the soil.

The important thing to remember about the hay in the bales is that it will not usually become soggy. Once the hay is saturated, excess water will simple drain off.

It is also a good idea to source your hay bales from a chemical free farm. The hay will eventually turn into compost for your garden and choosing the right hay will keep harmful chemicals out of the garden.

The next two pictures show a hay bale garden currently under way in Palmwoods.

Do not be tempted to plant anything in the hay bales themselves because there are no nutrients in the hay available to the plants. 

Having said this, there is a way to plant crops in the hay bales. It is a little more complicated, takes some time but is very effective if done according to the rules. We'll look at this technique in a later blog article.
Hay Garden Palmwoods
This hay bale garden is in Palmwoods and growing well
Hay Garden Planted
The same Palmwoods gardener also has a steel raised garden bed but with a thick layer of hay in the bottom that will sonn become compost
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