Since it’s time to start thinking about the garden, I’ve decided to re-issue the Hay Bale Garden instructions and post from when it first started.

Up here in the hills – unless you’re living on the eastern side of Dahlonega, or down in one of those picturesque, lush farming valleys heading out Hwy 52 towards Ellijay – you don’t have a lot of options for gardening or growing anything…..  except rocks. The result of the clear cut logging in the Appalachians back in the 30’s has left most of the surrounding areas completely devoid of any really usable topsoil.

Our property isn’t any different.

99.999% of our land is scrub forest and DR (Decomposed Rock), dispersed with intermittent layers of that good ol’ sticky Georgia Red Clay.
…. needless to say, gardening is a challenge.

In 2009, we attempted to container garden. It was lackluster at best. Even with drip lines and composted manure, the containers were just no match for the hot summer heat, and the diminutive bounty was the proof.

Opposed to previous years, this year we aren’t even starting the bale rotting process until May 1st. I’ve found that with our extremely hot and humid summers, the bales deteriorate much too quickly and by mid July, the bales have lost most of their heft and need augmenting with garden soil. Which – isn’t that bad of a thing….
but remember, I’m cheap. And I don’t see the sense of adding more cost to a thing that supposed to be cost and effort free (once it’s set up.)
So, I’m waiting.

Bale set up in your particular area is going to depend on temperatures and rainfall. You want the ambient temps in your garden area to be around 60 degrees in the evening to insure the rotting process continues throughout the night – and sufficient rainfall to keep the bales moist for the 2-week prep period.

Hay Bale Garden
Feeds 1 (smallish) Family
Wheat Straw Bales – Use the following as a guide on the number of bales you will need.
Tomato Plants – 2 per bale
Pepper Plants – 3 per bale
Okra – 6 per bale
Squash – 4 per bale
Potatoes (Sweet or White) – 2 per bale
Onions – 16 per bale
Radishes – 16 per bale
Carrots – 24 per bale
Eggplant – 4 per bale
1 Bag Ammonium Nitrate (or 1 bag 32-0-0 fertilizer)
1 Bag 10-10-10 fertilizer
Tomato Cages (Tomatoes, peppers, okra will all need staking – The tomato cages work really well as you can jab them down through the bale and into the ground for added support.)
1 Large Bag of Composted Cow Manure (or just really good composted medium)

Set the bales out in your desired garden area where they get an ample amount of sunlight
Turn the bales so that the binding string wraps around the sides of the bale. (This will hold the bale together better as it rots.)

Days 1 – 3:
Saturate the bales twice a day allowing the water to soak deep into the bale

Days 4 – 6:
Apply 1/2 Cup of nitrate to the top of the bale and soak in into the straw with water

Days 7 – 9:
Reduce the amount of nitrate to 1/4 cup – continue to soak the fertilizer into the straw.

Day 10:
Discontinue with the nitrate, and add 1 Cup of 10-10-10 fertilizer to the bale and soak through

Day 11:
(For plants):
Transplant your plants into the bales. I used a spatula to make a crack in the bale for each plant. Place the plant down to its first leaf and close the crack back together as best you can.
(For seeds):
With the compost, add about a 2″ layer of garden medium into the top of the bale and press it down a bit.
Space your seeds according to the above guide. – or – sow
 them in evenly across the top (you will just have to thin them out as they sprout)