Accessible Gardening: Hay Bale Gardening PDF Version
A bale garden uses hay or straw
bales in place of soil. Seeds can be
planted directly on top of the bale or
seedlings can be used. Bale gardening
is one way to garden if you do not
have a lot of soil or space; or if your
soil is hard to work. Bale gardening is
also easier on your hands and wrists,
especially if you have arthritis and
other musculoskeletal conditions.
Most vegetables, flowers, or herbs
that you want to grow in the ground,
can be grown in bales. Tomatoes,
peppers, cucumbers, squash, melons,
broccoli, cauliflower, marigolds,
petunias, basil, cilantro, and parsley are
only a few of the plants that do well
growing in bales.
You can make your garden into
any shape you want with bales. You
can make long rows by placing
the bales end-to-end. Bales can be
grouped together to make traditional,
rectangular garden beds. You can also
make your garden into a design or maze
by where and how you place your bales.
Hay or straw bales need to be prepared
for planting. Although bales can be
used in place of soil, they do not have
all the nutrients found in soil that plants
need to grow. It will take about ten days
to prepare your bales. There are a lot
of different ways to prepare bales for
planting. The steps below are a general
- Water and keep the bales wet for
the entire ten days.
- On the fourth day, pour five ounces
(ten tablespoons) of ammonium
nitrate fertilizer onto the bales. This
fertilizer is often used by farmers
and gardeners. Miracle Gro, Flurin,
and Hibiscus are all brands that have
ammonium nitrate in them.
- On the seventh day, pour two
and one half ounces (or five
tablespoons) of ammonium nitrate
fertilizer on the bales.
- On the tenth day, pour 12 ounces
(1 cup) of fertilizer with an N-P-K
ratio of 13-13-13 on the bales and
water. N-P-K stands for nitrogen,
phosphorous, and potassium. These
are nutrients that your plants need
to grow. The numbers stand for how
much of these nutrients is in the
fertilizer by weight. You can find this
information on the fertilizer's label. Some fertilizers that have this ratio
are Spectrum, Jobe, Once-A-Year
Plant Fertilizer, and Greenleaf.
- If you want to grow your garden
from seed, put three inches of
potting soil or top soil on top of the
bales. Plant your seeds in the soil.
- If you are using seedlings to start
your garden, you do not need to
put potting soil on top of the bale.
Plant seedlings by driving a trowel
into the bale. Lever the trowel to
force the bale slightly apart. Plant
the seedling in the space you made
between the flakes (sections that
make up a bale). Let the bale spring
back together again.
Tips and Tricks
- Bales that do best as garden beds
are tightly bound with synthetic
twine. Bales that are bound tightly
with synthetic twine are less likely
to fall apart through the growing
season. Bales that are loosely bound
may fall apart faster.
- Bales may need to be watered up
to two times a day, every day. You
cannot over water the bales. They
will dry out quickly because bales
do not store water or 'hold on to it'
like soil does.
- Both hay and straw bales have
seeds in them. Grass may sprout if
you use hay bales. Grain plants may
sprout if you use straw. Sprouts can
either be pulled out or trimmed.
- The same spacing you use to grow
plants in the ground is the same
spacing plants need to grow in
bales. In general, one bale can
handle about three broccoli plants,
three cauliflower plants, two
pumpkin hills, or two tomato plants.
- If you grow taller vegetables and
flowers, like corn and sunflowers,
then they may fall over. Bales will
not give tall plants the support they
need to stay upright. If you want to
plant taller vegetables and flowers,
think about using a strong and
tall staking system. Even tomato
plants will need to be staked in a
more sturdy way than you would
normally need to do in traditional
<-- Back to Table of Contents
There is no right or wrong way to build a bale garden. The information in this sheet
is a basic guide to building your own. For more details on bale gardening, check out
If you would like to talk to someone about accessible gardening, or would like a
garden assessment done, call Geen Thumbs, Healthy Joints at 800-841-8436.