Hay or straw bale gardens create a quick raised bed allowing you to garden in areas where soil is unsuitable for growing. Although straw bales are preferred, as they reportedly produce fewer weeds, hay bales work in the same way. Depending on where you live, hay bales may be easier to find than straw bales.
The principle behind gardens made with hay bales is that the inner portion of the bale decays naturally during the season creating a rich organic soil capable of supporting plant growth.
This is the first year I’ve grown a hay bale garden. Weeds have not been an issue, but water has. Because the bale is porous, water runs through it quickly and the bale dries out in the summer sun.
With a little research, I discovered any easy solution for providing a source of water to the plants grown in hay bales. Although it is a bit late for this year’s garden, it’s never too early to begin planning for next year.
If you are new to hay bale gardening, you may wish to read the directions for preparing the bales for planting at the end of this article before reading about preparing the watering system.
Make a Drip Irrigation System with Soda Bottles
According to the University of Oklahoma, using a two-liter soda bottle or old milk jugs to create a drip irrigation system provides the water plants in hay bales need to produce lush foliage and abundant fruit.
Wash and dry the bottle and cut off the bottom. Puncture 2 to 4 holes in the bottle. Control the amount of water flow and its direction by the placement of the holes.
Insert the soda bottle into the hay bale next to the plant. Pull back the hay or straw with your hands and insert the bottle until the cut rim is level with the top of the hay bale. Firm the bale back around the bottle with your hands.
Fill the bottle with water. According to the University of Oklahoma, this will provide water for your plant for a day or two, depending on the size of the holes and the weather conditions. Check the bottle daily and refill when necessary.
You can also use the watering system for providing Miracle Grow or other water-soluble fertilizer to your plants. Straw bale gardens require more frequent applications of fertilizer than garden in the soil, as nutrients often leach from the bales during watering or rainfall.
I’m looking forward to creating this soda bottle drip irrigation system for my hay bale garden next summer. Not only will it provide the water my vegetable plants need to thrive, it will make caring for my hay bale garden easier.
Directions for Hay Bale Gardens
Before planting, I prepared the bales by watering thoroughly for three days. For the next 3 days, I added 1 cup of bone meal to each bale and watered thoroughly. For the next 3 days, I reduced the amount of bone meal to ½ cup and watered after each application. On the 10th day, I sprinkled the bales with 10-10-10 fertilizer and watered thoroughly.
When planting time arrived, I dug a hole in the bale and added 2 cups of soil. For seedlings, I simply transplanted them into the bale and closed the hay around the stem of the plant with my hands. For seeds, I added a 2 to 3 inch layer of soil over the top of the bed and planted the seeds directly into the soil.