Friday, April 22, 2011

Organic Straw Bale Garden Conditioning Recipe

How's that for a mouthful of a title? I've written about this topic before and why it's important to condition straw bales before planting. For a refresher check out this post. (You'll also get a glimpse of what last year's garden layout was.) I'm using 15 new bales again this year, but I also left a couple of old bales in the formation for growing carrots and pumpkins.

This is our new layout that takes into account a few things I learned from our first two years using this method:

1) I need more room between the rows so we put two bales at the top of the formation.

2) Extending one side gives vines some extra room and I can still get into the middle of the garden.

3) Using bales from the previous year for growing carrots will give them a 'softer' place to grow. Carrots don't like dense soil so it makes sense they wouldn't like the dense bales. Also, too much nitrogen reduces the number of female flowers on pumpkins. I'm going to try a pumpkin plant in the old straw to see if that helps produce more pumpkins.

4) potatoes can be grown by placing the the seed potatoes directly on the surface and then covering them with straw. That inner row of old bales is my supply of straw to cover the potatoes as they grow in the space I labeled 'potatoes'.

(That white stuff on the bales? Snow. I don't want to talk about it.)

Ok, so lets get down to business. The traditional method of conditioning bales is as follows:

Day 1) 1/2 cup of 34-0-0 per bale and then water the bales
Day 2) water
Day 3) 1/2 cup of 34-0-0 per bale and more water
Day 4) water
Day 5) 1/2 cup of 34-0-0 per bale and water
Day 6) water
Day 7,8,9) 1/4 cup 34-0-0 and water
Day 10) 1 cup 10-10-10 per bale and water

You can plant any day after that if you can feel heat in the bales. Don't forget you'll need a couple inches of potting soil for seeds. Seedlings can be placed directly into the bales.

To condition organically this is what works for me:

Follow the same game plan as above but substitute the following recipe for the 34-0-0 conventional fertilizer above.... Updated to answer the question asked by Summer Jo in the comments - the three numbers stand for the ratio of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium in the fertilizer. This site gives a very detailed explanation if you want to read more about what these numbers mean.

In a bucket combine,
2.5T of Bloodmeal 12-0-0
1.77 cups of Dr. Earth's 5-7-3
1.25 cups of Milorganite 5-2-0
.68 cups of Milorganite 6-2-0

To reach the 10-10-10 ratio I use:
1.77 cups of Dr. Earth's 4-4-4
1.77 cups of Dr. Earth's 5-7-3

Using organic nitrogen sources means it might take a few extra days for the bales to be 100% ready for planting. Use your best judgement - if it's been cool, you probably want to condition a few extra days - it can't hurt! We set our bales out over a week ago so mother nature could give a few extra soakings before we officially start conditioning.

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Summer Jo April 22, 2011 at 7:31 PM  

Ok...So I am REALLY wanting to do this, but I am already confused... what is "34-0-0"???

I need this broken down in idiot proof form ;)

MamaBear March 23, 2013 at 7:16 PM  

For those of you who landed here via Pinterest or a Google search for organic straw bale gardening I would like to direct you to a more current post on how to condition bales using only blood meal.

I had equally good results using only blood meal in my experimental bales in my 2012 bales.

Check out this post for more information and an updated layout for bales that I will be repeating in 2013 - something I've never done before:

Anonymous May 9, 2013 at 11:01 AM  

OK, so some of my bales aren't heating up, and some are warm indeed. I don't want to plant in the "cold" ones, only to have them heat up later and kill the seedlings.

Any advice how to get a reluctant bale to decompose? They have all had equal water and fertilizer; it's been over a week.

bobnjeep March 11, 2015 at 4:16 PM  

I love the free info you provide.
Do you spread the 34-0-0 just where you are going to plant, or do the entire bail?

MamaBear March 13, 2015 at 8:09 AM  

Bobnjeep - I mix up the fertilizer in a large yogurt container each day and then sprinkle it out over the center of the bales. It tends to sneak over to the edges on its own and that's fine by me. I just try to avoid losing any to the wind.

Best of luck in your gardening endeavors! (And you might want to check out my post on using straight blood meal instead of Milorganite - it is a cheaper and healthier option!)

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