Over the years, I have used all kinds of bales to prepare my gardens. Grass hay, Lucerne mulch, sugar cane and pea straw. A common question I get asked is “what bale is best to use for my garden?” This is what I have discovered over time:
• Lucerne: Lucerne bales are great to use as mulch on your conventional garden beds. They add much needed nitrogen to your soil and are will assist in holding moisture as the weather warms up. Another advantage to using Lucerne on your conventional garden is that it breaks down quite quickly. For this reason, Lucerne is not ideal for straw bale gardening. BaleGrow’s conditioning treatment provides additional nitrogen to your bale, which accelerates the composting process and compromises the life expectancy of your straw bale garden.
• Pea straw & sugar cane: Similar to Lucerne bales, pea straw and sugar cane mulch bales will also break down very quickly when adding a nitrogen source. The structure of the bales is quite soft, so when starting the conditioning of your bales, and activating the composting process, your bales will last only 3-6 months.
• Hay: Again, a bale of grass hay will tend to break down very quickly once the conditioning process has started. Unlike cereal crops, grass hay bales are cut and baled with the seed still attached, so when activating (conditioning) your bales you will find that MANY of the seeds will begin to germinate and you could end up with a tidy square of grass instead of a garden bed!
• Straw: I find that this is the ideal medium for the conditioning process. First, when positioning your bales correctly, with the cut side facing up and the bale standing on its side (with the strings around the belly), the straw cylinders that are created at the time of harvest are ideal to assist in the conditioning of the bale. These cylinders hold the water along with the conditioning treatment inside, for the composting process to work at its optimum level. Also, cereal crops such as oats, wheat and barley take much longer to break down, giving your straw bale garden longevity.
At the end of the day, what we want is a productive garden that is easy to maintain and cost effective. All of the above bales will give you this and using the resource that we have available to us is always the way to go. But I do find that the best results I have had in the past have been with the trusty straw bale!
Tracey is the creator of the BaleGrow treatment system for Straw Bale Gardening