By Michael Nolan
I have to be honest.
The first time I heard about this idea I choked on my Fanta and ridiculed the messenger.
How crazy does it sound, really? Growing tomatoes in bales of hay?
When I realized that it was in fact true and entirely possible, I swear I could hear the unmistakable strains of that all-too-familiar tune from Deliverance playing in my head. I felt even stranger when I realized that this isn’t anything new.
All it really takes is a line of bales placed in full exposure to the sun.For best use, the bales you use (which incidentally should be oat or wheat straw, as hay is usually prone to weeds like you just wouldn’t believe — don’t ask me how I know that, I just do. I live in the south.) should be bound by a synthetic wrapping medium and the original binding wire intact if at all possible.
The preferred setup will include bales that are bound horizontally with the straws aligned vertically. Don’t ask me why this works best, but it really does make the root system stronger. For real.
Hay bales are a sort of natural hydroponics — they act like a sponge and that is the key. Don’t ever let a bale dry out or you will probably cause serious damage to your tomato crop.
For 10 days before you prepare the bales for planting, you need to water them twice a day every day, and fertilize them with a high nitrogen fertilizer every other day during this period. For the next four days after, continue watering them as usual.
At this point you are ready to add 4-5 inches of soil/compost mix to the top of your bales and you are ready to plant. Generally you should place no more than two tomato plants per bale.
While this method will cost more than in-the-ground gardening, bales are generally only about $2.00 each, and from every experienced person I spoke to I have it on good authority that the output will be bigger this way than it would be in the ground.
Now I wish I had some hay bales…