How to Garden in Small Spaces Using Hay Bales

Updated on April 21, 2018
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Kerri is an avid dog lover and artist. She is a true DIYer who tries new things from floor installation to gardening.

Hay Bales Create Space for Gardeners in Confined Areas

The warm spring days always bring out my inner gardener. I love spending these days outside in the sun communing with nature. Unfortunately, I have limited gardening space, which puts a real cramp in my green thumb. This does not stop me from wanting to make the most out of my backyard area and filling it with vegetables and flowers alike.

I have tried the typical container gardening techniques for years. They allow me to grow my beloved vegetables in my limited space, but I have always felt like there is a better answer. This year I decided to try a new take on container gardening by implementing hay bales for the container and soil. With a little bit of prep, the hay bales can double your garden space.

Shopping List

  1. Hay or straw bales
  2. Blood meal
  3. Vegetable plants. Bushy varieties preferred to climbing ones
  4. Tomato cages or stakes for heavier plants
  5. Fertilizer. I prefer Miracle Grow


Buy hale bales off season for cheaper prices. Hay bales may last two full seasons!

Step 1. Time to Prep!

Hay bales are cheap and easy to find at your favorite local farm or greenhouse. As an alternative you can use straw bales as well. Once you set the bales up in a sunny location you can begin the prepping stage. You have to speed up the breaking down of the hay which causes the hay bales to become fertile and ready for plants. We prepped the bales for ten days with blood meal and then Miracle Grow. These two items add nitrogen to the bales causing them to warm and break down faster.

To prep the bales for the application of the blood meal, use a stick to poke holes. The blood meal will have many passages to get down into the hay bales. You must treat the bales with a watering can with the blood meal mixed in. Do this for the first five days. Do not skimp on the blood meal the more you use the better. I recommend a minimum of three cups.

After this 5-day process, it is time to get the fertilizer on them. You then fill a watering can up with Miracle Grow and generously water each hay bale on days six and seven. As the days of preparation go on you will notice the hay bale getting hotter and turning a darker color. This is the beginning of them starting to decompose.


Rest your hay bales for 3 days before planting. This will allow the decomposition time to complete.

Step 2. Plant Away

After your final day of treating the bales with the blood meal and fertilizer you allow them to rest for three days. Now the bales are ready for planting. I used a small trowel to remove hay and make an area small enough for the plant to go in. I buried it an inch deeper than the pant itself to allow hay to be packed on to the soil of the starter plant. The added depth helps the plant grow a stronger stalk. For each hay bale I recommend placing two tomato plants to allow maximum space for the tomatoes to grow. If you are doing smaller plants such as herbs you could do three or even four plants

Remember, if choosing to plant vine plants you will need to anchor a trellis into the actual ground as the hay bales will crumble. If you are placing your hay bales in a high weed area you can place weed barrier fabric underneath the bales.

Plants and More Plants!!

You might ask what to plant in your hay bale. The possibilities are limitless. From vegetables to herbs to flowers; this is all up to you! The only reccomendation is if you use vine growing plants you will require a support for them to grow on.

Time to Enjoy your Hard Work

Now that your vegetables are planted you will have to keep the bales watered daily as they will dry up fast in the summer sun. You also need to fertilize weekly as the hay bales will need these added nutrients to support your growing plants.

These hay bales may last up to two growing season. They will provide you with a weed free garden and a bountiful harvest. Now you can sit back and enjoy your compact summer


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