What is the correct way to condition hay bales for gardening?


I’m conditioning hay bales for planting. They have had three doses of Urea @ 1/2 C./bale, and 3 doses of Urea @ 1/4 C./bale. Bales are now on day ten. They are well watered. Today, I saw one source that recommended 2 C./lime/bale. So, I added that before checking to see what other sites recommend. Most do not mention lime, and some recommended 1 C./bale. Of course… I’ve already added the lime, and can’t take it out! Any way for me to correct this or will it be an issue? The bales are not heating up as well as they have in past years. I’m not sure if it’s fault of thermometer or not?


Jonathan Foster, Home Horticulture Outreach Professional

I don’t have a lot of personal experience with straw bale gardening, but I was able to find two separate Extension-based resources dealing with your question. The Alabama Cooperative Extension recommends 1 cup of dolomitic lime per bale, while the Clemson Univ Extension recommends 2 cups. So I think you should be fine, although I would urge you to double check with university sources before adding any amendments, as it would be discouraging to mess up the hard preparation work you’ve done on the bales up to now. I certainly wouldn’t try adding anything else to buffer it at this point.

I’m not sure why the bales aren’t heating as well as in previous seasons, but would recommend making sure you are getting adequate air flow through the sides (no severe matting or the like, that might interrupt movement) and then just using the gardener’s best friend, patience.