by Don Clarke
(Zebulon, North Carolina)
I just moved to the triangle area of North Carolina, from Central California, and I have seen something out here that perplexes me to no end. Some of the personal gardens have tomatoes plants grown in hay bales,(Plants are two to a bale). I was wondering if this would be for the water retaining quality or would it be for the nutrients that they might possibly derive from the decomposing hay through the season. And would these plants have to be fed with other nutrients through the season? You see now why I'm questioning the practice. I didn't snoop in their garden as I don't want to get a load of buck shot in my hind quarters but it did seem that their plants produced, but it really didn't seem to do anything in as grand a manner to warrant the added cost and trouble. But I also thought that it might be a way to have hay mulch for the garden at the end of the year. Possibilities, but all conjecture on my part. can you help me?
Answer: If the hay stays moist, it will decompose. This not only releases available Nitrogen to the plants growing in the hay bale, but it also supports a great number of beneficial micro-organisms. One gardening technique, called lasagna gardening, involves laying down layers of hay, compost, straw, and/or manure. In much the same fashion, the layers provide a lot of air space, encourage beneficial micro-organisms, and release available nutrients to the plants.
Good, organic compost is made in a similar fashion. Two parts brown material (usually straw and/or leaves) to one part green material (usually hay and/or grass clippings) is the suggested ratio. Kept in piles at least 4x4x4 feet and kept moist, a large population of beneficial micro-organisms decompose the raw materials into rich humus and make other nutrients available for plants.
This gardening technique has an additional benefit. Very few weeds grow in a garden put together this way. The few weeds that DO grow pull out very easily. The hay bales make the whole garden raised, which makes weeding just a little bit easier. At the end of the gardening season, you are left with an excellent base with which to start the garden the following season.
Compared to the cost of manure or compost (assuming you don't have a free source), using hay bales in this way can be an affordable option for establishing a small, productive garden. Hope this answers your question Don, and Happy Growing!
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Hi everyone, Jason from Jason's Indoor Guide here. When I got started with hydroponic gardening more than 24 years ago, my first garden used rockwool cubes and B.C. Nutrients....and I remember thinking to myself yeah, sure, there may be a lot of advantages to gardening with hydroponics, for example there are very few pest problems, therefore very little pest control, no weeding, no plowing or tilling the soil, no soil testing or having to add things into the garden soil, no watering the garden....but for someone who just wants to grow their own vegetables and have more control over their food supply and the quality of the food that they eat, the cost of constantly having to buy grow media and hydroponic nutrients makes this an expensive hobby for most people...
I suppose when you take into consideration how much money you save NOT
having to buy food at the grocery store, it is surely cheaper to grow
your own food hydroponically even with the cost of high quality
nutrients. Nevertheless, I didn't have a whole lot of money to work with
and I needed to make my efforts as affordable and effective as
possible....and in the last 24 years I HAVE learned a thing or two!
As you browse through Jason's Indoor Guide, you will notice all of the systems that I use personally are homemade systems. As I got 3 or 4 years of experience under my belt, I quickly adopted a preference to standing water systems and systems that use expanded clay pellets or lava rock, because the media is re-usable and it eliminates a huge operating expense. So once a hydroponic system is built, garden maintenance is minimal- check and adjust the nutrient solution daily, and to change it completely every 2 weeks....and the biggest operating cost is the hydroponic nutrients. (and the electric bill, lol)...
And, regarding the cost of the nutrients....I experimented for about 3 years with making different compost teas and nutrient teas, but there is still a lot of expense $$$ associated with making high quality nutrient teas....like kelp meal, liquid seaweed, rock dust, bat guano, un-Sulfured molasses, worm castings. You can eliminate a lot of this expense by becoming an expert at making high-quality colloidal humus compost, and use your properly made compost as the basis of your hydroponic nutrient solution.
Unfortunately, I have been gardening for over 24 years and I have only
just recently mastered this difficult skill....and even then, only
because I happened to find a very easy to follow, high quality technique
and decided to follow the instructions to the letter. I produced more
high quality compost in just one week than I was able to use in a whole
year! If you can master the technique, I highly recommend it. It is one of the top 3 things you can do to
increase the productivity of your food production efforts, while at the
same time decreasing the amount of effort required to grow all of your
own food, and decreasing the total cost of operating your food
And when I say decrease operating costs, I mean decrease them to almost ZERO, especially if you are producing your own nutrients...
The ultimate solution to eliminate the cost of your hydroponic nutrients: Imagine a hydroponic system that does not require you to buy any nutrients, does not require you to make your own compost, and does not require you to brew your own nutrient tea. Seriously! No cost and no effort as far as providing nutrients to your plants! Plus, at the end of the gardening cycle you harvest all of your garden vegetables, PLUS YOU HARVEST FISH from the system--->
This solution is aquaponics. If you are serious about producing all of your own food and being self-sufficient, this is the ultimate solution for reducing expenses (as much as possible), reducing the total amount of work required, and maximizing the productivity of your gardening efforts. I have been gardening for over 24 years, and it is the perfect food production solution in my opinion.
Besides mastering how to make high quality compost, learning aquaponics is one of the top 3 things you can do to increase your garden productivity, reduce your total costs, and reduce your total work. The product that I learned from is called Aquaponics4you. With all of my hydroponic gardening experience, the first time I came across the Aquaponics4you product I knew immediately that it was something very special! Place an aquaponics system outdoors and use the sun instead of grow lights, and you have reduced every garden expense to nearly ZERO!
The Same System/ 10 Weeks Later!