Today, a customer writes: “I’m interested in creating straw bale gardens this year. Many web sites instruct one to use ammonium nitrate to prepare the bale but
yours does not. Does your method prepare the bale for planting
tomatoes and eggplant or just mainly salad greens? I prefer not to
use ammonium nitrate but at the same time want to prepare the bales
properly for tomatoes.”……see my reply below
I’ve seen the recommendations for ammonium nitrate but have never liked the idea or tried it. Place the bale where it will remain and really soak it down and keep it wet for a week to ten days. The bale will heat up and then cool down in this period when it becomes ready for planting. If you are planting eggplant, peppers or tomatoes place a scoop of compost and fertilizer in the planting hole. Cover with a little potting soil to prevent any burning of the roots.
The greens will grow in compost or potting soil on the surface and then send their roots down. Peas and Beans need legume inoculant for best performance. I’ve never tried to plant carrots or parsnips but the third years the bales break down sufficiently to produce a nice crop of potatoes.
Jeff Lowenfels, author of Teeming With Microbes: A Gardener’s Guide to the Soil Food Web tells me that using an application of compost tea at planting time will produce stronger plants and more nutrients will be released from the straw. I shall be using compost tea this year. Also, I will be fertilizing a little more frequently than in past years.