How's that for a mouthful of a title? I've written about this topic before and why it's important to condition straw bales before planting. For a refresher check out this post. (You'll also get a glimpse of what last year's garden layout was.) I'm using 15 new bales again this year, but I also left a couple of old bales in the formation for growing carrots and pumpkins.
This is our new layout that takes into account a few things I learned from our first two years using this method:
1) I need more room between the rows so we put two bales at the top of the formation.
2) Extending one side gives vines some extra room and I can still get into the middle of the garden.
3) Using bales from the previous year for growing carrots will give them a 'softer' place to grow. Carrots don't like dense soil so it makes sense they wouldn't like the dense bales. Also, too much nitrogen reduces the number of female flowers on pumpkins. I'm going to try a pumpkin plant in the old straw to see if that helps produce more pumpkins.
4) potatoes can be grown by placing the the seed potatoes directly on the surface and then covering them with straw. That inner row of old bales is my supply of straw to cover the potatoes as they grow in the space I labeled 'potatoes'.
(That white stuff on the bales? Snow. I don't want to talk about it.)
Ok, so lets get down to business. The traditional method of conditioning bales is as follows:
Day 1) 1/2 cup of 34-0-0 per bale and then water the bales
Day 2) water
Day 3) 1/2 cup of 34-0-0 per bale and more water
Day 4) water
Day 5) 1/2 cup of 34-0-0 per bale and water
Day 6) water
Day 7,8,9) 1/4 cup 34-0-0 and water
Day 10) 1 cup 10-10-10 per bale and water
You can plant any day after that if you can feel heat in the bales. Don't forget you'll need a couple inches of potting soil for seeds. Seedlings can be placed directly into the bales.
To condition organically this is what works for me:
Follow the same game plan as above but substitute the following recipe for the 34-0-0 conventional fertilizer above.... Updated to answer the question asked by Summer Jo in the comments - the three numbers stand for the ratio of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium in the fertilizer. This site gives a very detailed explanation if you want to read more about what these numbers mean.
In a bucket combine,
2.5T of Bloodmeal 12-0-0
1.77 cups of Dr. Earth's 5-7-3
1.25 cups of Milorganite 5-2-0
.68 cups of Milorganite 6-2-0
To reach the 10-10-10 ratio I use:
1.77 cups of Dr. Earth's 4-4-4
1.77 cups of Dr. Earth's 5-7-3
Using organic nitrogen sources means it might take a few extra days for the bales to be 100% ready for planting. Use your best judgement - if it's been cool, you probably want to condition a few extra days - it can't hurt! We set our bales out over a week ago so mother nature could give a few extra soakings before we officially start conditioning. The trellis system is installed and will be the topic of my next gardening post. Gotta do something to keep me busy 'in' the garden until the weather warms up!