How To Use Hay Bale Gardening To Increase Your Harvest!

How To Use Hay Bale Gardening To Increase Your Harvest!

If you’ve been curious about hay bale gardening, you’ll want to stick around for the rest of this article.


We’ve tried hay bale gardening on the homestead, and we’ve found that not only has it given us great yields, it’s made harvesting our veggies much easier.


(Here’s a really great book on Amazon that shows you tools for Hay Bale Gardening.)


The best part of hay bale gardening is how EASY it is – so if you have a brown thumb or are just looking for a really simple, low maintenance way to start a garden, then hay bale gardening might be for you!



It cuts down on the amount of weeds, and as the hay deteriorates, it leaves rich compost behind.


What is Hale Bale Gardening?


Hay bale gardening is essentially planting seeds into bales of hay instead of directly into the soil.


Think of it like raised beds, but instead of using wood and soil, you’re creating a naturally raised bed. And similarly, it prevents pests from damaging your crop.


Not only is this method fun, it is painlessly easy because it requires very little upkeep.


It also means easier harvesting because you don’t have to bend over very far to grab your tomatoes or peppers!


What’s the Difference Between Hay Bale Gardening and Straw Bale Gardening?


The main difference between straw and hay is that straw is derived from dried wheat stalks while hay is made up of dried grasses (such as bermuda, timothy, fescue, etc).


There’s a lot of scuttlebutt in the gardening world about whether hay bales or straw bales are better for this type of gardening.


Some people believe that because hay can contain seeds from the grasses or other weeds, it poses a higher risk of troublesome or dangerous weeds since some seeds might still be kicking around in the hay.


However, studies have shown that during the conditioning process, nitrogen is introduced to the bale to aid in decomposition, and at that time most of the existing seeds are destroyed.


So, What Exactly Makes Hay More Desirable Than Straw For Gardening?


For one thing, a hay bale garden requires less work and overall maintenance than a straw bale garden.


First, you don’t need to add fertilizer, unlike straw bales. Hay simply has more nutrients in it, so as it decomposes, more nutrients are released.


Less water is needed as well, because grasses retain moisture more effectively than straw.


On our farm, we found that gardening with hay bales reduced our watering to about once a day instead of 2-3 times per day during the hottest days of summer!


Finally, there is the likelihood that your straw could have come from genetically modified crops, such as corn or soy.


Think about whether or not you want your produce stemming from decomposed genetically modified plant substances!

Use Hay Bale Gardening For A Bigger Harvest!

How to Prepare Your Hay Bale Garden


Once you have decided to give hay bale gardening a go, your first step is obviously going to be to acquire hay bales if you do not yet have any.


It’s best to go with regular-sized 40 pound bales.


Since freshness isn’t really as much of an issue with hay for gardening as it is for animals, you can either buy your hay OR ask around to see if anyone is willing to give you old hay for free.


Lots of times farmers are looking to clear space and might just give you rotting bales or will sell them to you at a discount.


Assemble the hay bales in your yard according to how you want your garden laid out.


Once you have assembled the hay bales, you will want to begin the process of ensuring there aren’t any stray seeds in your hay.


To effectively get rid of any stray seeds, you’ll want to introduce an organic fertilizer that’s high in nitrogen into your bales.


When I researched high-nitrogen fertilizers, there’s a lot of options, but none I was comfortable recommending.


So, I turned to my friend Marie, who writes at Just Plain Living.


On her homestead, Marie uses urine as a high-nitrogen fertilizer (yes, that urine.)


She recommends if you want to take things a step further, you can also wrap the hay bales in plastic (or a tarp) after introducing the urine so the bales can “cook” and destroy all the seeds. (This step isn’t strictly necessary, though, and Marie didn’t always do it and her bales still were weed-free)


If you do wrap your bales in plastic, after 10 days, remove the hay from the plastic wrapping.


This process helps kickstart the process to create rich compost to nourish your plants as they grow.


Because you’re starting the composting process quickly, it’s possible that the temperature inside the hay bales can reach up to 140° Fahrenheit.


If you want to know exactly what the temperature is, you can use Just Plain Living


This can introduce a slight fire hazard, so when planning your garden layout, keep this in mind!


If things get too heated, wet your bales every day – if you want to be super safe, you can do it proactively. If you use the plastic or tarp, it’s ok to remove it to wet the bales.


You will know the process is complete when the temperature of the hay bales has returned to normal.


Planting Your Hay Bale Garden


Once your hay bales are conditioned, you’re ready to plant seeds in them!


This is probably the easiest part of the whole process – Just take your seeds and plant them into the hay bales.


From that point, all you need to do to help them grow is to continue to keep the hay bales watered once every day.


You should have a wonderful yield of tasty produce to collect at the end of the growing season, and as an added bonus, you can recycle the used hay bales as fresh compost for your other gardens or plant beds!


I’d like to hear from you!

Do you think you’ll try hay bale gardening? Why or why not? Leave a comment below!


5 Easy Vegetables You Can Grow to Save on Your Groceries

5 Easy Vegetables You Can Grow to Save on Your Groceries

Spring is coming…and that means you can save some money on your groceries!


And NOW is the time to start planning your garden.



To help you with your planning, I’ve invited Mary Jane from Home for the Harvest to tell you about 5 easy vegetable crops you can grow to save you some bling bling on your grocery bill!



Take it away Mary Jane!


Saving money on food is one of the most popular and oldest reasons to start a garden.


Because we eat vegetables every day, it can be hard to watch the price of fresh produce rise at the grocery store.


Fortunately there are a few easy vegetable crops that will save you cash on your grocery bill. The key is to plan out your garden to maximize the harvest of simple, high-value veggies.


The first question when planning a cost-effective garden is to discover which vegetables really save you money to grow yourself. Some veggies take up lots of space, or lots of time, making them a poor investment.


You’re better off growing vegetables which are expensive to buy or hard to find. This is especially true if they’re easy to grow or don’t take up too much space.


Equally important is to choose vegetables you actually eat, or want to eat. There’s no sense growing a bunch of heirloom cherry tomatoes if you don’t like tomatoes at all (unless you have a nice gardening friend to trade with of course).


Once you start growing a few of your own crops, you’ll notice how much better homegrown produce tastes. Not only are you saving money, but you’re also enjoying tastier, fresher, more nutritious food on a daily basis.


Setting up your Garden


The costs associated with setting up a garden can be minimal if you have available yard space and a roof from which to collect rain water. In addition to set up costs, you’ll also be investing some time in the garden.


Fortunately, time spent in the garden is fairly relaxing in comparison to other household activities.


An added bonus of creating a garden is that you’ll have less lawn to mow! Just like lawns however, gardens do need some irrigation.


Garden vegetables will grow well with rainwater, which does not have the added chlorine of municipal tap water. Rainwater can be easily collected in an IBC tote or rain barrel for use throughout the growing season.


If you’re starting to plan your garden, and want to save some money at the grocery store, try out the vegetables on this list!


5 vegetables you can grow to save on your grocery bill

Courtesy of Mary Jane


Salad Greens

Salad greens are easy to grow yourself. This includes different varieties of lettuce, as well as greens such as arugula.


Many seed companies sell packets of mixed seeds which have been specially chosen to grow well together. Most types can also be harvested multiple times, termed “cut-and-come-again” varieties.


Salad green seeds can be planted every 2 weeks to ensure a continuous harvest throughout the growing season. Keep the soil moist after planting the seeds to ensure germination.


Once the plants become established, use sharp scissors to harvest a daily portion of greens.


Salad Green Savings

Large packets of organic mixed salad green seeds will cost you about $5 each. In our area, this is the same price as one bag of mixed greens at the grocery store.


Two packet of seeds, however, will last you throughout the whole growing season. If your household goes through 2 bags of salad greens a week, as ours does, growing your own greens adds up to a savings of $230 over a 6-month growing season.


5 vegetables you can grow to save money on groceries

Courtesy of Mary Jane


Smoothie Greens

Smoothie greens such as kale and chard are also very simple to grow at home. They’re also more cold-hardy than salad greens, extending harvest into the shoulder seasons.


Hardy smoothie greens can even be grown in freezing temperatures with the use of a cold frame or other season-extending equipment.


In our house, we have smoothies almost every day as part of breakfast or as a snack. Green smoothies can look a bit scary if you haven’t had one before, but they are actually quite refreshing and yummy once you get the hang of it.


Most of the kale and chard that we buy ends up in our smoothies, simply because it’s such a quick, reliable way to get a serving of green vegetables each day.


If you like a few months off from gardening in the winter, as I do, it’s possible to grow enough smoothie greens in the regular growing season to last you throughout the colder months.


I wash and freeze our extra kale in freezer bags for use during the off-season. An added bonus to freezing smoothie greens is that the cold temperature reduces some of the bitterness, leading to naturally sweeter smoothies.

Smoothie Green Savings

Packets of organic kale and chard seeds cost about $5 each (From Maat: You can get them even less at Seeds Now). I like to grow two kinds of kale (Scotch and Italian), and also a rainbow mix of chard, totaling about $15 in seeds for the season. Bunches of organic kale and chard go for $2 each in our area.


For a daily smoothie for two people, you’d need to buy about 3 bunches of greens each week. Over the course of a year, growing your own smoothie greens adds up to a savings of just under $300 per year!


You can find instructions for growing your own organic kale here.

5 vegetables you can grow to save money on groceries

Courtesy of Mary Jane


Cherry Tomatoes

Cherry tomatoes are an often overlooked culinary vegetable. They’re usually seen on veggie trays accompanied by ranch dip, but there are so many other delicious opportunities to use them.


Cherry tomatoes are far more fun to grow than larger tomatoes, having a longer harvest season. Cherry tomatoes are also easier to prepare, as they don’t have to be seeded and require just one slice to cut them into bite-sized pieces.


There are wonderful, delicious heirloom varieties of cherry tomatoes, many suited to both fresh and cooked applications. I’ve planted seeds from heirloom cherry tomatoes from the Farmer’s Market, resulting in varieties that would have been hard to find in seed packets.


I’ve also found that cherry tomatoes freeze very well. After washing them and cutting them in half, I freeze them in small bags. These frozen tomatoes are perfect to pull out of the freezer for homemade pasta sauces and curries throughout the winter.


Cherry Tomato Savings

If you harvest and grow seeds from inside cherry tomatoes you’ve purchased to use in cooking, the seeds are pretty much free! If you buy seeds however, packets will run you about $5 each.


I usually grow two varieties at a time, meaning I buy two seed packets. If a good mixed cherry tomato seed packet was available from a local company, I’d buy that, because you don’t actually need too many seeds/plants to get a good harvest.


In our area, a clamshell pack of tomatoes at the grocery store is usually $6, year-round. In the summertime though, I can get organic cherry tomatoes at the Farmers Market for $4 a basket, so I’ll use that number for comparison.


Assuming one basket a week in the summer for salads, and bruschetta, and one basket’s worth each week in the winter for soups, curries, and pastas, growing your own tomatoes can provide a cost savings of about $200 a year.


5 vegetables you can grow to save money on groceries

Courtesy of Mary Jane


Zucchini has gained quite a bit of popularity in the last few years, perhaps corresponding to the rise of the spiralizer. The popularity increase has been accompanied with increased prices.


Fortunately, zucchini are also one of the easiest vegetables to grow, with each plant producing an impressive harvest.


Zucchini not only make delicious noodles (zoodles are practically a food group in some households) but they’re also just as tasty by themselves. Grilled zucchini on the BBQ are a perfect addition to a summer meal.


Grated zucchini can be added to cakes and breads in a sneaky effort to disguise a vegetable inside a dessert. Even simple fresh zucchini sticks dipped in hummus remain a favourite healthy snack.


Zucchini Savings

A pack of zucchini seeds costs less than $5 each. Small zucchinis cost just under $3 each in our area. One of these squashes is enough to provide a vegetable side or spiralized noodles for two people.


Assuming summertime meals of a once-a-week zucchini side or snack, plus once-a-week zoodles, growing your own zucchini will save you just under $100 over a 4-month harvest season.

5 vegetables you can grow to save money on groceries


Culinary Herbs (oregano, sage, chives, mint, & thyme)

Herbs are one of those ingredients that are simply so much better when fresh. Some dishes really do need sprigs of fresh thyme, many would agree that potatoes are yummier when topped with fresh chives, and it’s pretty hard to make a good mojito without fresh mint.  


Not all culinary herbs are easy to grow, but many are. The easiest herbs to grow and harvest are the perennial herbs, which come back to life every spring without having to be replanted.


Some of these herbs, like oregano and mint, are so vigorous they can take over your garden! Others like chives and thyme are more easily contained, and just as reliable.


At first, herbs can be slightly more expensive to grow than the other items on this list, as many people like to buy whole seedling container plants rather than starting their own plants from seed. Purchasing seedling plants is definitely the easiest way to start your herb garden.


Fortunately more and more grocery stores are now selling small herb pots in the produce section, making these plants an easy purchase.


Culinary Herb Savings

A packet of herbs at the grocery store is $3 in our area. I use herbs every day in my cooking, but if I had to buy them in $3 packets, it’s fair to say there wouldn’t be quite as many herbs in my meals. I’d probably max out at purchasing one or two packets each week.


Perennial herbs cost about $5 each for a small plant. If you purchase four different plants, that’ll run you a total of $20 for your perennial herb garden.


If you’re regularly buying one or two packets of herbs a week, the initial investment of the plants will be paid off in just a month or two.


Once the plants become established, you’ll be able to harvest them for years, adding up to hundreds of dollars of savings. You’ll also find you use far more herbs in your day-to-day cooking!


5 vegetables you can grow to save money on your groceries

Courtesy of Mary Jane


Starting Your Garden


Are you ready to start your own grocery-bill busting vegetable garden? Try out the crops on this list to get started. Remember to only plant crops that your family already eats or would like to eat.


Also note that you’ll have more success starting with just a few crops, rather than trying to grow everything available in the grocery store! It’s true that almost everything is better when homegrown, but starting with a small number of crops is the most reasonable path to success.


Some vegetables in the produce section are priced more affordably than you can grow them yourself, while others are much cheaper to grow at home. The vegetable crops on this list will get you off to a good start creating a cost-effective kitchen garden for you and your family.


If you’re looking for more information on which vegetables to grow versus which to buy at the grocery store, I’ve put together a “buy-or-grow” cheat sheet of over 30 common vegetables, categorized by whether to buy or grow them. You can download the buy-or-grow cheat sheet here.


About the Author

Mary Jane is a writer, engineer, and organic gardener in the Okanagan Valley (Canada). She blogs about organic gardening, nature-inspired DIY’s, nourishing recipes, and connecting with nature. Find more of her work at Home for the Harvest.

2015 Homestead Goals

CYMERA_20150127_200859We’ve had a few improvement ideas kicking around since we bought this homestead back in April. We’ve done all the work so far ourselves, trying to do it with as many free resources as possible. For 2015, I want to accomplish:

Finishing the horse barn and creating a wash bay
Erecting a pergola between the horse barn and the storage shed
Finishing the riding arena and edging it with bushes (incorporating fruit bushes as edible landscape)
Installing an orchard
Adding goats and sheep
Installing wheat grass in our pastures

I’m hoping that incorporating goats into our pastures will help with weed control. Two of our horses are small enough to be companions for the goats. We also would like a 4 acre plot cleared, and goats can help with that too.

Despite my husband’s eye rolling, building a methane digester is a big goal. I have to clean manure anyway, and I’m going to compost it anyway, so why not go the extra step and capture the methane? I’m not a 100% sure we will use it for more than cooking, since I plan to heat the barn with water. I’ve been reading about using ethanol for powering generators for off grid living, and that seems an easier route to go for electricity, and an adjustment to a generator we can easily do at home.

We’ve started gathering supplies for the aquaponic system. I’ll start off with goldfish, but eventually I want to have blue gill, tilapia, and catfish, along with fresh water prawns. I’m not a fan of catfish but my husband is. I’d prefer to only do tilapia and prawns, but we, at least at this point, can’t breed the tilapia because we do have winter here, so I will just buy fingerlings every year until we can consistently keep the water warm enough.

For the garden, I plan to erect 4-5 more raised beds and start on a separate garden for the chickens and pigs. Here’s what I plan to grow:

Early spring:
Cabbage (lots because the pigs love it)
Greens like mustard, kale, romaine lettuce, some salad greens
Kohlrabi (this is new for me so I won’t do to much)
Bok choi


Lots of potatoes
Bulb onions (we have green onions from the last owner so no need for those!)
Golden Bantam Corn (lots of corn for the animals)

Most of these are heirloom varieties. I’ve shopped the non-gmo catalogues, such as Baker Creek, Seed Savers, etc. I haven’t ordered my tomato seed yet because I spent a while deciding on varieties. I’ve decided to focus on heirloom varieties specific to my region, and Baker Creek has quite a few. Last year’s tomatoes got a mosaic virus, so I’ll be planting in a different area. I bought the plants from a feed store, so I’ll be avoiding that too.

What are your 2015 goals?

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Why Homestead: An Insider’s Look

Why Homestead: An Insider’s Look


Why homestead. This is the eternal question every homesteader must answer.

Why do we do it? Why reinvent the wheel of sorts, why put out the effort?

If you ask different homesteaders, “Why Homestead?” their answers are as varied as they are thematic. Usually, it’s something to do with getting back to a simpler life, reducing a carbon foot print, etc.

For me, the moment came when we suddenly were charged more for hay when a seller learned we moved here from an affluent part of the country and have horses.

In the horse world, people are decidedly more consumers than producers. Therefore, it must stand, we can afford to pay higher prices. That incident was the fundamental shift in my thinking. In short, I started homesteading because I was tired of getting ripped off.

The answer to “Why Homestead” became clear. I wanted to become more of a producer, and less of a consumer.

It hurts now to go to the grocery for meat because now I know sausage is usually the tougher parts of the pig and also the scraps left from the other cuts. Yet it still sells for $4/pound.

I can’t stand the cost of beef. We are on our way to producing our own pork. That’s some solace. We are further away from producing beef, mostly because of the cost.

I am working on the aquaponic system, which is slowly coming together. (Planning for 3 different types of fish and fresh water prawns eventually).

One thing I wasn’t prepared for, aside from the slow pace of things, was the financial side, which absolutely effects pace. I was prepared to build everything in a month, but that was just unrealistic. I also wasn’t prepared for the immense learning curve.

Things like plumbing to build my methane digester (I’m all about this methane digester, manure management is pretty much my life, and a part of homesteading I don’t see frequently addressed) and the aquaponic system.

Guess how much I knew about plumbing? It’s only slightly better now. 😉

The second reason I ventured into homesteading is after moving to rural America, after years of suburban/urban life, we couldn’t find any gourmet type food. Cheese especially. Our choices are cheap cheddars, or Swiss, made from who knows what additives. I’ve been dying for goats and sheep to start our own artisan cheeses.

Pretty much the only food you can get around here is super fried. And forget any Indian cuisine! (One of our staple cuisines. My husband had never even tried it before he met me, and neither had anyone in his family).

We decided to start our own chickens for meat, and not just eggs, when I read the USDA will allow chicken from China to be sold in the US. Now that I’ve studied butchering and taken apart whole chickens (we are still building our flock), I’m looking forward to harvesting from our own well-treated and well-cared for flock.

In addition to culling our excess roosters, we will add Cornish Crosses to our flock. While there might be more ethical or sustainable choices than that breed, I feel I will have an easier time emotionally butchering them since, if you let them live to long, it negatively effects the quality of their lives.

The two pigs we have here are for breeding, but their babies will be for butchering, or if they don’t breed, then they will be butchered, but it will be hard to do it.

I also like the whole idea of a closed-loop system, from everything from cooking to manure management. I like that after we fry chicken (I do like the occasional fried food!), we make gravy from the left over oil and chicken bits in the pan to make gravy (my husband likes biscuits and gravy for breakfast), and broth from the left over chicken and bones, which we use in rice, savory pancakes, etc in place of water to add extra flavor and protein.

Nothing goes to waste. Any leftovers go to the dog or the pigs.

We will install an orchard in the spring, and I’m looking at spots in the property for perennial beds (herbs, sunchokes and daikon radishes for livestock feed).

We are working on producing our own energy. We are actively looking at wind power, which seems an easier option for us than solar power, and at natural gas. With the wind we get and the animals, both are renewable sources of energy.

Since we have forested parts of our property, we are also looking at wood heating, which is a sustainable resource for us. I don’t mind staying tied to the grid for electric for now, but anything we can do to reduce our outputs, right?

We are looking at more sustainable heating options for next winter because of the cost of propane.

So, that’s why I homestead! Why do you homestead?

Why I homestead