Tumbling bales of hay or straw piled in backyards may look like abandoned fodder in the spring, but innovative gardeners know better. When used as raised beds for flowers and vegetables, hay bales create a lush oasis of vegetation overflowing with bright flowers or tender young fruit. With a few days preparation, the center of the bale begins to decay, creating the ideal growing environment for young plants. Growing squash--or any other vegetable---becomes relatively carefree in these easy-to-care-for garden beds.
Place the hay or straw bale in a sunny location that receives full fun for the majority of the day. The bale becomes the raised bed and the area does not require workable soil. Place on sod, gravel or paved areas.
Lay the bale on its side so that the strings that hold it together are on the outside of the bale. The top should be free of strings. Use the exposed--string-free--surface for gardening.
Water to saturate the hay bale each day for the first three days. Allow water to run free from the bottom of the bale.
Sprinkle 1/2 cup of high-nitrogen fertilizer over the hay bale. Ammonium nitrate is recommended, but bone meal may be used instead. Water thoroughly. Repeat the procedure for three days.
Reduce the amount of fertilizer to 1/4 cup for the next three days, watering as usual.
Sprinkle one cup of 10-10-10 fertilizer over the bales on day 10 and water thoroughly.
Check the internal temperature of the hay bale by making a small hole in the top of the bale and inserting your hand. If the hay is approximately the same temperature as your hand, it is ready for planting. The center of the bale heats as it composts, but should be cooled down by this point. If the bale is still hot, water daily and allow a few days for cooling.
Separate the hay with your hands or a trowel to make a hole for planting. Place a cup or two of compost or commercial potting soil in the hole.
Plant squash seedlings after all danger of frost has passed in your area. Insert the seedling up to the first leaves. Close the opening with your hands and firm the hay around the base of the plant. One bale holds two squash plants.
Water bales daily to keep roots moist.
Apply water-soluble fertilizer once a month if growth appears weak or foliage yellows.
Remove weeds that germinate from the seeds in the hay by cutting or pulling.