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How to Grow Tomatoes in a Hay Bale

By M.H. Dyer ; Updated September 21, 2017

Growing tomatoes in a hay bale may sound strange, but it's a great way to create an instant raised garden that uses very little garden space and will require no bending or stooping. Several tomatoes can be grown in the same bale, or you can plant the tomatoes along with a few other vegetable plants, such as cucumbers, squash or melon. If you live in a climate with cool winters, you may be able to use the same bale for two growing seasons. When the bale has outlived its usefulness, throw it on the compost pile and start over with a fresh bale.

Choose a bale of hay or straw appropriate for planting tomatoes. Barley, rice and wheat straw are good choices because they drain well and will have few weeds. Hay bales such as bermuda grass, rye grass will also work well. Select bales that are firm and securely tied with twine.

Place the hay bale where it will be in direct sunlight for several hours each day and where moisture won't cause damage to the surface under the bale. If necessary, place a large piece of plastic under the bale to protect the surface. The bale will be difficult to move once the tomatoes begin to grow so choose the location carefully.

Soak the hay bale with water. Depending on the weight, most bales will require at least 15 gallons of water. Add 3/4 to 1 lb. of powdered limestone for every pound of bale and work it into the bale with a garden fork. Work carefully and don't break or dislodge the twine. Keep the bales wet for three days.

Apply 10 tbsp. of ammonium nitrite fertilizer on the surface of the bale on the fourth day. Keep the bale wet for two more days. Apple 5 more tbsp. of ammonium nitrite fertilizer on the seventh day and water the bale for an additional two days.

Sprinkle a cup of balanced, general purpose fertilizer on the surface of the bale on the 10th day and water it in thoroughly.

Wait one more day, then on day 11, add 3 inches of commercial potting mixture or clean topsoil. Spread the bale apart with your hands to create a hole, and set a tomato plant in the hole, with the plant buried up to the first pair of leaves. Water the tomato regularly and keep the hay moist. Pull any weeds by hand.


Things You Will Need

  • Bale of hay
  • Plastic sheet (optional)
  • Powdered limestone
  • Garden fork
  • Ammonium nitrite fertilizer
  • General purpose fertilizer
  • Potting soil or clean topsoil

About the Author


M.H. Dyer began her writing career as a staff writer at a community newspaper and is now a full-time commercial writer. She writes about a variety of topics, with a focus on sustainable, pesticide- and herbicide-free gardening. She is an Oregon State University Master Gardener and Master Naturalist and holds a Master of Fine Arts in creative nonfiction writing.