Taking the Straw Bales’ Temperatures

I have been checking the internal temperature of my straw bales to see if they are starting to decompose inside. According to the information from Joel Karsten at strawbalegardens.com, the bales should start to heat up about now.

thermometer in straw bale
Taking the straw bale’s temperature

I checked yesterday — in the 40-degree cold rain — and found that most of the bales were only about 60 degrees internally. Today, some were even colder. Because we have had a lot of cold rain and weather affects how quickly the bales start decomposing, I decided to put on the recommended plastic sheeting to warm the bales more.

I’m on the seventh day of the 10-day conditioning program, and the bales still need to heat up (they are supposed to go as high as 145 degrees F) and then cool down before I can plant. Hopefully, the slightly warmer weather this weekend and the much warmer temperatures next week will get things cooking.

Have any other straw bale gardeners had similar experiences?

17 thoughts on “Taking the Straw Bales’ Temperatures

  1. I am on day 11 of my straw bale garden. From the websites that I have found it can take 11-30 days for the decomposition to complete. This is the first time I have attempted this type of gardening. I have not techincally checked the internal tempature of the bales with an thermometor but I went out last night and used the spade to get my hand inside, they did not feel warm to the touch… the seeds from the wheat (I am guessing) have started to sprout so I assume the blood meal is assisting with that… lol. Luckily my vegetable sprouts are not ready to plant yet but I would like to have the straw bales ready when they are. We also discussed covering them in plastic last night so I think I will try that and, like you, I hope we get some warmer weather soon to speed up the process.

  2. Beth — I’ll have a post later today updating the temperature situation. Warm weather and plastic definitely helped. Like you, I do not expect to be planting for at least a couple of weeks — at least not my tomatoes, etc. I may try some flower seeds on one of the bales. I haven’t seen any wheat sprouts yet — however….the chicken manure fertilizer I’m using has developed a slight odor. Keep me updated on how things go with your bales.

  3. We’ve had so much cold weather that I’m almost sure I will need to extend the conditioning process.. I haven’t taken the temps yet but will in a few days. I plan on just keeping them moist until it warms up and stays warm.

  4. I’ve learned that straw bales are only as warm as the external temps. I’m using plastic as a row tunnel and it did raise the temps up to 62 degrees. I am resisting the desire to plant anything because I don’t want to get into a good warm spring and have the bales suddenly heat up and kill my plants. I’ve learned: bales are simply raised beds for plants. I was hoping they were miniature hothouses. Oh well.

  5. Thanks for commenting, Mazekah. I agree that straw-bales are basically a form of container gardening.

  6. First off if your straw bales arent decomposing its probably due to lack of water. mine take some times 10-15 gallons a day each. This is very important when they start to warm up. It is also best to use warm/hot water as it helps the biological process happen much faster. Lots of fertilizer is also need frequently in he beginning of conditioning as well as throughout the growing season. It IS NOT just a raised bed or a container, this is an accelerated composting process in which plant can be directly grown in the compost medium as it composts. Using a fertilizer that contains beneficial bacteria will help a lot too. my straw bales maintain a consistent 90-100 temp with 60 degree external weather. they should be peaking anyday now and be read to plant once it gets down to 70 inside.

  7. B — Thanks for the information! This is the first time I’ve heard that you should use warm water on the bales. It makes sense. I added fertilizer and water at the recommended levels during the year I did straw bale gardening. It was very cold that spring so the bales took awhile to get started. Good luck on your gardens!

  8. Thank you so much for this blog and especially “B” who just answered a question I have been searching for ,which was “How many gallons of water does it take to typically drench a straw bale?” B answered above typically 10-15 gallons, which sounds right to me. But honestly I was hoping for a much lower number in order for me to be successful at this.

    I have a small back yard and purchased 8 bales of straw for my very first straw bale garden. I read articles on the web about Straw Bale Gardening and never heard about having to water them with WARM WATER. I did my very best trying to put warm water on my bales. I have a split level so I have to go up 12-15 steps each way to get to my kitchen for my warm water. They got some warm water but I am positive they were not soaked like they should be.

    I need help… and some prayer… there is no way I can walk back and forth from my shed to my upstairs split level for a gallon of “warm water” to wet my 8 bales, when it takes 10-15 gallons EACH… I have been trying so hard and have invested so much time into this project because I sooooooo want it to work… My neighbors think I am the crazy lady on the block. Any hope out there for a girl that has to use her hose where cold water comes out? … Thank you

  9. Rosemary — I never used warm water on my bales and I live in Minnesota, where the springs can be pretty cool — and warm water would get cold very fast once it was outside. If you think the bale is too cold, cover it with plastic while you are conditioning it. (Those inexpensive painting drop clothes work great.) Conditioning the bale takes time, but after about three weeks, I’d just plant things in it. Make sure the plants have a bit of compost or soil around them, and go for it. Good luck!

  10. Hi Folks, I live in Mesa, AZ and am on my second year of straw bailing. I had a problem last year with transplanting my one gallon tomato pots. Real tough to get into the bales. So this February I devised a new system: 5 bales located horizontally (Sorry Joel) and in parallel with 7 inch gaps between; separated by 8x2x16″ red pavers. Then I filled in the gaps, and covered the bales with well composted farmyard mulch. The gaps made it VERY easy to plant eight tomato pots in the compost, and now they are 6 ft tall and loaded with fruit. I planted melon and squash etc seeds in the actual bales. Now everything is growing gangbusters. However, the bales heated up to 145 and did not come down for four weeks. I think now that I should have conditioned the bales before putting in the compost. The bales only came down after the third flood irrigation with cold water and a really good dowsing with cold on the top. I have two sets of the bales with 5 variety of watermelon on the corners of the end bales, so that they can spread out over my yard. Last year the watermelons wandered over a 30 by 30 foot area.

  11. Thank you so much Mary !!!! I so APPRECIATE you for the encouragement that it still can work with the covers. I will get that done today… I will keep you posted !!!

  12. Good Day! I am starting my first straw bale garden….and of course, have a few questions for those more experienced.
    I have been checking the temp…early on (when it was quite cool) one side got up to 100 degrees—the other side has never gotten above 85. I have been using blood meal (as prescribed in one of the pages I have visited). I started about 3 weeks ago…now I have a crop of mushrooms (which I understand is good). I was hoping to plant this coming week (which would be approx 3 weeks into the conditioning process) but, it has yet to get above 70 degrees here in Michigan–more often in mid 50’s. Should I wait until I have a few hot days? I am concerned it still has to go thru the process of heating up to 120-140 (as I have heard) and don’t want to kill my baby veggie plants. Wondering if I should hold out a bit?? or could it be that it is done? It is decomposing nicely though. Went thru the ‘stinky, musty phase’–that has passed. I stopped adding the blood meal at about day 14.

  13. You could try planting cool season crops. For tomatoes, etc., I usually wait until June and use big transplants. Good luck with your garden!

  14. I have found that overwatering the bale washes out the fertilizer and slows the process down. so it is best to drench the bale and then add the fertilizer and only lightly water in so it dissolves. My temps began to go up quickly when I realized what I was doing wrong. My temps seem to be more in the 120 range. I will plant after day 12 and when my hand when pushed in the bale does not feel too hot for me. If the bale feels way too hot for your hand then you can not plant yet.

  15. I am in day 20 of the Bale prep, and my internal temp is as high as 180 deg between watering, I have a soaker hose set up with watering timer set to 2 hrs at 4pn and 4 am……I built a 2×4 frame around the top of the hay bales, and added 3 inches of Raised Bed All Natural Top Soil…..after the second week of bail prep, I went ahead and planted….tomatos, pepper, squash, and Okra….all are up about 3 inches! Going great so far….but hoping the intenal temp in bales will drop soon!

  16. Can I buy straw bales now for next year for cool crop planting for broccoli and cauliflower and get them set up and condition them before the winter and when spring comes the cucumber plants, potatoes and tomatoes will not have the weed problem from spring growth or is it better to wait until you are ready to plant then condition your bales shortly beforehand? I live in Missouri.

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