I like to use blood meal as an organic nitrogen source for conditioning the bales.  Another option that works well is feather meal.  Whatever source is used, it should have a minimum of 5% active nitrogen content.  Manure will just not work quickly enough, it doesn’t have enough concentration of active nitrogen.  BM418With manure it becomes physically impossible to drive enough material into the bale to feed the bacteria enough nitrogen to allow them to colonize the bale.  The only exception to this no manure rule is with chicken manure that has been collected without any bedding material or wood shavings mixed in.  The manure must be composted for a short 6-12 week period and covered during this time to avoid having rain leach the nitrogen content from the manure.  Use this chicken manure in combination with a known concentration such as blood meal or feather meal, and the chicken manure can prove effective and s07810__62877.1407758361.1280.1280trong enough in nitrogen concentration to achieve the objective of feeding enough nitrogen to grow bacteria quickly inside the bales.  DO NOT USE any other manures, they are simply not high enough in nitrogen content and the bales will not condition quickly enough to be ready for planting in the 18 day period of time we are allowing for this to happen.  If you want to add a nice layer of weed seeds to your bale surface just use some horse manure or cow manure on top of your bales.  Compost has less than 1% nitrogen content, compost tea has less than 1% nitrogen, so donSBG2TracyWalsh67-XL‘t try to condition the bales using either one.  Fish emulsion is great but not economical to use in large quantities for bale conditioning, it also stinks horribly.  My suggestion for anyone who wants to do Straw Bale Gardening organically is to stick with blood meal or feather meal.  One tip is to use a sharp stick or pipe to make holes in the bales when you apply the blood meal, so it works quickly down into the interior.  This trick will make the blood meal available to the bacteria more quickly and it will keep the smell at a manageable level.  The blood meal will stink a bit like dead animals, since it is made from the blood of dead animals I guess this kind of makes sense doesn’t it.   Look for blood meal at a farm supply store where a large bag will cost much less per pound than a small bag at a garden center.  You will need a large amount to do the job, and don’t skimp on the amount you apply or your plants will suffer.

UPDATE: It took several years of requests from Straw Bale Gardeners, and a lot of research and testing, to create this product: BALEBUSTER™ is the perfect conditioning agent to prepare your bales for a bountiful Straw Bale Gardening Season. This custom blend of nutrients is an All-in-One solution that will get your gardening season off to a great start more easily than ever before.



    1. Yes, just don’t invite me over for a lettuce salad! It does help, shouldn’t be the sole source however for conditioning a bale, and it is a bit gross to many people so I wouldn’t suggest advertising that you do this, not everyone will have the same opinion and be as understanding, I can assure you!

  1. I used Milorganite, as suggested in the book…should I be using something else? I don’t see it mentioned in this post. I ended up using a pitch-fork and driving holes into my dense bales for the fertilizer to be able to penetrate more. Thanks!

    1. Milorganite works fine, but can be difficult to “dissolve” into the bales, your idea of poking holes does work well. I suggest the same thing with blood meal, as it is hard to dissolve into the bale as well. Use a sharp stick or 2×2 with a point on the end and pound a few holes randomly across the surface and pour the material into those holes, it certainly can help speed up the bacterial action inside the bale. Bacteria, however, are extremely aggressive and will come up to the bale surface to consume the available nitrogen, so if some is left on the surface it may bother you more than it will bother the bacteria. It seems to always work out even if the slight “crust” forms on the surface.

  2. I’m getting ready to start planting out for this season — I’m using the same bales from last year and wanted to know if I need to do any re-conditioning of the bales (more nitrogen, I would assume?), and if so, how much? Thanks!

  3. I’m trying straw bale gardening for the first time. I started out using blood meal, then I notice on the label that it says not to use as a fertilizer for beans or other legumes. Have you noticed any problems with these crops when using blood meal?

  4. Mark Moody

    Can I use liquid (dissolved not frozen) nitrogen diluted to 20% per label instructions for conditioning my bales?

  5. Sharon Lee Chapelle

    I’m in Excelsior, MN. Can’t find potash for the final stage of conditioning without buying a huge amount. Any idea where to get it?

  6. Peter Crider

    We’re doing our first straw bale garden & our nitrogen pellets didn’t arrive. I’ve soaked the bales for 2 days & wondered if it might work to use Schultz All Purpose liquid plant food in conjunction with blood meal & a horse manure tea? How much blood meal do you use per bale if you’re only using that? I would really appreciate any advice we live at 8400 ft & have a shorter growing season although we should get 10-12 hrs of sunlight daily.

  7. I have just started my garden and was using blood meal – but the flies! Now I have flies on my straw bales!
    The more I read on blood meal the more comes up that his is a problem. How do I get rid of them ?!
    I don’t think you should be recommending it!

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