Poly tent covers help to hold in the heat early in the season when the bales are “conditioning” they give off tons of heat like a natural furnace underneath. It is the bacteria that are doing the decomposition that create the heat as a naturally occurring phenomenon of the process. People often see a freshly stirred up compost pile will steam for a couple of days when new organic matter is added, this is another example of the heat generated by the actively consuming bacteria munching away on the freshly introduced organic matter. The little seedlings and transplants love the warm root zone created by this process inside the bales, and the new growth loves the cooler temperatures of the early season. The combination causes very rapid root development and plant growth. The poly tent covers allow much earlier planting (2-4 weeks depending on weather). This natural heat from the bales is one reason folks in the far north, Canada, Alaska, and in the Arctic circle love the Straw Bale Gardening method. They don’t have to wait for June when the soil normally thaws to plant.


  1. I am very excited to start! I got a nice soaker hose for Christmas, and they were all curious about what I was planning. Unfortunately, I am worried most of my bales are of extremely low quality. After I had bought them, I found a much better source for bales, and purchased a couple nice ones.

    1. You sound like you’re all set Jean. You are right in your assumption that good straw bales are key! I had about 12 bad ones last year, from an untrusted source. Desperation sometimes means taking what you can find. That won’t happen again, I have my supplier all set for delivery for this spring.

      1. Well here’s a question: Is there something you would suggest definitely needs a stronger, better quality bales than other things? I like salad veggies best: tomatoes, cukes, radish, leaf lettuces, bunching onions, zucchini, carrots . . I’m guessing that tomatoes will need a good solid base, but what do you think with your experience?

  2. Jean, definitely those crops with a longer life cycle will need better, (bigger and more compacted) bales, other crops that are shorter life cycle, like your lettuces and radish will surely be grown and gone before the bales have time to collapse. Planting in succession is always possible, I often do three and even four successive crops in the same bale in the same season. Use your best bale for tomatoes, and of course use the surface of the bale for a couple of other short season crops as well, and the sides for a couple of basil or other plants.

  3. Rhonda Brown

    Hi Jean:

    Conditioning the bales: In an article that I saw last year, clipped and now lost, you mention watering the bales and then putting chicken manure on the bales to start the process of decomposition in order to plant. I have been reading everything that I can find on straw bale gardening (short of buying your book) as well as watched the piece that you did on public TV with the miniature set up and there was no mention of manure prior to planting. Is this necessary in order to condition the bales? BTW, I do intend to purchase your book.

    Thanks, Rhonda

  4. My Father tried this years ago with potatoes (Nova Scotia) and was successful.
    Now that I’m retired and the soil on my property is best suited to growing spruce trees- this sounds like a perfect vegetable gardening project for this year!

  5. I just finished conditioning my bales and am ready to plant. I checked the temperature in the bales and it is 56 degrees which isn’t close to the recommended 85 degrees. Do I need to start over, continue conditioning, or can I plant with the poly tent over the plants? I am in Missouri and the weather is all over the place. One day 85, the next it is snowing. Thanks for your help.

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