Zillions of dollars are spent each winter and spring to heat greehouses around the world. Why? Because young plants love warm roots to grow best. Many people use heating mats under seed trays to encourage seed germination and young plant growth. Straw Bale Gardeners get all these advantages, but they get to keep their money in their pockets. The conditioning process, the first step in getting the bales ready to plant, causes an increase in temperature inside the bales. The bacteria, once given a sip of water and a little dose of nitrogen for food, begin doing a happy dance. As bacteria reproduce, they split in half, and in that process they litterally vibrate (dancing under a microscope) before they split apart. This vibration creates friction, just like when you rub your hands together quickly, and this friction dissipates as heat energy and warms up the bales. Sometimes they get downright HOT inside, but not always. The bacteria are small, so small you can’t see them without at least a 400x microscope, so you have to trust me on this, it really is a thing. You might wonder how such a tiny microscopic bacteria could create enough heat to warm up an entire bale to 140 degrees, and that’s where math comes into play. Given the right conditions for rapid growth a bacteria can reproduce or divide in half every 15 minutes. If we start with one bacteria single celled organism this morning, and it and all of it’s relatives divide in half quantitatively for one day, how many bacteria would we have? That is 7,900,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 bacteria! Not much energy per bacteria is needed when there are this many of these little suckers all vibrating together.
Once the bales cool down a little bit at the end of the conditioning process, so that the interior is not over 105 degrees, then we plant. The same day the soil in a traditional soil garden may be only 45 or 50 degrees early in the spring, while our bales are 80-100 degrees. The roots of our transplants, or the root from a newly germinated seed react very positively to this warmth. The roots grow quickly, earlier in the season, establishing a larger root system translates to a larger reservoir for taking up moisture and nutrients throughout the growing season. I encourage any newcomer to the Straw Bale Gardens method to pull the entire root of a tomato plant from the bale at the end of the season, and then pull a similar tomato from the soil and compare them. The difference is astounding and the comparison will help explain why the tomatoes grown in bales produces so well.