New Ideas in Straw Bale Gardening

I can’t think of a single gardener who wouldn’t want to plant a vegetable garden that could grow anywhere–without soil—and never needed weeding.

Straw Bale GardensWhen something sounds too good to be true, in most cases it means watch out for all the pitfalls. Gardeners are used to hearing claims for plants, products and tools that sound perfect, but end up being a big disappointment.

But Joel Karsten’s new book may be an exception. “Straw Bale Gardens” (Cool Springs Press, 2013) promises to be The breakthrough method for growing vegetables anywhere, earlier and with no weeding.

He practically guarantees gardeners can get big yields and grow 100 percent organic anywhere. As proof, he suggests planting in straw bales on balconies or driveways. No soil required.

“You plant your garden directly in bales of straw. Add some water, fertilizer and sunshine (not necessarily in that order) and your garden will explode with beautiful wholesome produce. No tilling, no cultivating, no weeding,” he writes in the Introduction.

You’d have to be a confident gardener and garden writer to make a claim like that.

Karsten is a straw bale gardening pioneer from Minnesota and he’s grown just about any edible in regular bales of straw. He’s experimented enough in his own garden planting tomatoes, cabbage, pumpkins, herbs, greens, eggplant, onions and many other favorites. He’s even had success growing peanuts and sweet potatoes.

Planting in straw may seem like a strange idea, but it makes sense. Each straw bale serves as its own container and growing medium. As the straw decomposes it gives plants the nutrients they need to grow. At the end of the season, the straw is turned into compost and a new bale is planted the next spring.

“Straw Bale Gardens” is the culmination of many years of Karsten’s planting and growing in bales. The book includes everything a gardener needs to know to get started planting in straw, including how to condition the bales prior to planting.

Full-color pictures show bales planted in community gardens, front yards and on slopes. Karsten shows a variety of layouts and suggested plants that could fit in just about any garden space. He offers a complete list of the materials, tools and supplies that help with planting and growing. His special tips seem like they would be especially helpful for an apprehensive beginner.

Several pages of Frequently Asked Questions in the back of the book offer additional information and show the top concerns of gardeners. The FAQs address where to buy bales, what to plant in shade, how to control slugs, if straw bale gardens will grow in an arid climate and other key questions.

The Plant Profiles section includes information on what to plant, suggested cultivars and planting, maintaining and harvesting.

If you haven’t had gardening success with other methods that sound too good to be true, you might want to try Karsten’s straw bale planting methods. It might make a believer out of you.

My free review copy of “Straw Bale Gardens” was provided by Cool Springs Press.


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