was a childhood observation that changed the life of
Joel Karsten, and in turn revolutionized the way many
people grow vegetables.
44, author of "Straw Bale Gardens" (Cool
Springs Press, $19.99) started the straw bale gardening
phenomenon. Since the book was published in March 2013,
thousands of gardeners from just about every country in
the world have tried his techniques, which he pioneered
shortly after receiving a degree in horticulture from
the University of Minnesota.
is the mother of all invention," he said in a phone
interview. "I was broke because I was young, right
out of college and I just bought a house."
said he couldnít afford to buy compost to amend the
thin layer of top soil covering "this awful
construction fill" at his new house. He got the
straw bale idea from the thistles he saw growing out of
broken bales on the dairy farm in rural Minnesota where
he grew up. As a horticulture graduate, he knew the
nutrients that tomatoes and peppers require are similar
to what thistles need. He began to experiment.
been doing this for 21 years. For the first 14, nobody
really cared a whole lot," he said with a laugh.
he was discovered by a local television reporter. First,
it was local garden clubs asking him to lecture. Soon it
was gardeners from across the country. Now his book is
translated into 12 languages and is one of the most
popular garden titles in the world.
my own garden, I gave straw bale gardening a try last
year with mixed success. After talking to Karsten, I
realized I did just about everything wrong.
first step is to condition the bale(s) with water and a
high-nitrogen fertilizer such as whatís used for
lawns. Organic gardeners can use blood meal.
High-nitrogen fertilizers work because thatís what
bacteria really eat, he said.
bale is soaked every day for 12 days with the diluted
building up bacteria inside the bale ,and those bacteria
are going to colonize the inside of the bale,"
Karsten said. "They are going eat the straw and
turn it into soil."
the end of the 12 days, it isnít straw anymore. Itís
pretty much the beginning stages of soil or compost. The
idea is to maintain a sterile environment for new
have no weed seeds, no disease (and) no insects from
last yearís garden," he said. "As long as
you never put a shovel of soil on top of that bale, youíll
never introduce those issues to your bale."
system works with one bale, or many. Kartsen likes to
arrange five bales end to end. Whatever number you use,
be sure to leave the strings on. He said compressed
straw decomposes faster. He also recommends finding the
heaviest, tightest bales available; they will usually
last two seasons.
raised-bed gardening without the raised-bed price,"
first year he grows crops such as tomatoes, peppers,
cabbage, cucumbers, greens and just about anything you
could plant in a conventional garden sans sweet corn.
The next year, he focuses on root crops and others that
grow inside the bale.
grows in both the tops and sides of bales. To create a
planting hole in the side, "take your rake handle
and punch right between the two strings at a downward
angle," he said, adding that herbs work well in the
sides of bales.
has a few other tricks up his sleeve. With tomato
plants, heíll cover the top with a thin layer of
sterile planting mix and plant a whole packet of basil
seeds. As they sprout and start to form roots, he moves
them to the sides of the bale. The same technique could
be used for greens, too, especially later in the season
as things cool off.
the season, he highly recommends using a drip irrigation
system hooked up to a timer to water the bales. They
need 1-2 gallons of water a day when it gets hot and
thereís no rain. The key is to keep the bale
said he never imagined he would be traveling the world,
showing people how to garden. "It is a dream come
true for a little country boy."
Oster: HYPERLINK "