SG517 Straw Bale Gardening (Part 3 & Wrap Up)

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Interested in starting a Straw Bale Garden this year?

In this week’s episode (SG517), I continue my chat with Joel Karsten about Straw Bale Gardening in warmer climates, direct sowing in Straw Bale Gardens, growing vegetables in Straw Bale Gardens, and the inspiration other gardeners have discovered through Straw Bale Gardening

All this and more on the wrap-up of our Straw Bale Gardening interview with Joel Karsten.

In this Episode:

  • Straw Bale Gardening in warmer climates  (6:00)

“When we talk about warmer climates – Arizona, Nevada, Texas:

Believe it or not, they don’t have the greatest soil there. 

A lot of their soil is clay based or acidic or too alkaline – plus rocky, sandy – not really conducive and productive soils in those parts of the world.

So Straw Bale Gardening is a really  great alternative.”

– Joel Karsten, Straw Bale Gardens

“In truly desert climates, they get plenty of sun – that’s never been their issue. 

We talk more with them about using the trellis system that we’ve built to help support shade cloth during part of the season. Many of their gardens will burn up because it doesn’t have a nice covering of shade cloth.

Straw Bale Garden Trellis System

Straw Bale Garden Trellis System

Even in the United Arab Emirates, I know people that are actually Straw Bale Gardening. They feed their camels grain and grass and they have bales of fodder and bedding materials.

It’s interesting that some of the material in different parts of the world aren’t the same as ours – oat straw and wheat straw – but it still works.

You need tightly baled organic material that will decompose rapidly – that will work for this process”

– Joel Karsten, Straw Bale Gardens

  • The Advantages of  Straw Bale Garden (10:00)

“You condition, you plant and you harvest. And, if you have an automatic water system set up, you don’t even need to get your garden hose.

You don’t have to go through a learning curve, and you don’t have to rotate crops.” 

-Joel Karsten, Straw Bale Gardens

  • Joel’s DIY Tomato Cage (13:00)

“The way they work is you buy this concrete reinforcing wire. It looks just like wire fencing and the squares are real big – 5 inch by 5 inch squares. I buy a long roll of it and I cut it up in sections. You basically spiral it up into a cylinder and put zip ties to hold it in place.

These things just last forever. If you run out of storage space, you remove the zip ties and flatten them on the ground and then you put them back together in the spring.”

– Joel Karsten, Straw Bale Gardens

  • Joel’s Tip for Storing Basil (16:00)

“I always say when I go to the grocery store in the winter – you literally pay $6-$7 for these little clamshells with two sprigs of basil – I come home and I always tell my wife how all summer I’m a millionaire when it comes to basil because I have so much of it”

– Joel Karsten, Straw Bale Gardens

  •  Direct Sowing with Straw Bale Gardening (18:46)

“Now people’s first instinct is to take their shovel and take a few shovelfuls of soil from their garden and put it on top of their bale and that’s a BIG no-no! We don’t do that.

Straw Bale Gardens Frosting the Cake

Straw Bale Gardening Direct Sowing after “Frosting the Cake”

What we do is we buy a bag of sterile planting mix and usually what I suggest is they buy a soils planting mix. That way you don’t have any possibilities of introducing any kind of pathogen or fungus – anything like that. Then you frost the cake: you put just an inch or an inch and a half on top of the bale – you sort of pack it down – and make a smooth surface. Then, you put your seeds right in that seed bed.”

– Joel Karsten, Straw Bale Gardens

  • Shorten Days to Maturity (22:00)

“Growing in a Straw Bale – with the earlier start and fast growth – it shortens the days to maturity.

Straw Bale Gardens Shorter Days to Maturity

Straw Bale Gardening allows for a tomato harvest three weeks ahead of schedule.

If you look at a tomato plant, it tells you this is 100 days to maturity. Usually I tell people to knock off about 10% – so 90 days.

So, if you planted it two weeks early, and now you only have 90 days to maturity, you’re saving 10 days plus another 14 days of planting earlier.

Essentially, you’re getting tomatoes 23 – 26 days earlier than you normally would.”

-Joel Karsten, Straw Bale Gardens

  • Vegetable Growing in Straw Bales (25:00)
Straw Bale Gardening Glorious Cabbage

Straw Bale Gardening – Glorious Cabbage

  • Some things that do not like/need to grow in Straw Bales (47:00)
  • What to do after the Harvest (49:00)
  • Some Classic First-time Edible Gardener Mistakes (52:00)
  • Joel’s picks for Ornamental Edibles (53:00)
  • Viola! Gladiola Straw Bale Gardening (56:18)
Straw Bale Gardening with Bulbs

Use a bale or two in your Straw Bale Garden to grow summer bulbs. Plant them full of dahlia, gladiolus, caladium, calla, canna, tuberous begonia, butterfly ginger or others. As the stems shoot up out of the bales cut the flowers and display them indoors in your best vase. Let the leaves of the bulbs continue to grow until fall in the bale. At the end of the season, you can simply cut the strings on the bales, and pick up your bulbs that have now doubled or tripled in size. Store them over winter and replant again in the spring. An average bale can hold 100 gladiolus bulbs. Using a bale as the “nursery” for your bulbs means NO DIGGING in the fall, less disease, earlier flowers, fewer insects, and best of all NO DIGGING.

  • Joel’s trip to France (59:00)
Straw Bale Gardening in France with Joel Karsten

Straw Bale Gardening in France. The garden is an entry into a very prestigious garden tour with 20 gardens around Paris, that runs for six months. Make sure to hit the translate button in the upper right corner unless you are fluent in French.

  • What Seasoned Straw Bale Gardeners Know (1:07:00)
  • Joel’s own Straw Bale Garden (1:09:00)

Joel's own Straw Bale Garden

Connect with Joel:

 Joel’s website

On Facebook

On Twitter

Links Mentioned:

6ftmama iTunes Review Button

Hi there, Listeners! Leave me a review in  iTunes and I’ll thank you with a shout out on the next Still Growing… podcast!     [View it in iTunes and then go to Ratings & Reviews]

Still growing...

Jennifer Ebeling
Jennifer Ebeling is a proud Minnesotan and U of MN alumni. Gooooooo Gophers! Each week, Jennifer produces and hosts Still Growing - a gardening podcast dedicated to helping you and your garden grow. The show is an in-depth interview format. Guests featured on the show share a passion for gardening and include authors, bloggers, professional gardeners, etc. Listeners and guests of the show can join the Still Growing community on Facebook. It's a place to ask questions, share garden stories, interact with great guests featured on the show, and continue to grow and learn. Jennifer and her husband Philip have four children, a big golden lab named Sonny, and live in lovely Maple Grove, Minnesota. P.S. When she's not teaching her four kids a new card game - or teaching them how to drive a car - Jennifer loves inspiring individuals and groups to maximize and personalize their home & garden.
Jennifer Ebeling
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  1. Ally on September 3, 2019 at 3:25 pm


    At this years MN State Fair, I saw a straw bale garden with a CURVED WIRE TRELLIS that allowed me to walk under it and sit on a bench. WHERE CAN I BUY THE CURVED METAL TRELLIS? I’ve looked everywhere and can’t find it.

    • Becky on January 6, 2024 at 6:17 pm

      They are typically called cattle panels that can be purchased at farm and ranch stores. They are sold flat and so all you have to do is secure them one one end to get the looped trellis and then secure on the other side. They work great.

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