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HomeFarming NewsJoel Karsten’s ‘revolutionary’ straw bale gardening method
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane hails from a sixth-generation drystock and specialised pedigree suckler enterprise in Co. Mayo. She currently holds the positions of editor and general manager at That's Farming, having joined the firm during its start-up phase in 2015.
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Joel Karsten’s ‘revolutionary’ straw bale gardening method

How would you react if you saw your neighbour sprinkling bare straw bales with a garden hose?

It is that curiosity that the author of Straw Bale Gardens Complete, Joel Karsten, is counting on to bring people together while spreading the word about his “revolutionary” straw bale gardening method.

Joel pioneered this unique method of growing plants in decomposing straw bales, which he says, “not only makes growing fresh vegetables possible even for those with bad soil or no backyard at all, but it also might plant the seeds of new friendships”.

Karsten’s method, he claims, requires less maintenance and weeding and, because of the raised height, makes gardening more accessible for seniors who cannot do the hard physical work of gardening, he explains.

The method works in any climate and for nearly every vegetable crop and does not require any soil at all, so it can be done on concrete, asphalt or even on a rooftop, he outlined.


Straw Bale Gardens Complete, published by Cool Springs Press, provides an abundance of inspiration, with detailed steps for planning, planting, and harvesting a straw bale garden; bale variations and options; watering guidelines; and plant profiles.

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Also included are tips for irrigating in dry climates, gardening in small and urban spaces, and even DIY instructions for homemade bales from compostable materials.

The book is filled with colour photos and project ideas, including how to set up a greenhouse.

Karsten commented: “The conspicuous nature of planting vegetables in bales of straw out in your backyard is a wonderful conversation starter,” said Joel Karsten, who shares the details of his revolutionary method in his book, Straw Bale Gardens Complete.

“In a world where everyone communicates by texts, sharing time chatting over the backyard fence about your straw bale garden is a wonderful way to strengthen friendships.”

“Growing a successful vegetable garden is difficult enough if you have terrific soil to plant your garden into, but with poor soils, it can be virtually impossible,” Karsten added.

“Straw bale gardening allows anyone, even those with the worst soil conditions, to grow a terrific garden that is inexpensive, productive and much less labour intensive.”

About the author

A horticulture science graduate from the University of Minnesota, Joel Karsten grew up on a crop and dairy farm in southern Minnesota, where the seed for his love of gardening was planted.

After purchasing his first home and realising that nothing could grow in the compacted construction backfill, he experimented with growing tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers in straw bales.

He continued to perfect his method for gardening this way for 14 years until a reporter did a story, and he realised just how revolutionary his method was.

This prompted him to write his straw bale gardening series of books, which includes Straw Bale Gardening, Straw Bale Solutions and Straw Bale Gardens Complete.

Karsten also developed BaleBuster® conditioner to help prepare straw bales for optimal plant growth.

A keynote speaker, Karsten has made more than 2,000 presentations about straw bale gardening since his first appearance on the local news.

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