44 ;e Costco Connection MARCH 2016
The straw bale solution
Straw bales. Most straw bale
gardens (SBGs) use between one
and 20 bales ($5 to $10 each).
Organic bales are available in some
areas. To help find (or sell) straw
Fertilizer. Use high-nitrogen fertilizer, such as 29-0-4 turf fertilizer
(or organic bloodmeal), for conditioning, plus general garden fertilizer (10-10-10) for final treatment.
Potting soil. Use potting soil to
make a seed bed on bale tops if
you are planting seeds.
Posts and wire. You will need a
metal T-post for each end of each
bale row. Posts help pin bales
together and provide support for
trellis wire. Attach a two-by-four
between post tops.
Sheet plastic. Drape plastic
sheets over trellis wires to make a
Seedlings and seeds. Just about
any plant will thrive in an SBG.
Hose. Embed a soaker hose in
bale tops or hand-water the plants.
Avoid overhead sprinklers.—MJ
to start a
By Mark Johanson
COSTCO MEMBER Joel Karsten is not the first
horticulturist to recognize the value of straw as a
growing medium. But what he has accomplished—
and the reason that tens of thousands of gardeners
across the world have lined their yards, balconies,
rooftops and driveways with bales of wet straw in
just the last year—is to harness the power of the
straw bale. Through 20-some years of research and
experimentation, he has developed a method for
rapidly converting a plain straw bale into a self-feed-ing planting container that can grow edibles just
about anywhere you put it.
Since the publication of Straw Bale Gardens
Complete (Cool Springs Press, 2015; not available
at Costco), Karsten’s book describing the method
he has perfected, straw bale gardens, or SBGs, have
taken the gardening world by storm. Feature arti-
cles in major newspapers, dozens of TV and radio
appearances, and more than 100 lectures and dem-
onstrations have paved the way for the Minnesota
farm boy to spread his message to an interna-
tional audience hungry for a better way to
grow. The response has been very enthusiastic,
and Karsten knows why.
“It’s really pretty simple,” he says. “High yields; a
longer growing season; you don’t need soil, so it can
go anywhere; and you get absolutely zero weeds.”
The first point Karsten makes when he begins
to explain straw bale gardens is that, contrary to
most assumptions, you don’t fill the bales with soil.
“The straw is the soil,” he notes, “and the con-
The modern, highly compressed straw
bale is key to Karsten’s method. Filling a
raised bed with loose straw won’t work.
For bigger yields,
a longer season
and zero weeding,
turning to straw
Cucumbers 2" x 6" x 20'
Tomatoes Pole beans
Landscape fabric or other ground cover material
Basil Lettuce Basil
Cross-section of a straw bale garden (five bales)