straw bale gardening


These gardens are a great solution if you are lacking in good soil: especially if you live in an urban area with soil that is contaminated by things like glass, run-off or other waste.

Straw Bale Gardens teaches gardening in a way that isn’t only new but is thoroughly innovative and revolutionary to home gardening. It solves every impediment today’s home gardeners face: bad soil, weeds, a short growing season, watering problems, limited garden space, and even physical difficulty working at ground level. Developed and pioneered by author and garden expert Joel Karsten, straw bale gardens create their own growing medium and heat source so you can get an earlier start. It couldn’t be simpler or more effective: all you need is a few bales of straw, some fertilizer, and some seeds or plants, and you can create a weedless vegetable garden anywhere—even in your driveway.

Find it: USA / Canada / UK & Europe

#straw bale gardening #DIY #books #raised beds #garden hacks


Memorial Day weekend - year three of the SBG:0

Made the annual trip to Fryski’s Country Gardens in Caryville, WI to purchase my plants. Kind of cheated this year and sought out more mature plants. Once again Gary tagged along and convinced me that we needed more tomato plants. Here’s the list of things to grow:

  • 2 pepper plants (Red Knight X3R and Bell Boy)
  • 4 cucumber
  • 4 cantaloupe melons
  • 4 watermelon
  • 2 tomatillo tomatoes
  • 4 La Roma tomatoes
  • Brandiwine tomato
  • Lemon Boy tomato
  • Wisconsin 55 tomato
  • Black Cherry tomato
  • Supersweet 100 tomato
  • Yellow Pear tomato
  • Sunsugar tomato
  • Megabite tomato

The mushrooms came out last night in full force following the planting, as had been the trend of the last two years. Sir Nigel spends his time between the bales and the deck…slowing down but still aware. The raised bed seeds are finally heating up after a very cold start. Looking forward to another successful year!

Put Straw Bale Gardening in Your Garden Plans

Combining container gardening with vegetable gardening, straw bale gardening breaks the notion that plants can only grow in soil as these dirtless gardens plans will cause your plants to explode with beautiful, wholesome produce. [Find out how!]

By Joel Karsten

Photo Courtesy Cool Springs Press



Wattle fences and retaining walls can easily be built from the leftovers of pruning, or from coppiced wood. This technique is the most basic form of fence construction, having been in use since Neolithic times.

I continually harvest apple, dogwood, willow, and hazelnut wood from designated coppicing trees in my yard, because these local species happen to grow both quickly and straightly. There are a number of “fences in progress” that are built higher every time I go around and maintain trees. Preparing materials is easy: I trim the bases of prunings down to sturdy fence posts of a uniform height and circumference; the rest I trim into flexible pieces for weaving the rest of the fence. The leftovers from all of this are piled up in #hugelkultur mounds. I hammer the posts down 1/3 of their height, and the rest is just simple weaving back and forth, between posts.

I have used this method for #raised beds, #straw bale gardens, and purely for aesthetic purposes with great success, but then again, I am not one to complain when it’s 100% free!



Straw Bale Gardening

One of the thriftiest, most versatile ways to garden is what’s called Straw Bale gardening. Often cheaper than garden soil or fertilizer, straw bales are found virtually everywhere. Craigslist, home depot or other home improvement stores will sell them for pennies on the dime when push comes to shove.

But what can you grow?

The answer: just about anything.

Moisture and heat collect in the straw bale like a trap. Tomatoes, corn and other tall plants can break the bale apart the taller they get, but potatoes and herbs will thrive in your bale. 

Hay bales start to decompose just hours after they get wet and can provide an atmosphere better than your greenhouse. By digging a hole into your bale, dropping in some soil around your plants and packing it firmly, you’ll add some stability to your plant and as your bale decomposes, it will provide a steady source of nutrition all throughout the growing season.

Put Straw Bale Gardening in Your Garden Plans

Combining container gardening with vegetable gardening, straw bale gardening breaks the notion that plants can only grow in soil as these dirtless gardens plans will cause your plants to explode with beautiful, wholesome produce. [Find out how!]

By Joel Karsten

Photo Courtesy Cool Springs Press


The art of the mini greenhouse: 12, 3; + the cold frame

Many of you folks are working without a proper greenhouse, much like me!

Here is a small tour of the little things I have built in my garden in order to create warm and sheltered micro-climates for my plants, against the Danish seaside weather I cope with daily.

  1. Home-made mistbank
  2. Two stakes and a bag, anchored with a clothespin, to protect the fig tree
  3. A candy-container cloche
  4. An aquarium (can you believe someone was throwing that away?), converted into a squash nursery - the straw bale behind it holds quite a bit of heat
  5. Plexi-glass lean-to wind shelter on a warm straw bale, sheltering numerous seedlings
  6. Plexi-glass lean to wind shelter on a black berm, sheltering a Carolina spicebush

The most important features of all of these are protection from wind, and retention of heat.

Protection from wind is provided by glass, plastic, or whatever I can find that allows the sun to shine through.

Retention of heat is provided by mulch, fire bricks, using black paint, or proximity to decomposing straw bales.

#greenhouse #DIY #garden hacks #straw bale gardening #seedlings


What do you use to fend off the cold in your garden?


Mizuna transplants in a straw bale garden.

Straw bale gardens are a simple form of raised bed, created by cutting a small, shallow depression in the top of a partially-fermented straw bale (it should be left out from Fall), and filling it with compost. Straw bales can often be found for free after they have been used for decoration: I received 8 from a senior’s home.

The compost is “watered in” and sinks into the spaces in the straw bale, and more compost is added on top. Once the bale has been sitting for a week or two (and it is “settled”) it can be planted with a variety of things.

Because of the decomposing action of the straw, the straw bale gardens are warmer than other gardens. In the very early spring, when the temperature is sitting around 10-15˚C, mine are planted with peas, lettuces, and cabbage-family crops. Their growth is greatly accelerated by the warmth of the bales. On nights that dip below 0˚, crops are covered in a plastic cloche.

Once the season heats up (20˚C and up, without extreme nighttime lows) and I have taken my first harvest, the bales will be re-planted with tomatoes, peppers, tobacco, nasturtiums, and other heat-lovers.

This versatile raised bed is by and large “weeding free,” although the occasional seed will sprout from the straw itself. I am gently pulling these out and planting a little square of them elsewhere in the garden.

Find the book:  Straw Bale Gardens: The Breakthrough Method for Growing Vegetables Anywhere, Earlier and with No Weeding (USA / Canada / UK & Europe)

#garden hacks #diy


Veggie Bed #4

Cross section of a new no-dig, raised “lasagna” bed // summer growth.

I am mixing three different kinds of raised bed technique here to raise/even the grade, and create a workable soil surface without digging: lasagna gardening, straw bale gardening, and hugelkultur.

#Lasagna gardening is using newspaper or cardboard, layered with compost, in order to build up the height of a raised bed.

#Straw bale gardening is planting crops in fermenting straw bales, which provides heat, moisture retention, and nutrition to crops.

#Hugelkultur (“hill culture” in German) is building up the grade of the soil using logs, sticks, and other forms of wood, and covering with compost, which sequesters carbon, and provides a nutritious, well-drained, elevated, aerated substrate for plants.


  • Red Kuri Squash, planted in a straw bale (Thanks to desixlb for the seeds)
  • Scarlet Runner Beans, using an old crib as a trellis (Thanks to kihaku-gato for the seeds)
  • Hild’s Ideal Brussels Sprouts
  • Spring Onions

More (tagged as #biodiverseed veggie beds):  Veggie Bed #1Veggie Bed #2 - Veggie Bed #3Veggie Bed #5



Hügelkultur, meaning “hill culture” in German, is a method of raised bed gardening that uses decaying wood as a basis for building up a berm. Berms are useful in directing the flow of water, and protecting more delicate plants from prevailing wind damage.

For this simple hugelkultur garden, Ihave piled sticks and wood, covered them in compost, planted my shrubs, and mulched the resulting berm first with a layer of newspapers, and second with a layer of wood chips. 

As the wood breaks down, it will create a rich soil with plenty of air pockets, allowing for excellent drainage and root penetration for the plants planted in the mound.

Hugelkultur raised beds are a form of “no-dig” garden (like the straw bale gardens) making them a good choice for those with impaired mobility or strength. They also sequester carbon, and provide a handy use for all of the trimmings from pruning and hedge maintenance.

My yard has poor drainage, so building up the soil is the only sustainable way to utilise the space without creating a pond. Hugelkultur beds provide exceptional drainage for plants that don’t like “wet feet” (ie. waterlogged root systems).

Diagram: Permaculture UK - The Many Benefits of Hugelkultur

#hügelkultur #garden hacks #DIY #permaculture #hugelkultur #compost #mulch


Coffee Feeders

Previously: Coffee As Fertiliser

As discussed in “Coffee As Fertiliser,” I have been collecting and fermenting old coffee left in the pot to be used as fertiliser for my plants. Liquid coffee possibly contains more magnesium and potassium than coffee grounds, and is more acidic, but beyond that, there is not a tonne of research on how it impacts plant growth.

I have begun an experiment in slowly feeding the coffee (diluted with rainwater) to my newly out-planted peppers and tomatoes in the #straw bale gardens.

This year, I planted in simple plastic cups because they were either cheap or free. After planting my seedlings out, I have an abundance of cups to either wash and re-use, or re-purpose. In the absence of planting labels, I put a skewer through each cup as a placeholder label. After looking at the arrangement, I realised I’d accidentally made slow-release water and fertiliser reservoirs.

I halfway filled each cup with the old coffee mix, and after 24 hours, only a small amount has leached into the soil. This little setup should also help keep plants consistently moist on hot days.

Coffee also has the added benefit of being repellent to slugs, snails, cats, dogs, deer, and rats. It’s a great way to organically deter an array of common garden pests.

I don’t have a control group for this year that is in the Straw Bales and not being fed coffee, so this isn’t a proper #garden science post, but I will see how these fellows fare over the year as compared to their potted counterparts.

#coffee #garden science #fertiliser #straw bale gardening #pest control #peppers #tomatoes


A Raised Bed Buffet

4 metres x 0.5 metres // zone 8

Once a row of four straw bale gardens, this woven wattle raised bed has had a few top-dressings of compost, and now hosts a number of perennial Allium species, as well as lettuces, everlasting kale, lovage, parsley, tarragon, and a number of species of thyme. It basically contains everything needed to season or garnish a meal.

The cultivars of perennial onions I grow for primarily for greens or top sets live here; many of which I am multiplying for the Perennial Onion Project.

I made the entire structure with wild-harvested or free materials, and the contents have been sown from seed, swapped, or cooperatively-purchased. It’s taken quite a few hours, but very little money to put this little garden together. By June, it will be an absolute mess of allium and umbellifer blossoms.


It was a very productive year in this improvised raised bed (veggie bed #4), but the time has come to cannibalise the materials, and cultivate the space with a more permanent installation.

Impermanent raised beds can enrich the soil in your garden: the nutrients from the compost and mulch leach down into the soil below, every time it rains. Like sheet mulching, temporary raised beds are an easy way to get rid of a grass plane without digging: simply build over existing grass, and it decomposes as the season progresses: converted into rich soil nutrition. Using organic materials, you can construct raised beds as you need them, and tear them down when you have a use for their constituent parts.

The straw is absolutely loaded with worm casings and Eisenia foetida red compost worms. I’m spreading it over newspapers as a mulch, in areas where I’m establishing trees for the food forest.

#garden hacks #gif

The Japanese Quince seedlings I’m growing for a living fence/espalier seem to be doing very well, even into this warm December.

They are right beside my wattle raised bed, which holds my decomposing straw bale gardens: I think they are benefiting from the microclimate that results from the fermentation of the straw.

Once the seedlings are a little taller, I will start weaving and pruning them into a pattern like this:

External image

Photo: Raining Sideways

MY STORE: Japanese Quince Seedlings, 1-year old, $3.50 each

Veggie Bed #5

Using a combination of mulching techniques, I turned this former triangle of grass around a radio tower into a productive polyculture growing space, comprised of:

External image

  • And a living fence/espalier of 15 quince trees, bordering the interior sunken plane around the radio tower. Vines of all sorts use the tower as a trellis.

I am growing many things in it this year, but it is slowly transitioning into a dedicated space for perennial vegetables.

Currently, this area contains:

  • Jerusalem artichokes/sunchokes (the flower stalks are almost 3 metres high!) - perennial
  • Asparagus - perennial
  • Artichokes - perennial
  • Egyptian Walking Onions - perennial
  • Tomatoes
  • Carrots
  • Chinese celery
  • Zucchini
  • Pumpkins
  • Swiss Chard
  • Lettuce
  • Kale
  • Calendula
  • Marigolds
  • Naturtiums
  • Morning Glory

More (tagged as #biodiverseed veggie beds):  Veggie Bed #1Veggie Bed #2 - Veggie Bed #3Veggie Bed #4


I wove this wattle bed around four straw bale gardens in 2014: it’s made of red dogwood, but the vibrant colour has long since faded.

Last year it had a variety of herbs, but this year, it’s morphed into a garden for the especially edible species among my perennial onion and garlic collection.

Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) are the most prominent, but there are things like Stag’s Garlic (Allium vineale), Rocambole (Allium scorodoprasum), Garlic Chives (Allium tuberosum), Ramsons (Allium ursinum), Potato Onions (Allium cepa var. aggregatum) cvs. Red, Yellow, and White, Golden Garlic (Allium moly), Babington’s Leeks (Allium ampeloprasum babingtonii), Everlasting Leeks (Allium cepa perutile), Drumstick Leeks (Allium sphaerocephalon), Pink Lily Leek (Allium oreophilum), and Egyptian Walking Onions (Allium ×proliferum) cvs. ‘Amish,’ ‘Ayr,’ ‘Catawissa,’ ‘McCullar’s,’ and ‘Moritz.’

They all look lovely together, and the blooms have been buzzing with honeybees.