312. No more weeding! | Straw Bale Garden Club | Joel Karsten | Roseville, MN


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800-901-9902 • 651-470-2096​

Minnesota, Roseville Minn- St Paul

Tell us a little about yourself.

12 days straight. I'm 3/4 of the way through a paitn job.

Roseville, MN between St. Paul

Tuesday March 24, 2020! The beginning of a crazy time! We are on spring break so I hope youare getting outdoors. HEre's Joel Karsten from stra balegardening

I'm in Minnnesota

I grew up in Southern Minnesota on a crop and dairy farm

grew up on a farm

moved to the city in college

Was gonna go back to the farm but I met a girl, never made it back to the farm

  • author
  • writer
  • speaker
  • gardener
  • involved in several community gardens

travel around esp. in the winter and spring speaking at home and garden shows here in the US and some in Europe as well about

the straw bale garden method

29 springs

Where do you want to start Pioniering this method, one thing my shuanbend who grew up on a ranch is there is a difference btwetn straw and hay.

straw is what remains cereal grains are harvested like

Wheats and oatmeal

bale up the stalks

bedding for livestock

has hollow stalks

stems are hollow

  • hold air
  • acts like insulation

livestock can lay on the bed of straw has this amazing path to suck up and hold on to moisture

that’s what makes it so good at holding on to large capacity moisture inside a bale which will hold 5 gallons of water

acts as a reservoir for urine for

son or pitchfork in the manure spreader so it's like a diaper for livestock

hay is food ~ Fodder

if you say I’m feeding my dairy cows a hay bale that usually means

alfalfa clover

if your are feeding horses it could mean alfalfa or clover but it could be grass hay

bale up grass that has seed heads

nutritional value

alfalfa has lots of proteins so it's a very valuable crop it's easy to grow

grow it to bale it and feed it to livestock

not a byproduct of oats or wheat

straw is a by-proudct

reasons you grow hay is to feed it to livestrock

  • more expensive
  • heavier
  • has a lot of protein in it

protein breaks down into the

could use a hay bale but it's

  • more expensive
  • breaks down quicker
  • doesn't hold moisture as well

hay bale you only get one seasons of growth

he uses it mostly for mulch, he says you get weed seeds in the garden

the if

depends on when you cut the crop when you get to

3 times

4 times

2 times

cut when you get to 1/10th flower so when one in ten plants has a flower with seeds are mature

weeds that have mature seeds

hopefully not too many weeds

if you are balling like grass hay usually it depends becuase if you cut it a couple of times a year the seed has won’t mature

If you don't cut it at all and you just cut it in the fall and bale your ditch grass, that could have all kinds of seeds in it

sprouting standpoint


sometimes same with straw if you get a really good combine that gets all seeds off when harvesting but if you have a combine that is not adjusted right you can get a bale of straw that has lots of seeds in it too

happens early in the season

prepping the bales getting to plant

spray with a little vinegar and knock them back, then you don't have to deal with the weeds

delights of straw bale gardening is you don't have to deal with weeds

How does somebody start?

Process called Conditioning.

I should go back a bit

when I started straw bale garden

necessity of the mother of all invention

grew up on a dairy barn

When we had a broken bale, the string we would just toss against the barn and say we will come back down but as soon as it gets raining it's never used and you always say is never bed your baby with a wet diaper

rained on all summer

natural decomposition

The biggest vegetables are growing out of the bales

My dad would say hey kid run and get the pitchfork and put it on the manure spreader

try to pick it up with the fork it would fall through the tines of the fork so decomposed

go to college and get a degree in horticulture first instinct is to grab the shovel and run to the yard and see what kind of soil you have so I had a had a half inch of top soil

College kid I just bought a house

had no money to build raised beds

I remembered back to when I was on the farm and the great big thistles to grow the corn

same nutrient profile to grow thistles as it does to grow tomatoes and peppers

Got some bales and did some experimenting

tried different methods

First year I did this, about 2-3 months into the seasons

I knew I would never go back to traditional garden

perfected the method over the first couple of years.

I always say for the first 14 years I did this there weren’t a lot of people who cared


15 years ago this spring, I got on the local news channel 11 affiliate, the NBC affiliate

it just exploded, the next day they started calling the tv station saying where do you get this?

early days of the internet

built a little website

self published booklet

that little booklet started going all over the world

  • early days of Facebook
  • twitter
  • Instagram
  • started to spread

this technique

first published book


straw bale gardening in 2013 for cool spring press started this explosion

  • 30 languages
  • 60 countries

cult within gardening the straw bale gardening community is really sort of a family

  • teach each other
  • encourage each other
  • teach each other the techniques for people who are just starting

FIRST step

is to understand that plants down’t grow very well in plain straw

recently decomposed straw

take the bale 12 day prep process

called conditioning

rapid composting inside the bale
the inside of that bale is going to become soil it's in very early stage, by the time we plant the inside of the bale will be
don't just buy a bale of straw and pop a plant inside it, it doesn't work you need to do this conditioning process first!

amazingly well over traditional gardening methods in my opinon.

Do you have to buy other stuff besides the straw bale? What do you put in it? Or do you put compost in the middle of it?

straw bale metod


do I just dig the bale out and put the dirt out t there then your just soil gardening up in the air - defeating the purpose

You need to get some source of nitrogen


blood meal works really well for this method

  • we like to use pork blood meal
  • feather meal
  • corn gluten

a lot of people who are vegan or vegetarian

you can find alternatives

You need something that has minimum of 5% nitrogen content

chicken manure if you have access to pure manure

what I discourage people from doing if you have bedding mixed in with your chicken manure if it has lots of

  • wood shavings etc
  • sawdust
  • wood chips
  • straw mixed with the manure

because then you get enough stuff worked down into the bale there

something with at least 5% nitrogen content

use it every day for ten day period

  • water every day
  • nitrogen is going to feed the bacteria

not about feeding plant roots

invisible process you can’t see it what we are doing is feed the bacteria inside the bale

you can't see it hapen but you can feel it happen

feel that bale get warm

comes from the colonizing bacteria

metabolize the straw

work together with mother nature’s other tools from her tool kit

  • insects
  • worms
  • fungi
  • mold
  • bacteria > the heavy lifter

they begin decomposing and metabolizing the straw

breaking down the leaves and stalks of the bale of the oats or wheat into the cells broken into compound then broken down into individually charged molecules of things we would recognize

  • potassium
  • nitrogen
  • phosphorus
  • zinc
  • calcium
  • magenese

micro and macro nutrients that the plant used to grow the

ions and cat ions

root of a new plant to absorb through the roots

when you put the tomato in the bale

absorb through the roots

individual ions

new compounds

new cells

new stems and new fruits that come out and grow out of this bale

basic biological process


new growth from plants you put in the bale

You put plants not seeds right?

You can plant seeds bigs ones like beans and peas, something as big as your pinky finger

stick them right into the

tiny seeds like carrots or radishes or something real small seeds

need to make a seed bed

I recommend you buy a bag of planting mix

don’t want anything that is going to have disease or soil borne

if you take a shovel of top soil

you have introduced weed seeds or potentially disease that harbors

tiny planting

lots of advantages

common question I get is why would I want to grow in straw bales when I have all this soil in the backyard?

no weeding thing

You go the whole summer! we get lots of posts on Facebook and twitter and Instagram

I am so excited I have gone all summer and not pulled one weed out of my garden. I should have been doing this the last 20 years.

The other common one

I will never go back to planting in soil, this is the greatest thing ever!

They do that say that!

people fall in love with this method of gardening, it's hard to explain how it excited people become! It spreads very quickly

why do you think it has become this phenomenon?

it’s so conspicuous

You could walk your dog every night, and a friend could ask you does that blue house, do they have a vegetable garden? you will say I don’t remember?

but if they put in a straw bale garden then everyone will know that house and then they see them plant

  • grow out of these bales
  • amazing harvest that they get

sort of becomes an attention grabber for the neighbor! They see:

Somebody did it!

  • simple
  • easy to do
  • not a lot of maintenance

become a teacher

literally pull over and ask questions

what are doing here?

is this vegetable garner explain how this work?

You become a teacher

spreads because o f that

Big advantage, you don’t have to bend over

everyone's doing to get to the point where you become a seasoned gardener, it becomes more and more difficult to prepare the beds

modifying soil beds

that’s a lot of physical labor

roto-tilling your garden

That's a lot of physical work!

Once you get the bales in position

If you can get the delivery person

no physical work left after that no weeding or hoeing, or lifting!

might need a pruning sears have a planting trowel

You could put a lawn chair next to the bale and do your planting from a sitting position. If you are in a wheel chair from a comfortable position

you do have to buy the bales


You are gonna use it for 2 seasons

first year you are going to grow warm seasons crops

  • peppers
  • tomatoes
  • cucumbers

things that like warm roots

The second year you need to squeeze it together put chicken wire around it - they do slop into one. I like to squish 2 bales into one

then you plant your cool season crops

  • potatoes
  • carrots
  • beets
  • etc

by the time you get to the 3rd spring you go and use what remains this beautiful compost

making your own miracle grow at home

  • containers
  • flowers on the patio
  • window boxes

sometimes you get it as a potting mix inside of a container

You really get 3 distinctive uses or seasons of use out of that 5-6$ bale

count up all the weeding time and watering you save

doesn't grow any weeds so you don't have to weed your garden

eliminates all that labor that you would normally spend


A lot of my listeners are green future growers because they like to create green businesses and maybe they are thinking I can grow bales for people, like a landscaper who comes and does the lawn, since this seems like it doesn't require as much time per house.

I think it's a great idea?

We actually threw around a concept talked to a garden center. We called it

snap fresh vegetable gardens

market it through home and garden shows

order a vegetable garden based on what do you like to eat

That garden would be delivered and set up by the garden center and all the prep would be done in advance, the bales would be delivered ready to plant or even planted.

All the family would be responsible for the harvesting process

To be able to walk out your back door and get pounds of vegetables out of 6-8 ten bales of straw and in the Fall the garden center would come back in the fall take it all away

it would be for many families

break down was

The garden centers said its a labor issue

early in the spring

of course you need one of your quality employees

take them away from the traditional garden center business

for many of them that's their busiest time, and they thought taking key employees out of my garden center or nursery would be bad for business.


that it was a high labor

A couple of your full employees committed to doing this

We thought about it a lot. I think if it was the only thing someone was doing. IDK I would think there are seasonal workers who would be looking for work.

I can come up with a business idea like every couple of hours.

I like people like that!

So what's next? I get a lot of people, who I talk to who are like, I don't have a Mike to build my deep garden beds, or get my soil all prepped for me. One of the reasons I don't do it is I'm usually working full time. This would be good for people who are busy. There are days where I don't see the garden by the time I drive and stop at the store etc.

good for a modern family


  • organic stuff for your kids
  • teach your kids how gardens work

If you don't have experience gardening

I grew up gardening with my grandma Josephine

even for the parents would be valuable for them to learn to garden as well

traditional gardening

what kind of soil do you have?

What kind of soil modification are you doing?

  • fertility level
  • variables
  • insect and disease problems

pests that harbor year to year in the tomato blight

they can cause tomato decline or tomato failure

in peoples gardens

a great solution is to not use your soil anymore and go to a straw bale that sits on top of your soil, as long as you don’t touch the soil and then touch the plant, the disease won't go to your plant

rotate crops

can be really important if you can move your tomatoes on your ranch or farm

if you have a small lot and you get the blight, you can’t really grow tomatoes for 4-5 years while it goes away out of your soil

people that

can’t grow potatoes

build up of disease problems

switching to this method allows you to not have to worry about doing any crop rotation

every time you bring in a bale you're starting fresh

great solution for lots of those soil borne problems

Modern family who is busy and doesn't have time to do

  • weeding
  • conditioning
  • really of prep

literally 45 sec per bale

sprinkle fertilizer on top, spray with your hose with your done

  • 45 secs on each bale
  • 45 sec on 10 bales
  • 10 minutes a day for 10 days

12th day

  • 18 days for the blood meal to add fertilizer for water
  • let it sit for another 8 days let the bacteria grow

if you didn’t grow your starts out

get your tomatoes already started

if you are doing seeds you can direct plant

right into the bales

for most of your crops if you normally grow them by seed you can plant them by seeds in your bales

If you have other crops where you sometimes start crops and other times you plant seeds, try the seeds because you will see the bale is so much warmer so you get faster root growth inside the bale

  • catch up
  • toss up
  • go with the seeds its less expensive
  • set up an irrigation system
  • soaker hose
  • hose and timer

don’t have to remember to water your hose and timer will water for you

number one mistake is they over water their gardens

If you over water you get symptoms will look like they are underwater they wilt, exacerbates the problem, think they need more water and it exacerbates the problem

Important part of straw bale gardening is never water more then one gallon per bale per

one gallon will saturation the bale, dehydrate if you put more then that on it's gonna run through the bale and carry with it all your soluble nutrients

  • calcium
  • nitrogren
  • things your plants are gonna need inside that bale

don’t over water

automated water

one gallon per bale

how fast does the water come out of the spot

one minute you get a 2 gallons then in five minutes you get ten gallons

As the plants get bigger you maybe increase frequency but never increase the dose

  • every other day
  • every day when its really hot

8 foot tall tomatoes

might water 2x3x a day

click dial on your hose end timer

So this is my question? What do you put under the bale if it's on the patio? or soil?

if you are doing them on soil you just put on top of the soil, I encourage people to mulch around them with wood chips to keep weeds from them growing between the bales

I do see a lot of people who test it to see if they are going to like it and they just put it right on top of the grass and then they mow around the bales

string trimmer

just like you have containers right in the middle of your lawn, you are not going to be successful if you plant pumpkin because you are going to get vines

once they care convinced this is...

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