Archive for January, 2013

Beautiful Vegetable Garden – Anywhere – NO SOIL REQUIRED!

Jan 29 2013

When I bought my first home twenty some years ago it was a beautiful day in May when we signed the paperwork and were handed the keys. We worked quickly to unload the rental van, mainly so I could get to one of the shovels I had packed inside. Within hours I had made several disappointing discoveries, construction packed clay with no good black soil like we had on the farm where I grew up. How would I plant my garden in this “soil?” It’s no wonder the dogwood, spirea and junipers planted around the foundation looked so bad. I thought it was just the black plastic with 4″ of landscape rock that some idiot had put around everything that was causing their decline, but now I knew it was probably this construction fill.

I had an idea that came from something I had observed many times on the farm when I was a kid. Stacking bales of straw on a baling rack was a skill that took a while to completely master, and until that then, a few bales would often jiggle off the stack before the rack reached the barn. If a bale ever broke a string during the tumble, we’d maneuver it over near the barn intending to restring it and pick it up later. A few bales were always forgotten and would soon be rained on and start to rot. As they decomposed, a few thistle seeds would land on top and sprout, and the results were thistles that looked bigger and healthier than any of the nearby thistles growing in the soil.

My to plant a garden evolved quickly, I decided to grow my vegetable garden in bales just like those thistles, this sounded logical to me and surely I’d find others that had tried this before to give me a little guidance. This being the early days of the internet, online research wasn’t nearly as easy nor as complete as it is today. I found nothing, even after contacting some of my old horticulture professors at the University of Minnesota, I ran into nothing but dead ends. The librarians at the two biggest libraries around found nothing for me, and so I moved ahead, without a guide or plan, but with a whole lot of ideas about how to make this work. I tried different techniques, and applied different sources of nitrogen which logic told me would encourage the straw to decompose more quickly.

on-asphaltSuccess immediately bloomed, and that first year I learned a whole lot about the methods that worked best and how to get maximum production out of the bales. One thing lead to another and now I am teaching seminars about how to plant a Straw Bale Garden, giving talks, writing books, and appearing around the country on radio and T.V shows, extolling the virtues of this crazy but amazing new way to grow a garden. No soil required!


Straw Bale Gardening segment on Public T.V.

Jan 26 2013


straw bale garden watermelon

Straw Bale Gardening segment on Public T.V.

This is a short segment I did recently with KSMQ Public T.V. in Austin MN on a show called “Garden Connections”.  Check it out if you are curious about Straw Bale Gardening.


Put a heater under your plants?

Jan 25 2013
Put a heater under your plants

Put a heater under your plants

Poly tent covers help to hold in the heat early in the season when the bales are “conditioning” they give off tons of heat like a natural furnace underneath. It is the bacteria that are doing the decomposition that create the heat as a naturally occurring phenomenon of the process. People often see a freshly stirred up compost pile will steam for a couple of days when new organic matter is added, this is another example of the heat generated by the actively consuming bacteria munching away on the freshly introduced organic matter. The little seedlings and transplants love the warm root zone created by this process inside the bales, and the new growth loves the cooler temperatures of the early season. The combination causes very rapid root development and plant growth. The poly tent covers allow much earlier planting (2-4 weeks depending on weather). This natural heat from the bales is one reason folks in the far north, Canada, Alaska, and in the Arctic circle love the Straw Bale Gardening method. They don’t have to wait for June when the soil normally thaws to plant.


Imagine turning your front lawn into a vegetable garden!

Jan 17 2013

strawbale_front_yardThis is an image sent to me by someone who purchased my first guide booklet, “A guide to growing a straw bale garden” and made a decision to turn her entire front yard into a garden. No experience at all as a gardener, she became the talk of the entire neighborhood. Her children learned so much, as did she, and her neighbors about the whole process. Success if measured in so many different ways, but the owner of this garden “Sarah” was truly successful. Don’t let the “standard” conventions about vegetable gardening force you into a small corner of your property, rather, go where the sun is. If you make it beautiful and keep it watered and tended, you will inspire others to try it or possibly to try something unconventional in some other area of there life. Imagine what the neighbors tell friends and family who stop by and question the sanity of the neighbor. “Well we all thought she was crazy, it looked like she was going to bring livestock into her yard.  As it turns out however, she grew a garden in the bales that was not only beautiful, but produced a bountiful harvest of flowers and vegetables.”


A logo is suppose to tell a story

Jan 16 2013

A Logo is suppose to tell a story

After much consternation, multiple revisions, and contemplation, here is where I’ve landed.  My publisher suggested I develop a “Brand” around this crazy concept I’ve cornered.  I finished the book, and then the suggestions began.  Start a blog, start a blog… come on Joel everyone blogs, you need to start a blog. I’m afraid I will run out of things to say, I mean how do people blog for years and keep finding new things to talk about. My wife tells me all the time “to stop ranting about the same stuff” as I have a tendency to do, but once my rants are written down, everyone will know if I start repeating myself, and she’ll have confirmation that I am nuts! I’ll give it a go. Stop by from time to time and we can catch up. I look forward to some great conversations with readers.