Reviews The Veg Plot

Book review: Straw Bale Gardens Complete, by Joel Karsten

Now we’re always on the lookout for unusual, quirky growing techiniques, and here’s one – with promise of weed free, high yield gardening – that especially caught our eye.

Straw bale gardening has been a technique embraced by a large section of American horticulturists for the past 22 years – this book is an expanded and updated reboot of a 2013 publication, now available over here in good old Blighty. Joel Karsten, author and enthusiastic straw bale pioneer, hopes to preach his wisdom to a new transatlantic set of ‘bale-eavers’.

The technique Joel prescribes is an elegant solution for those with poor soil conditions, for those short on space or for those wishing to try something a little more ‘left-field’. Essentially it’s the conditioning and watering of a straw bale until its innards break down into plant rearing fodder. The straw bales then act as giant yellow nutrient sponge, providing warmth and nourishment for the plants held within its flaxen clasp.

The book shows you how to prepare a bale for planting, takes you through various tried and tested planting schemes, gives advice on what to plant and has a decent, straw bale specific plant care guide at the back. It also features inspirational pictures and advice for creating bale gardens in small, urban and unusual places (we were particularly drawn to the ‘garden in a shopping trolley’ idea).

Now, Joel recommends at least 6 hours a day of direct sunlight is required for a successful straw bale garden, something that a traditional British summertime may struggle to provide. And undoubtably, eyebrows will rise on the leathery faces of our eldery allotment peers… to them, the arrival of straw bales is usually the precursor to a barn dance. But no matter – Joel has us sold. We too shall be maveric gardenistas and we’re off down the farm for some weed free, straw shaped growbags.


Straw Bale Gardens complete






Straw Bale Gardens Complete is published by Cool Springs Press, an imprint of  the Quarto Publishing Group

Available now in paperback, £15.99


Note: the publishers sent us a copy of this book to review. We only review books we like.



    • I’ve got to be honest Jackie, I fell at the first hurdle and failed to source a straw bale! Will try a bit harder this year. Maybe attend a few barn dances, see if there’s any going spare.

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