Straw Bale Gardening For Seniors

I recently learned about straw bale gardening for seniors -- a fantastically creative and easy way of gardening. Whether flower gardens or vegetables or herbs -  it's almost like magic! 

Especially if you don't know how to garden. Or have only a small garden space like a deck or patio. Or a trick climate.

What is so amazing about straw bale gardens, is that it can even be done in areas with lousy soil; and in any climate, even extreme.

This innovative method was developed by a local professional, Joel Karsten, and has now taken the gardening world by storm – world-wide.

...See his comments to us below when we contacted him about this. Joel was generous enough to allow us to use photos from his web site (link below) for this page.

Joel has followers from all over the world, from the Arctic to far-away deserts. And in colder climates with short growing seasons or “iffy” chilly springs, like here (or the Arctic), it successfully extends the season by several weeks.

Perfect Senior Activities

Straw bale gardening for seniors is a perfect outdoor activity, whether a beginner or seasoned gardener. Talk about easy (including on your back)! There is so much less gardening work. No bending, no digging, even for harvesting. No weeding, no insects! And it can be all-natural, organic. It’s excellent for vegetables, flowers, and herbs. Just about anything!

The bales are already raised, but can be raised even higher, such as on table for easier access. That's why there is no lifting or bending needed. Traditional gardening, although enjoyable, can be tiring. These gardens have their own secret way of being resilient against insects and weeds. No chemicals are used. 

They’re especially good if you have a small space (even a patio or balcony). Straw bale gardening for seniors is even easier now if you want to have it all ready for you -- you can get complete kits in some gardening stores, or on Joel's web site (see link at end).

But Joel Karsten’s top-selling book, “Straw Bale Gardens,” tells just what to do.

How Straw Bale Gardening For Seniors Works

Here is the basic concept for this clever method of gardening. The outside of the straw bale is like a crust that becomes the container, and is tied around with several strings.

The inside straw begins to decompose until it is “conditioned” like compost (creating soil), until it’s ready to plant. The bale creates its own conditioned soil, retaining its own warmth and moisture system. So even if your area has poor soil, no problem. This takes a couple of weeks, so you plan your target planting date accordingly. And according to your area and climate.

As it is decomposing, it also creates a lot of natural heat. The inside of the bale is generally 15 to 20 degrees warmer than the outside air. But it can get up to 100 to 140 degrees inside as it’s decomposing, even during a cold spring. (There may be a temporary decomposing odor for a few days, but it will go away).

Once planted, the bales can be covered with a poly tarp which slides over the bales if weather requires it. This creates a sort of greenhouse effect too. It also allows earlier planting.

Straw bale gardening for seniors involves very basic materials. All you need is a straw bale (no regular soil is needed), sun, water, fertilizer, seeds. So perfect for beginners. You can start gardening earlier in the season, and finish later. You’ll get a couple crops, because you start early (like with greens); then a second round of crops or flowers after that.

Your veggies and flowers are the best ever. Joel reported that he got 36 quarts of green beans from one bale!

Joel's Personal Tips

Here are Joel’s comments to us when we contacted him for tips specifically about straw bale gardening for seniors:

…”Straw Bale Gardening really is a terrific method for "seasoned" gardeners to use, and enables them to keep on planting way past the time when most traditional methods would have become too difficult. 

"Soil is heavy, weighing between 40 and 60 pounds per cubic foot, so moving it around is hard work.  Getting down on your hands and knees to plant and to harvest isn't much fun and can be difficult as one gets older. 

“My grandma Josephine used to say "getting down isn't the problem kid, it's getting back up where the trouble comes in!"  She gardened from the time she was 16 years old to 92, and gardening was really one of the things that she loved most about life itself. 

"Grandma Josephine showed me how to garden, and much of what I know about gardening today I owe to the lessons she taught when I was still a very young boy.

“Not much adaptation is necessary for Straw Bale Gardening to work well for the older generation, the whole concept works well just as it is for them.  Less bending, less weeding, and more bragging about your early crop of ripe tomatoes!  What could be better?

“I've brought a number of retired gardeners, out of retirement and back to gardening with this method.  I even have a few lovely hand-written letters from some appreciative seniors telling me how this has changed their lives and after almost giving up on a garden they are now growing the best vegetables they've ever grown in their lives.

"One letter was from 86 year old Gladys who wrote in the last line of her letter, ‘I just wanted you to know that you have made at least one old lady really happy!’ “


Joel Karsten earned a B.S. degree in Horticulture, and is a certified garden and landscape professional in the Upper Midwest. He has been a gardener for decades and now writes books and articles about this system, plus speaks and appears on the media all over the country. Raised on a farm, he developed this method of straw bale gardening for seniors or any age, by observing what happened when seeds randomly fell and germinated in straw bales. Get more details and fascinating fun on his web site at strawbalegardens.com .  (All photos on this page courtesy Joel Karsten).


Be sure to also read:

Outdoor Elderly Activities – Get lots more ideas of fun things to do outdoors.
Creative Planter Ideas – If you’re looking for some interesting containers to use for planting (including indoors), check these out.
Painting Clay Pots – A perfect craft for just about any ability level. And they’re not just for planting. See our easy and colorful ideas here.


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