Isolated Self Managing Compost Growing System... or "a funny thing happened on the way out to the straw bales..."

The backstory about how I discovered this method before the internet may be interesting to certain folks, I just don't really think it's all that incredible. It was a complete fluke/accident that had some awesome results. Ask me about it sometime and I will tell you the story.

What's important here is that through use of a carbon based bale, could be a straw bale, could be a bale made of old grass and leaves, could even be shredded cardboard (I've done it) . When water and nitrogen are consistently introduced to that carbon bale it becomes it's own soil independent super charged self composting grow bed. So grow things while making compost to feed the growing things at the same time. Makes sense and it works excellently.

Fortunately a much better versed man by the name of Dr. Joel Karsten (his site is here *) authored a PDF a number of years ago outlining the basic process and what the everyday "non master gardener" could accomplish with a bit of patience and process. Dr. Joel Karsten's Latest Edition can be found here

Which leads me to the criteria that I look for in all growing based food systems...

  • A simplified growing method that could be used regardless of quality of top soil.
  • A reasonably portable and affordable method that can be learned by anyone and used by anyone
  • A very efficient water to growth ratio that adapts to any climate
  • Method must include feasibility for on grid and off grid application
  • A method that could scale from a small simple module up to many 100s of modules in the grow system
  • A growing method that after the plants were harvested could be used as an input for other systems (compost, increase in nitrogen rich bio mass, recycled into more carbon bales)
  • A simple method for providing chosen nutrients rather than the hunt and poke aspect of row gardening
  • A method that encourages poly culture and companion planting 
  • Something clever and engaging which means growing food is entertainment rather than a chore
  • And I wanted it to be modular, meaning that some of the places don't have a whole lot of space and may be constrained as to whether or not the growing area can be modified.

These aspects are exactly what I discovered in my own research and they are EXACTLY what I discovered in Dr. Karsten's work.  The use of this system matches every criteria I have 100% of the time.

So... the Pros and the Cons

PROs -

  • Anyone can do it. Any age any geo.
  • Does not require pre-existing soil quality.
  • Improves existing soil quality
  • Doesn't seem to care what you grow (though potatoes and beets and the like still taste a lot better from the ground imho)
  • A straw bale in my area costs about 30% less than the equivalent soil/planting mix and that includes plants, nitrogen needed.
  • Typically I can get two seasons out of a bale. If not I break the bale down and re-bale it by hand (Dr. Karsten in his new book has a nifty plan for a simple bale press)
  • By my initial tests out in the desert it requires about 15-20% of the water as using soil
  • By my experience of doing this for many years I can easily out produce row cropping
  • Far out performs the square foot gardening method
  • Can be done organically (or not)
  • Can be a big ol' chia pet for wildflowers for my bees that requires next to no maintenance
  • Provides a cooler core in the summer and a warmer core in the winter and protects roots (you can modulate this based on how much or little nitrogen gets added to the bale)
  • Is an excellent platform for direct seeding, seed starting  and transplants.

CONs -

None that I am aware of except maybe you haven't tried it and have hesitation. Get over it. This works.

I will be very happy to help you with this approach. Email me and once you know the first few steps, a couple of things to be aware of, you will be doing amazing things with this method. 

(* I do not get paid for listing his works)