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How did Cambodian rice farmers react to a 6'4", 280 pound American guy trying to convince them to grow vegetables in Straw Bales?

Here are a few pictures from my trip to Cambodia this year.  It is key to understand a few key things about Cambodia and the issues they face in providing food for their population.  Cambodia is a very big producer of rice, it is grown in rice paddies all over the countryside.  The rice harvest is usually done in July/August and most farmers own and farm about 2.5 acres of land. Here is the problem, the floods come in September and stay for about three months or until later in November, during this time most of the country is under 10' of water, and thus growing anything during this time is traditionally impossible.  Once the flood water recedes then the drought comes and there is no rain for the next three months. No water to water crops that face 100+ degree temps every day during this time. There are few wells available, and most are not capable of irrigating a large area.

SOLUTION: The Korean Trade Partners who have a significant presence in Cambodia and provide much assistance to the agriculture industry in Cambodia, has created a plan to help individual farmers become more self-sufficient and their farms more sustainable.  The first step is to use a large backhoe to dig a large hole, deep, long and wide somewhere on the farmers 2.5 acre plot.  The excavated soil gets piled up to create an artificial plateau.  The soil excavated is not conducive to production of plants, it is heavy clay, and once packed down cannot easily be turned.  This plateau area provides a great location, above the flood water level, where the farmer can set up a straw bale garden.  Straw is plentiful, as rice produces a large amount of chaff after harvest.  The problem is they do not have mechanical balers, so they must make the bales by hand using a homemade baler.  Many of the poor farmers cannot read or write so in order to teach them the STRAW BALE GARDENS™ method it must be done in person, by example, so that is what we did.  The people from local Non-Governmental Organizations, as well as regional agriculture specialists from Cambodia were at the classroom presentations, and will go back and teach their local farmers the techniques.  The straw bale garden will allow the farmer to grow crops even during the flood period, especially since the straw bales are great at draining away excess moisture, so daily rainfall isn't a problem.  Crops thrive, including dietary necessities that until now they have relied upon outside government and other charitable organizations to provide.  Starches such as potatoes, squash, cucumbers, and other legumes like green beans and peas, and many other crops are now able to grow year around in the tropical climate of Cambodia.  When the dry season comes, those deep holes left by the backhoe are then filled with flood water and ground water that seeps in.  It is non-potable water, but can be used to irrigate crops, and this allows the straw bales to be watered even during the dry season and continue to produce.  


For those who cannot dig a deep hole, there is another great option and that is to build a garden that will float.  We have endeavored to build a large platform of bamboo or other material that is buoyant and will support the weight of a bale of straw which is also going to be soaked in water.  When the floods arrive the garden floats up with the flood water, then down again when the rains leave.  It is a simple way to use the plentiful supply of bamboo that surrounds them everywhere, to make these floating gardens.

FEEDING THE HUNGRY:  We have all heard it asked a million times "why can't we solve the problem of world hunger?" and the best answer most people arrive at is to send grain or food from one part of the planet to another.  Then those people with guns and power take the charitable gifts meant for the people, and divide them up to the hungry populations as they see fit, making those with guns even more powerful, and keeping the population under their thumbs. This solution, our solution, using a hole in the ground and the STRAW BALE GARDENS™ method, does the job so much better.  Allows individuals to feed themselves and keeps them from being at the mercy of others for food.

Above is a bale maker for making home made bales from loose straw.

This is the first row of a brand new Straw Bale Garden, that we set up at a local farmers property on top of his plateau.

Teaching a local farmer and his family exactly how to apply the fertilizer and water to condition the bales.

A few local farmers showing interest in how we are going to make homemade bales of rice straw.  Currently most straw is simply burned

and this creates many other issues that the government and environmentalists would like to change as well.

This is the bamboo floating garden buildt to go up with the floods and back down when the flood waters recede.

Here we are setting up the trellis above the bales so that vining crops have a place to climb.

A close up of the building of the bamboo platform that will float the bales for a straw bale garden that stays above the flood waters.

This is a larger straw bale garden set up near one of the Non-governmental organizations that is spearheading the project.

The farmers wife was also a willing participant in learning the STRAW BALE GARDENS™ method.  

Posted by Joel Karsten

William Fleming Great, Joel you did a fantastic job over in Cambodia, glad to see them carrying on with making straw bales from rice fields and able to grow veggies , and those bamboo floats look super great for their needs, maybe they will have the extra food they need to make life better for them.

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Did you get a late start planting your garden? So did we. This garden didn't get planted until June 20 in Minnesota. And then the deer came through before we could could get a fence up so most everything had to be replanted except for the tomatoes, zucchini, and egg plant. The deer left 3 stems with 4 leaves on the butter nut squash so I thought it might recover. Look at it now! Planted to the left of the zucchini on the far right side of the front row it's now grown to the top of the trellis and spiraling down the top rail. This picture was taken August 26. Members may recognize the garden from some of the recent videos on conditioning. 


Paul Corcoran My new favorite tomato - a Black Brandy Wine heirloom variety. Bought the plant at the Minneapolis Farmers Market mid-June and just getting these coming in now. One of the most delicious tomatoes I have ever had. And it has a beautiful deep purple color to the seed which this picture probably doesn't do justice. Will definitely be saving seeds for next year. Is there any better way to garden than straw bale gardening?

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William Fleming Wow Paul C,, those look good and delicious, love the color,

New videos have been posted!

If you're wondering how to get your Straw Bale Garden set up from the very beginning, watch Joel explain the complete process in this video! He started with an empty field that had been a pumpkin patch long ago, but was filled with nothing but grass and weeds. With a little bit of effort, a few supplies, following a set of pretty simple steps, he transforms this chunk of weedy land into a well-designed Straw Bale Garden ready to grow an amazing crop of vegetables, herbs, flowers. You can accomplish the same miracle in your own backyard, following the instructions in this video.

See "Setting up your straw bale garden from scratch" in the sidebar on the left. 

Also, in case you missed it, see the new "Conditioning" series of videos that have been posted recently as well. There is a separate video for each of the 12 days of the conditioning process that describes how to do it, what to expect and how to get the most out of your garden by properly preparing the bales prior to planting!

William Fleming Very good video on setting up your straw bale garden, very helpful. What do you do for or about snakes in the straw bales?

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I hope you enjoyed the webinar and learned something new! 

If you were not able to attend we will be holding another one in a few weeks. Look for an announcement on this website as well as an email. 

Let us know about your success stories. Send me your high resolution images of your garden, or videos we love those too, but use this link because email can be difficult for larger files. 

Best regards, 


Sena Goewey I'm excited to be a part of the group and looking forward learning great things! I'm currently reading Straw Bale Gardens Complete and we've just started conditioning 10 bales!

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William Fleming Great Webinar,, Joel Karsten,,, loved it good questions ans excellent answers you gave

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David Case I really enjoyed the webinar. I would love to see some photos from you trip. The rice bale gardens and the entire region you describe sounds fascinating. Makes you realize how lucky we are to live in such a prosperous country.

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Gordon Kacala For those of you planting potatoes don't be surprised if the bud vines come out the side of the bales.

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Dustin My wife and I have gardened for years. We lost our garden to flooding the last two years, and decided to move into a new area of our yard. Faced with having to build containers and haul in massive amounts of dirt to fill them, I stumbled across SBG. My neighbors think I'm out of my gourd for attempting this but, SBG made sense, so I went out and got 18 bales. We are excited about our 'new' garden this year!

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Doug Baxter Hi

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Doug Baxter hi plants in my garden look unfeed have been adding fertilizer still the same after month, had to pull 1 squash plant due to an infection of squash bugs could not control and noticed that I had a hole clear thru the straw bale about 6" in Dia. have been watering with a 2 mph emitter at the base of ea. plant ,could this be the problem with the malnutrition prob. and can I get the whole bale cooking again by putting a soaker hose on bales? ty Doug

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Joel Karsten Doug it really depends on how long you are running the irrigation. I normally suggest one minute per bale, so if you have ten bales, then water for ten minutes per application. Adjust the frequency of watering but never increase the duration of each application. Once a bale is soaked, the excess water simply runs out the bottom and carries nutrients out with it. Nitrogen and calcium are thus leached out, and the plants yellow quickly and do not perform well.


This was our third year doing a straw bale garden and decided to try sweet potatoes!! I had read that sweet potato's need very warm growing conditions and are usually grown in the south but could be grown in the north if the ground was covered with plastic or something to keep the roots warm.  I did 10 bales with 2 plants per bale and ran a single soaker hose down the middle.  I then covered the entire row of bales with black plastic and tucked the plastic under the bottom edges of the bales.  I just cut a slit in the plastic where i wanted to put a sweet potatoes plant.  Sorry, I do not have any pics of the bales with plastic.  By mid summer all the bales were covered with sweet potato vines.  We really weren't sure when to harvest but we took the plastic off the bales right before the first frost and had quite a surprise.  We ended up with 68 lbs of Beauregard sweet potato's !!!!!!!!!

Posted by Tom Reay

This is my first summer trying the SBG method.  I planted late (May 31) because I did not discover this method earlier in the spring.  I planted tomatoes, bell peppers, watermelons, and strawberries in a 9 bale set up.  I have basically lost the battle to whiteflies and caterpillars, so I never got any tomatoes or strawberries, the watermelon plant no longer has any leaves on it, but I am getting a few peppers.

I don't want to give up just yet, and would like to plant broccoli and spinach for this fall.  So, my question is can I plant a fall crop in my existing bales (after pulling tomato & pepper plants), or do I need to buy new bales and start conditioning them?  I live in Mississippi and my neighbors who are traditional (in-ground) gardeners are telling me that it is time to start planting fall crops.

Please let me know how I should proceed.


Posted by Lana Foster

Opened my first bale of potatoes today and disappointed. Although 80 % of the bales are doing well, harvested only 5 lbs of potatoes from the first bale. Bale seemed pretty wet, although we did have a heavy rain this a.m. Any observations, suggestions. 

Posted by Gordon Kacala

Hello all, and Joel Karsten

I have a member in my straw bale group, that has this on some tomatoes,, can you tell me what it is and what causes this

I have never seen this before

Posted by William Fleming

William Fleming Member got back to me and cut one open, and it looks great on the inside no damage

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Got a late start and didn't get this part of my garden planted until June 9 in Minnesota. But look at how the cucumbers and peppers are doing after just 3 weeks and 3 days. Wow! These are in homemade bales which are doing fantastic! The first photo are hot banana peppers doing wonderful. Now I'll just have to figure out what I can do with them :)


And I can count 7 sweet banana peppers just in this photo on the plant next to it.

This is my first year growing cucumbers and after 3 weeks I can't believe how prolific these things grow. The plant has grown from just a 4 inch tall plant in a peat pot to over 3 feet tall today. The cucumbers seem to be growing an inch or two a day. 

Posted by Paul Corcoran

William Fleming Looking good Paul Corcoran,, garden looking great

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I love my straw bale garden. It is the best garden I have ever had. Worry free, almost. I do have to keep an eye on the squash bugs. Hardly any weeding needs to be done. I went away for two weeks in May and everything thrived while I was gone thanks to the soaker hoses and timer. I have 20 bales and have enclosed them in cinder blocks. 

Posted by Lodi Kysor

Tip for planting annuals

David Case

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Has anyone had success growing blueberries in straw bales? Any tips? 

Posted by Liza

Hello, Straw Bale Garden Club! This weekend, before I planted my garden, my husband designed an irrigation system that works beautifully. Used a soaker hose pressure regulator and a filter. This took some extra time, but it's worth the effort! The timer is set for 15 minutes every morning, and so far so good. The bales are covered in plastic and I am just going out once a day for a few minutes to check on everything :-).

Posted by Jana Janosik

I am watching my 4 Straw Bales. They are thriving smack dab on my patio! I have rods in my back, so leaning down is out of the question. Joel, Thank you so much for sharing your amazing discovery!

Posted by Doris Lindsey

I just joined brand new to bale gardening,can someone please tell me should I continue to water bales after day 12, will be a week before I plant. thanks

? and thanks

Posted by Doug Baxter

Paul Corcoran Doug, just water them enough to keep the inside of the bales moist. Don't over water to the point where the water starts coming out the bottom of the bale.

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Doug Baxter Thank you Mr. Corcoran, I am covering my bales at night, pretty tightly and the temp. in the morning is the same as when I covered them the evening before ,plants are doing well but is there a way to get them cooking again because I don't feel the heat that was there before? thank you.

Paul Corcoran Hi Doug. If you followed Joel's recommended 12 day conditioning process don't worry about the bales cooling. It's normal for the heat to reduce back down after the conditioning process has completed. It fact, now that you have planted you don't really want them to "cook" again as it will damage or kill your transplants and seedlings. Regarding covering the bales at night, unless you have the threat of frost over night this could cause more harm than good if you forget to remove the plastic in the morning as that could also kill the plants.

OK I'm a newbie. First year, 10 bales. As those of you in the Midwest know we haven't had the best of Springs. Pretty cold and some snow. But after 5 days of cooking the bales, air temperature is 37F, temperature in bales 57F. Anyone in SE WI interested in getting together once a month to exchange information over lunch?

Posted by Gordon Kacala

Photo compliments of Trish Helmer. Her first straw bale garden of the season smiley She put this pin together to stimulate interest and discussion in Straw Bale Gardening!

Joel Karsten Trish that is awesome. I bet that is what you were shopping for at Michael's crafts the other night when you emailed me! Very cute.

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Here is a video of our straw bale garden 2015, Mountain Home,Arkansas

44 straw bales;; tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, bush beans, butternut squash, cucumbers, zuccini 

William Fleming Here is a video of our straw bale garden 2015, Mountain Home,Arkansas 44 straw bales;; tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, bush beans, butternut squash, cucumbers, zuccini,

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