From Straw Bales to Raised Flower Beds, Gardening Can Be Easy

For inspired gardeners, soil marks the beginning of a natural work in progress. The organic material provides just enough nutrients to feed flowers, shrubs, and trees, allowing for healthy, wholesome growth. But what if a physical limitation restricts you from lifting heavy bags of soil or tending to your plants?

There are many options for people with disabilities. Joel Karsten, an avid gardener from St. Paul, Minnesota, believes straw bale gardening may be an option for many people with disabilities.

This form of gardening relies on straw “conditioning,” or decaying, to provide a proper environment for plant growth. Once the straw has reached a composted state (when it has fully decayed and can be used as fertilizer), gardeners tie two-to-three strings around the bale to keep the material in place. The new bed of nutrients sits approximately two feet from the ground. The result, according to Karsten’s online testimonials, provides gardeners with a revolutionary approach to planting vegetables, flowers and other greens.

When compared to traditional gardening, Karsten’s straw bale technique offers several valuable benefits. For starters, a raised plant bed requires little effort to start and maintain, allowing individuals with a disability or health concern to garden with ease. Straw bales are also less prone to weeds than soil; can be planted in virtually any location in any country; and repel pests such as mice, moles and rats. By focusing on the pleasant aspects of gardening and moving beyond its challenges, Karsten provides an easy-to-use soil alternative.

For gardening enthusiasts, the straw bale method may provide the perfect mix of physical demand and outdoor creativity. However, for those who simply cann

ot move away from traditional soil, comfortable gardening can still become a reality.

For example, Voices for Independence (VFI) offers people with disabilities (consumers) an opportunity to learn other options for gardening. According to Cathy Rodler of VFI, “We

Consumers of Voices for Independence enjoy a few hours gardening and learning tips to use at home!

Consumers of Voices for Independence enjoy a few hours gardening and learning tips to use at home!

show consumers different gardening and growing techniques such as raised flower beds and container planting. Since many of the consumers we serve live in apartments, they do not have the luxury of a backyard or large spaces, so these techniques work well for them.”

At VFI, gardening classes are held for one hour per week at no cost. The class even gets creative with their tools and equipment, proving that shovels aren’t needed to dig! They find cheap and/or common household items that can easily fit into someone’s budget, such as plastic forks for plant makers.

Don’t worry though, if you’d like to spend a little more, popular gardening stores now carry tools such as forks, hoes, and cultivators with added reach and a soft grip; arm support cuffs for increased hand and wrist strength; and garden seat caddies with large rubber tires.

For more information regarding Joel Karsten and straw bale gardening, visit Interested in learning more about gardening or living well in the great outdoors? Log on to or call the Living Well With A Disability hotline at 1-877-865-4893.

Grober Green. Straw Bale Gardening. Retrieved May 8, 2012 from

Karsten, Joel. 2009 – 2012. Straw Bale Gardening. Retrieved May 8, 2012 from

Disabled World. Garden Tools. In DISABLED WORLD Towards Tomorrow. Retrieved May 8, 2012 from

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