We prefer to have the cut side of the bale facing up.  The open stem ends allow easier penetration of the granular fertilizer and the water is better able to carry the fertilizer into the bales that way.  But if the cut side isn’t up, it isn’t a deal breaker, it may just take a bit more time to work the fertilizer in.   I think it is important to keep the strings on the sides of the bales.  If the strings are made of sisal or hemp twine, this is really key, as if the natural fiber is touching the soil it will likely decompose and break, allowing the bale to loose its compression and even fall apart.   One key to the quick decomposition of the straw and the conditioning is that the bales must be compressed.  If the straw is loose or not well compressed it will decompose much more slowly, possibly too slowly for our purposes.  If the strings are running along the top side of the bales, and you are stabbing into the bales with a sharp planting trowel to make holes for planting bedding plants, it is likely that a string could easily be cut.  If that were to happen it would be important to retie that string as tightly as possible.  Most bale makers, or balers, will make bales with two distinct sides, the cut side, where a knife simply shears off the straw stalks on one side and the other end of the bale is folded over inside the baler.  It is easy to see the difference, and any farm kid who ever stacked bales oIMG_1539n a baling rack knows the difference is distinct.  If you pick up the bales with the cut side bouncing against your leg when you stack them, it hurts, and you’ll have a serious rash on that leg before you know it.  If you are a city kid, then you might not realize there is a difference, but once you see another bale, you will see the difference, so remember to put the cut side up.  If by chance the cut side is also a side with the strings, then turn the bale to keep the strings on the sides of the bale.  You’ll also see that the strings on the side help to hold the poly tents from the straw bale greenhouse covers in place.

Joel has a whole library of HOW-TO-VIDEOS for you to watch now, at our new website: StrawBaleGardenClub.com.

He walks you through everything from choosing the right location for your Straw Bale Garden, to the exact steps for conditioning the bales each day of that process, to pruning your Basil for maximum growth, to cleaning up at the end of the season, and making your own DIY bales from lawn clippings and yard waste.

Visit StrawBaleGardenClub to view the entire video library for free, to purchase Joel’s books or BaleBuster™, to get answers to all your questions in our Forum, and to attend one of our online Community Chat events.


  1. I have always put my strings on the ground and my bales have lasted 2 years usually. I do have a bit of a tough time making the holes for my seedlings but I always managed. I get huge strawberries and great beans and tomatoes.
    Just saying that string off the ground isn’t law but another way of doing it. I was going to try it your way this year but I can see that I have less planting area on top of the bale. Still following you and you can always learn new things even if you are 65 years young.

    1. No laws here, just suggestions and reasoning why those suggestions seem to work well. No laws, do what you want, but like I tell folks, just “don’t complain to me that your straw bale garden didn’t grow, and then in the next breath tell me how you did things way differently than I suggested”, because my method works, every time, no matter what, I assure success if you follow my method, but I can’t assure anything if you go rouge. That’s fair enough isn’t it?

    2. Jan, so you lay the bales on their tops/bottoms and it works out okay? My peep is gonna try this, this year, and went and lay them down that way, only to find out they were supposed to be on their sides. She was gonna change ’em, but on their sides, they looked so teetier. She thought they’d fall right over. purrs

        1. Joel Karsten

          It won’t matter which side is up in the long run, but use care to not cut a string when you plant. Losing compression on the bale will matter, as it loosens the bale and slows the decomposition process. It isn’t a deal breaker, either way works. I only suggest strings on the sides since it makes it easier to put transplants in the top, and the twine doesn’t get week and give way, or get cut as easily.

  2. Laura Faber

    Do the bales attract ants?
    We’ve had a problem with them in the past when using to plant grass seed

    1. Joel Karsten

      They don’t attract them, but if they are nearby they may find the bales hospitable. Most ants are decomposes and harvesting leaves or such is part of what they do, so watch for them. Most will not harm your plants at all but large populations or fire ants can cause harm. They are pretty easily controlled with an ant powder around the bales as a preventative or an organic dosing with a mix of orange oil, blue dawn dish soap and water. You can find this on YouTube and those who’ve used it swear by it. Best, joel

      1. That is good to know about the ant repellent because I’m in Florida and we do have fire ants. Their bites are no fun! I found that Neosporin works well to stop the pain and itching. I came on here because my bales are also cut on the string side and I wasn’t sure what to do. I will follow your advice and hope for the best. I have seven bales so maybe I’ll try turning a couple on their sides and tying string around. I won’t remove the other string because I know I can’t get it as tight as the baler, but it should help prevent them falling apart. Wouldn’t that be hideous to have your garden fall apart just as you were about to harvest?! Oh the horror. ?

  3. My granddaughter and I got eight straw bales and are trying the garden this year. We bought Milorganite but all they had was slow release. The store employee said that’s all they make and just to give it lots of water (yep) and it’ll be fine.

    Is that correct?? It’s our third day today and I’ll be adding more now.

    Also, it doesn’t really get down into the straw bale cery well. Is there a trick?


  4. Kate Ericksen

    My bales’ twine is on top/bottom where water and conditioning could get in properly. They’re ready to plant, but I want to flip them so twine is on the sides for planting…can I flip the bales or should I leave them alone and continue??

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.