By Richard Godke
Bag gardening is raising vegetables in the bag the soil comes in. This is an easy, convenient and a fun way to get your family involved with growing your own food (Figure
1). The bag gardening method is easy, low cost, and a quick way to get started with a garden. It takes no digging, plowing, tilling, and soil testing, or building expensive raised beds. Yes, it really works! I know several experienced gardeners who use this same method with multiple bags rather than tackling a large traditional garden.
Bag Gardening Advantages:
- Easy soil preparation – no digging, plowing, and tilling or sod removal.
- Space saving – all vegetables are concentrated with no rows.
- Easy weeding – potting soil is free from weed seeds.
- Low cost – It cost me about $13 to plant one bag with Swiss chard transplants in March 2013.
- Little time – it took me about 15 minutes to plant one bag and I expect about 5 minutes a week to water and harvest.
- Minimal soil diseases and insects common to vegetables like tomatoes.
Bag Gardening Disadvantages:
- Ugly bags – try covering with mulch.
- Water management is more involved with bags – regular soil has a deeper water reserve.
- Bag breakage – be careful with the mower and string trimmer.
- Not organic – no solution.
Things You Will Need to Start Your Bag Gardening Project (Figure 1):
- Plants either transplants or seeds
- Bagged soil – two cubic feet, preferably potting soil
- Utility knife or scissors to cut holes in bag
- Tape measure or ruler
- 3 yards of duct tape
- Weed barrier (optional) – newspaper or brown paper bags
- Choose a sunny location with at least 8 hours of direct sun each day with easy access to water.
- Arrange bags so you can reach into the middle of each bag without stepping on the soil, about 4 feet maximum.
- The best plants to start with are leafy vegetables: leaf lettuce, spinach, arugula, or Swiss chard. After you get these mastered, try peas, kohlrabi, bush beans, tomatoes, peppers, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, eggplant, and herbs like parsley or basil. I would avoid squash, pumpkins, melons and root crops. If you have had success raising these vegetables in a bag please let us know the secrets.
Use square foot gardening planting rates.
- 1 plant per bag: tomato, pepper, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower
- 9 plants per bag: bush beans or spinach
- 12 plants per bag: arugula, leaf lettuce, parsley, Swiss chard
- 16 plants per square foot: kohlrabi or micro greens
- Use duct tape on the outside seam edges and one strip around the middle of the bag to prevent breakage (Figure 2).
- On the bottom side of the bag, cut 6 to 12 ½-inch holes in the bottom of the bag. Sometimes the vegetable will grow through the bag and start growing into the soil under the bag.
- Flip the bag back over.
- On the uncut side of the bag, mark the locations that you want to cut for plant openings. See step 4 for the number of plants per bag.
- Cut an X in the bag in the smallest size needed to plant the transplant or one square inch if you are planting seeds (Figure 3).
- Fold back the triangular shaped flaps for seeds (Figure 4).
- Make a hole in the soil by pushing the soil back just deep enough to cover the transplant or seeds. I found you do not need to remove the soil from the bag (Figure 5).
- Put transplant or seeds in the soil.
- Reach under the plastic and pull back the soil to cover the root ball or seeds
- If you planted seeds, cut the plastic flaps off so the sun can help germinate the seeds quicker.
- Water the plants as needed; ensure you have a good soil to seed or soil to root contact for a quick start.
- After one 1 week or when the seeds grow 2 inches high make sure there is only one plant per hole. It is sometimes difficult to see the multiple plants (Figure 6). This process is called thinning. See the single plant after thinning (Figure 7)? One plant will produce more vegetables than two plants growing close together. I have tested this theory. Even though it hurts to cut out the extra plants, thinning is for the best with bag gardening. It is common for plant producers to leave multiple plants in a single plant pack cell. My last purchase had up to 3 plants per cell. It is possible to use each plant if they have not grown together. Use scissors or shears, if you pull it could also pull out the best plant you want to leave in.
- Check moisture level at least 3 times a week (Figure 8).
- Harvest lots of fresh vegetables.
Don’t over water. Leaving more plastic on the top will decrease the water loss and will help cut down on excess watering during rainy periods. Expect to increase watering during hot sunny days. Sticking your finger into the soil is the best way to tell if you need to water again.
Some potting soil has slow release fertilizer that usually last for 3 months. Check the bag to see if it is infused in the soil. Add liquid fertilizer as recommended on the package if the plants are growing slowly, or the plants have a light yellow-green color. Remember it is better to use too little fertilizer rather than too much.
- Be careful with string trimmers and mowers to prevent bag breakage.
- When mowing blow grass away from the bags to prevent insects, diseases and dirt getting on the vegetables.
- Root crops sometimes do not perform well in the bags.
- Climbing tomato plants need a trellis.
- I recommend transplants over direct seeding for beginners. Seeds are very sensitive to correct water management.
- Mulch the soil bag beds mid-summer with compost, grass clippings, or bark. It will decrease water loss and keep soil temperatures lower during the hottest part of the season. It also helps to hide the ugly bags.
- If using more than one bag, wedge them tightly together to stop weeds from growing between the bags.
Placing old newspapers down on the grass or soil will serve as a good weed barrier. Weeds growing from the bag garden can be hand pulled.
End of Growing Season:
Plastic bags are designed by the manufacturers to last one year. At the end of the season you can pull the old plastic bag out of the garden area and add new bags on the top the next year. Or you can add amendments, and work the potting soil into the soil underneath. This will be a great start to enhancing your soil.
By: Richard Godke