This year I found an idea in a copy of Mother Earth News that had me intrigued from the moment that I read about it. According the article, you could plant an instant garden using nothing but a bag of potting soil. It sounded too good to be true, but I gave it a try.
I was amazed by the results! The things I planted in my garden-in-a-bag grew well and it was so easy to do. Whether you’re planting a single bag with some lettuce or a tomato plant or if you want to start a full size garden, using this technique is a fast and easy way to grow your own food. I’ll describe the process for starting a small, one bag garden, but you can simply expend it to fit your needs.
The first step is purchasing the bag of soil. If you’ve been to the garden center recently, you’ll realize that this step in the process can be a little overwhelming. You’ll find potting mix, compost, top soil, potting soil and more. So which one do you purchase? It’s suggested that you look for a bag that has the word “soil” in it. These tend to be a little heavier and have a courser texture which is good for outdoor planting. Soils that are called mixes are usually very light and fluffy, excellent of seed starting and potted plants but not so good for a garden-in-a-bag. You can choose either regular or organic depending upon your preference. I used a bag of Miracle Gro Potting Soil.
With bag in hand, find a nice level spot with full sun where you want your garden to be. There is no need to till the ground or even remove any sod that is present. Just place the bag of soil where you want it to be and push some pieces of cardboard under the edges of the bag so that you end up with a 6″ border of cardboard. The purpose of this is to prevent grass and weeds from growing right up against the bag and to give you space to mow if your garden is started in a lawn area.
When the bag is in place, cut a window into the bag leaving a 4″ border of plastic around the edge. For example if the bag is 24″ x 36″, the opening in the top will be about 16″ x 28″. This 4″ border of plastic will keep the soil in the bag while allowing you plenty of room to plant.
The final step in preparation is to take a screwdriver or large knife and poke a dozen or more holes into the bag. Just plunge the knife into the open window of soil that you’ve made. This step pokes holes into the bottom of the plastic which serve as drainage and also provide a way for the roots of the plants to reach into the soil below the bag.
That’s all there is to it. You now have an instant garden-in-a-bag that is ready to plant. I had great success growing lettuce, kale and sunflowers but you could grow almost anything. Just be aware that you will need to keep a close eye on the moisture level of the bag in the beginning. Until the roots start to grow into the soil below the bag, you’ll want to make sure that the potting soil stays moist.
What I love about a garden-in-a-bag is that you can prepare and plant a garden in an hour or less. It’s also a great way to create or expand a garden without having to till or remove sod. After the first year you can remove the bags and till the ground for a traditional garden. The ground beneath bags will be much softer and friable due to the action of the plant’s roots and the worms which will tunnel under the bag. For the second year you can also just put a new bag of soil on top of the old one and repeat the process.
Some readers in the south might be able to try a garden-in-a-bag now and fill it with plants appropriate for their region. For those of us in the north, we can think about this technique for our spring garden. A garden-in-a-bag will let us plant earlier in the season since we won’t have to wait for the garden to dry. Personally, I’m going to use this trick to expand the garden and plan to grow tomatoes in the bags.
Who would have thought that those piles of bagged soil at the garden center can be turned into a thriving vegetable garden with just a little time and effort?