This year, I have tried something different in the garden: Instead of in containers or in the ground, I have planted a few selected vegetables directly in large bags of soil!
The idea, while not new by any means, evolved in rather an interesting way. Its inception came at the time I came across a section on vegetable seeds specifically bred for planting in containers or compact spaces in the 2010 catalog of Pinetree Garden Seeds, a mail-order company in New Gloucester, Maine. Furthermore, as I was toying with the concept of growing a small-scale garden in bags of soil – store bought soil, that is, not dug from the yard – I ran into Richard Nunnally, the pro, at a gardening event. Not only did Richard give me his nod of approval, but as always provided some good pieces of advice.
Easy as 1-2-3, literally, what I did was to purchase large bags of good quality garden soil and place them in mulched beds that get plenty of sunshine. Next, I made several drain holes on the flat side of each bag that touched the ground, and at the same time cut openings on the top surface at regular intervals to position the vegetable seedlings, and, to minimize water loss, I put a thin layer of sphagnum moss around the seedlings. Tall trellises were then erected to create vertical space, and I was good to go!
To my excitement, the seedlings – bitter melon, cucumber and bush squash – grew rapidly and vigorously, which has made me realize that I have created overcrowding by planting way too many plants per bag, causing them to dry out quickly. This is one of the first lessons I have learnt while pursuing this project. The other thing to remember is to provide, in addition to water, a well-balanced liquid fertilizer frequently to ensure that plants have a continuous supply of nutrients since the soil in the bag has only a limited amount.
Interestingly, this method of gardening without pots has been around for a while; in the May 2010 issue of Avant Gardener, a monthly horticulture newsletter, an unusual technique of growing vegetables in bales of straw is described, which is evidently about 40 years old and making a comeback now.
Despite the overcrowding issue in my experimental garden, we have already harvested a couple of cucumbers and bitter melons, which, while it doesn’t sound like a bumper crop, has given me encouragement to keep working on this simple and inexpensive way of growing vegetables or even seasonal flowers. Stay tuned for the progress of the “garden out of the bag” in future columns.