Experiments with Grow Bags

A week or so ago, I said that I would put together a post about this year’s experiments with using “grow bags” for vegetables. This morning, I did a little photo shoot out in the garden to create a few images for this post. What follows are a few thoughts on using grow bags as an alternative to planting into a garden. By grow bags, I’m referring to those black, non-woven fabric bags that come in various sizes – usually sized by the gallon. I bought 5 and 10 gallon bags — they come in packages of 10 — from Amazon. They are probably available all over, but I live in an area without many stores that stock stuff like that, so I ordered them online. After purchasing a couple of different brands (there are a lot of sellers on Amazon), my one recommendation is to compare the height of the bags (dimensions are usually listed in the description). Some are taller or wider than others. I found one of the brands I got was sort of short and wide — fine for some vegetabes, but not so much for others.

I filled the bags with a mixture of soil from here, some bags of manure from an area dairy farm, and some commercial soil mix as I didn’t have enough soil to completely fill all the bags. This autumn, I’ll be dumping all the soil from the bags out onto a tarpaulin, mixing it up with compost from the past year or so and more manure. I don’t anticipate having to get much, if any, commercial mix next year. As for the longevity of the bags, they look just like new after a season of growing, and people who have used them in the past say that they have had them 3 or 4 years and they are still fine, so I probably won’t have to buy any next year.

Before I get into talking about the bags, let me explain why I decided to go to grow bags.

1.) I wanted to try to extend the growing season at least a little by using a pop-up greenhouse set up in a sunny area of the front yard. There was no garden there before — in fact, it is a graveled parking area.

2.) My older dog and the new puppy were really tearing around the yard this winter and spring, so I knew that anything I planted into the ground would probably be trampled in no time. That was certainly the case with the garlic this year. Better to keep the vegetables up off the ground in a protected area (mostly inside the greenhouse).

3.) My arthritis is at the point that digging up garden beds, weeding and other similar tasks isn’t much fun. It’s either raised beds or grow bags for me at this point.

4.) I have a hell of a problem with slugs, snails, chipmunks and red squirrels damaging or feasting on vegetables. I figured the grow bags might help to deter them – and it has.

So, here’s the lowdown on my experiments with them this summer.

1.) They work really well for quite a few different vegetables. Here are the ones I’m most pleased with: Tomatoes, Eggplants, Cucumbers, Peppers, Zucchini, Buttercup Squash, Swiss Chard, and Basil. What didn’t work well for me were Brussels Sprouts (they kept falling over) and Celery. I think both of those last two didn’t like having warm roots, which is kind of inevitable with the grow bags, especially if they are inside the greenhouse. If I grow them this way again next year, I’ll move the bags out into a semi-shaded part of the garden after they get a start in the greenhouse.

2.) There is almost no need to do any weeding. HOWEVER, you must be vigilant about watering the plants, especially during hot, dry weather — and obviously, if they are kept inside the greenhouse in summertime. I moved a lot of the bags out into the yard once the weather started to get very warm, so they got SOME rain out there, but not enough to keep the plants growing well — so watering was essential earlier this summer. Lately, not so much.

3.) English type cucumbers really like these bags! I tied some strings to the bags and ran them up to the top of the greenhouse side frames and let the cucumber vines grow up those. I got quite a lot of cucumbers — more than I could really keep up with, for the cucmbers growin in 2 bags.

4.) Staking of tomatoes and heavy plants is a bit difficult. I staked all the tomatoes, but as the plants got bigger and bigger, the stakes couldn’t hold them and they started to fall over, which is okay, but just sort of messy and tangly. I have posted a photo of one of the cherry tomatoes above to show how the plants eventually get so big that they are kind of unruly. I also grew a couple of tomatoes inside the greenhouse – ones that seemed to want to vine – and they are up to the top of the greenhouse side walls — about 6 feet tall. This is all sort of experimental stuff. I think the ones I moved outdoors did better as it was so hot this summer that the ones inside the greenhouse had to be watered really often and I think they just didn’t do as well. That said, they might do well later into the autumn. I’m going to be moving some of the vegetables back inside the greenhouse when the nights start to get chilly and will zip it up each night and see how long I can keep the tomatoes, peppers and eggplants going.

5.) Zucchinis did great in the bags, but definitely need the 10 gallon size bags. The plants got to be huge and were sort of falling over out of the bags. Regardless, they did well, but they needed a lot of watering to keep them producing well.

6.) Winter squash did well, but I made a mistake in not setting them well away from the tomatoes and other plants I moved outside. They soon grew onto the other plants are are kind of tangled up with everything. They did grow squashes though — I haven’t actually searched to see how many, but there are some under their leaves. I would try growing them this way again next year, but set the bags well apart around the garden so that they can go crazy if they want to.

7.) Basil grew well and with almost no slug or snail damage. I kept them in the greenhouse all summer. Again, watering was important.

To sum up. I’m very happy with using the bags and will definitely do so again next season. I’m going to experiment with growing garlic in them — will be planting garlic in 2 or 3 bags this autumn. I’ll likely experiment with growing potatoes next year as I’ve heard they do quite well.

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