In the category of “Use What You Have,” I decided to try an experiment in reusing and recycling.
When I first started building my garden and raised beds, I ordered several bulk bags of garden loam and bark mulch. This was the least expensive and most efficient way to get the material I needed for my garden, but it also left me with several very large bulk bags that I could not return or recycle in my local area. The bags are made of a sturdy, heavy-duty fabric, and I didn’t want to just throw them away, so I had to give some thought as to how I could use them.
I needed a couple more deep raised beds, though, and I was out of large scrap lumber. I decided to recycle the bulk bags into flexible raised beds in which I could grow potatoes and carrots. What this gave me were three extra raised beds with very little effort.
1.The first thing I did was decide on a location. I set the bags up next to my storage shed. This spot gets sun for most of the day, and it’s out of the way. Eventually I want to build a greenhouse here, but for now, it’s the perfect location to grow some potatoes.
2. I folded the sides of the bags outwards and down in two folds so I could raise them up as the potatoes grew. Instead of hilling up the soil around the plants, I would fill the bags in as we went along.
3.I bought some bagged garden soil on sale and filled each bag with about ten bags of dirt each. The bags are 25 liters or 22.7 quarts in size.
4.In one bag I put six seed potatoes, and in the other I put seven. In the third bag, I sprinkled in three different varieties of carrots.
5. It didn’t take long for the little potato plants to appear, and they started growing fast.
6. When the plants reached the top of the bag, I added four more bags of soil to each bulk bag and used my hands to level the dirt around the growing plants. I unfolded the bags to raise the sides a bit.
7. The plants have been thriving! I raised the sides further, starting from the back and carefully unfolding the fabric and lifting the vines as I worked my way around the front. I then added another four 25 liter bags of dirt to each bulk bag.
8. Since the bagged dirt tends to be compacted, it is rather heavy and filled with lumps. I first emptied the bags of soil into my wheelbarrow and used a shovel to mix the bagged soil with some looser garden dirt I had, breaking down the lumps to a nice, fine garden soil. I used a small bucket to carefully add the soil around my potato plants.
9. The bag on the right has the sides unfolded and raised and I’ve added fresh soil for the second time. The bag on the left will be filled next. The vines are so long and heavy, they are hanging over the edge of the bag!
10. Once all the new dirt was added, I gave everything a good watering. These bags drain well, so I don’t have to worry about the dirt getting too saturated.
At this point, I won’t add any more dirt. If I had a source for clean, organic straw, I would top up the bags with straw. For now, though, the potato plants can do their thing until they are ready to harvest.I’m looking forward to digging in these bags for new potatoes. I have four different types of potatoes growing: russet, red, purple and yellow. It will be interesting to see how they all do.
The vines are really healthy and clean and so far I haven’t seen many bugs to speak of. Because they are up off the ground, they are warmer and they drain well, so I am hoping that means a bumper crop of potatoes.
As a final note, my carrots are doing really well, too. I've thinned them out a couple of times and haven't added any extra dirt as they don't need it.
The beauty of these temporary raised beds is that I can empty them and move them to another location if needed. Once I decide if I want to keep them in a permanent location, I can build some fencing around them to disguise the fabric if I want.
They also add some extra gardening space, let me try out different locations for raised beds, and best of all, make good use of materials that would have otherwise ended up in a landfill.
So don't throw those leftover bulk bags away. Put them to work as planters and raised beds.
Judith Docken is a freelance writer, author and blogger. She has published gardening articles in SF Gate and Modern Mom online magazines and was published in an anthology of Canadian short stories called That Golden Summer. She is currently building her backyard into an urban homestead and organic garden, writing her second novel, and learning how to grow asparagus and celery Connect with Judith on LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Google+. Read all of Judith’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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