An Intro to Fabric Grow Bags
Growing food in raised beds or containers provides many advantages over gardening in the ground, and some disadvantages. Fabric grow bags are particularly handy. They are relatively cheap, easy to ship and store (because they're light and fold up), and extremely flexible (literally and figuratively). The porous fabric container allows the roots to breathe and water to drain without any drainage holes, so you don't have to worry as much about soil layering. They're also arguably better for the environment than plastic pots.
They provide an excellent vessel for gardening soil and are easy to arrange, rearrange, and move around while you clean and maintain your garden. They'll even work great for apartment dwellers if you have a porch, patio, or other outdoor space with plenty of sunlight. You can also use the same pot for several years by simply topping off the soil with a high-nitrogen fertilizer, soil topper, or compost.
They come in an almost infinite range of sizes, from hardly big enough for a turnip to the size of a small raised bed. You'll get the greatest advantage of grow bags in the size range from about 1/2 gallon to about 10 gallons. These are easy to fill and move around, and will suffice for most traditional garden fruits, vegetables, and herbs.
Grow bags tend to be short and wide. Some plants like to grow a deep taproot and will become stunted if this is not possible. Artichokes are a good example. A large grow bag has plenty of space for the roots to grow in theory, but that tap root will quickly hit the bottom and stunt the plant's growth. Other plants enjoy a shallow, sprawling root system. Onions and Kale are good examples. These plants will appreciate the wide, shallow structure of a typical grow bag.
If you're ready to give it a try, you'll need to consider a few things first, and procure or create more than just the bags themselves.
Where to buy them
You can acquire these handy fabric pots from many garden centers and grocery stores, but perhaps the best thing about them is they are cheap and easy to ship, so it makes sense to buy them online. Amazon is an obvious choice but if you prefer to go another route, check with other online retailers or the websites for brick-and-mortar stores. They'll arrive neatly folded up and ready to be filled with soil.
Fill your bags
Once nice thing about fabric gardening pots is that they work with a wide range of soil types for many different kinds of plants. Because the entire surface of the container is porous and allows for good drainage, layering soil and other materials is optional.
The simplest thing to do is to purchase commercial gardening soil and simply fill the bags before planting. Leave only about 1.5-4 inches of space below the rim depending on the size of the bag, since the soil will decompose and compact over time. Don't worry about toping it off; if you want to use the bag again in the next growing season, the extra space that appears at the top will allow you to more easily add a soil topper or strong compost to give your next plants a good boost.
If you want to get more crafty, consider the type of plant you're planting and whether it will benefit from a light and fluffy, quick-draining soil, a heavy, clay-like soil that retains water, or something in-between. You can mix store-bought gardening soil with wood chips or light yard mulch to increase the drainage, or mix it with sandy or clay soil (as you'll find in most back yards) to make it more dense and slower to drain.
Plant your seeds or starts
You can certainly plant seeds directly in the fabric pots. For most plants you'll want to wait until after the last hard frost of the season, and be sure to water them every day until they sprout and develop a good tap root and a few sets of leaves. It's usually easier to start your seeds in a bright window or a greenhouse and then transplant them. It's easier to keep them moist, and protect them from bugs and frost until they are bigger and stronger.
Consider the nutrient requirements, adult size, and root expected root mass for each type of plant before selecting the bag and soil to put them in. Something like lettuce, herbs, or even turnips or garlic can be grown in 1/2 to 1 gallon bags. Larger and more demanding plants like cabbage, tomatoes, corn, sunflower, or artichoke need progressively larger bags and may be better suited for growing in the ground.
One of the best things about these fabric gardening pots is their mobility. They usually come with handles built in and are easy to move around. Try to place them in rough rows so it's easier to get around them to water and maintain your plants, and take their sunlight requirements, and heat and light tolerance into consideration. Many plants such as lettuce or strawberries do well with a few hours of sun and a few hours of partial shade, while something like tomatoes or corn will do best with the sunniest, hottest spot you can put them.
Keep It Going and Growing
Once they're planted they still need attention.
Throughout the growing season, water your plants normally. Keep in mind fabric bags tend to have excellent drainage, so if you're using standard potting or gardening soil water them extra during the peak of summer or when they get very big. If you're worried about this, consider mixing a soil retainer such as vermiculite into the soil, or lining the edges of the soil with a heavy clay-like dirt to reduce the drainage rate.
Since the space, soil, and nutrients your plant's roots have access to is limited in any container or pot, more demanding plants like corn or tomatoes will benefit from a boost in nitrogen and other nutrients during the growing season. You can top the soil mid-season or use liquid fertilizer or compost tea to keep things strong and healthy.
Fabric grow bags are cool. Placement is an initial consideration, but unique to this option is that you can easily re-arrange your garden later in the season. If some plants get too big and shade one another out, you can spread them apart. If the sun is more or less intense in a certain spot at different times of year, you can re-arrange your garden to keep plants in their happy places. And, if some of your plants complete their growing cycle mid-season, you can move them away from the now-much-larger plants that grow until late fall or early winter. You can even take those same pots and re-plant them and put them in a new place for the second half of summer!
Have Fun and Get Creative
This approach to container gardening is so fun and flexible the possibilities are endless. Your rows don't need to be straight, and you can put your garden wherever you like. You can mix and match different kinds of plants then change your mind a few months later. You could even plant your garden in the shape of a smiley face, then later in the year turn it to a star!
Please give it a try, and come back to this article any time to update or improve it. Add your own pictures and your own insights from your experimentation.
Thanks for reading, and please contribute to the content. CoSourcery is free and open sourced. We built it as a favor to the world!