The first step to planting your potting soil garden is to purchase the bags. Buy 40 pound bags of good all purpose soil. If you buy topsoil it may not be ready to plant. Squeeze a handful into a ball. If it remains a lump and does not crumble, you need to add some compost. I buy a bag of peat moss when I buy my soil. It will condition less than perfect soil.
Place you bags where you will want you final raised gardens to be. No need to dig or remove the grass. The bags will kill the grass over the summer. The bags will also keep cut worms and weeds from invading your garden bed.
With scissors, cut 2 inches inside the top of the bag on 3 sides, leaving it attached on one short end. With a knife or a screwdriver, punch about two dozen holes in the bottom of the bag, right through the soil. This will provide drainage and plant roots will grow down into the soil underneath.
Plan what you want to plant. Most root plants are not suitable for bag gardening.
Your vegetables can be started from seed or from sprouts that you buy or that you have started indoors yourself. Buy your seeds from a reliable company so that you know they are fresh. Ordering online may be the better choice. Make sure sprouts that you buy are from a good nursery. They will have been started and cared for so that they aren't stressed.
One month before the last spring frost date you can plant cool weather crops My favorites for potting soil gardens are leaf lettuce, spinach, radishes, green onions (scallions), shell, snap or snow peas, and cabbage. I have favorite root crops that like cold weather, but they are not for bag planting.
I plant my lettuce and spinach from seeds, one packet each per bag. I scatter seeds evenly over the soil in the bag, letting them sift slowly through my fingers. I lightly run my hand over the soil, barely covering them. Then I pat the soil gently. I carefully water them with a fine spray then turn the attached end of the bag back over the soil. Keep the bed moist until the plants sprout, checking often. As soon as the sprout shows, cut away the flap to expose the seedlings to the sun. When the baby greens come up, you may find they are too thickly sown. Thin them to about one inch apart and use the thinned plants for salads.
Spinach is good raw or cooked. It is not as good when the days get longer and it bolts (tries to go to seed). When the days get warm harvest the spinach and replant with a summer crop. Eat the lettuce as long as it is good, then replant with a summer crop. Any thinned plants that you don't eat should go in the compost bin.
Green onions or scallions are just bulb onions that are pulled young. I buy onion sets sold by the pound. Plant one inch deep and three inches apart in parallel rows. After they are about six inches tall, pull out for your salad as you need them. When they are gone replant with a summer vegetable.
Radishes will work for the potting soil garden. Even though they are a root crop, the little red ones won't require deep soil. I stagger the planting of these so they don't all mature at once. Plant one third of a bag with seed one-half inch deep. They sprout in 5 to 10 days. They don't like to be crowded, so thin them to one or two inches. Put the thinned sprouts in your salad. Water them daily. Plant more in 2 weeks. This can go on into the fall if you like radishes. When all the radishes are gone in one section, replant.
I buy cabbage sets from the nursery, but you could start them indoors. Cabbage needs room to grow, so only put 6 or 8 in your bag.
For planting green peas, poke seeds into the soil one inch deep and 2 inches apart. They will sprout in 10 to 15 days. They like to climb so I provide something for them to hang onto. It can be a network of sticks and string about 12 inches above the soil, wire fencing draped over, or maybe just put some little dry tree branches. They are ready to harvest in about 10 weeks. At my house, they don't even make it to the kitchen because they are eaten right off the vine!
Other cool weather crops suitable for bag gardening are broccoli, cauliflower, and parsley. (Parsley can be planted any time of the year). These also need to be started indoors or bought at the nursery.
Tomato, peppers, and eggplant are favorite crops to plant after the last frost date. They take so long to mature that starting them indoors or buying starts from the green house is the best way to go. With these plants, I put two starts per bag. For tomatoes I place cages over the bag and push the wire posts into the ground and bag. I plant miniature marigolds with these crops. Marigolds stimulate vegetable growth and deter bean beetles, aphids, potato bugs, squash bugs, nematodes, and maggots. Just add two marigolds to each bag.
I like to do vine crops such as cucumber, cantaloupe, muskmelon, watermelon, squash (winter and summer) in bags. I put 2 to the bag. These vines can be left to run all over the yard if you have room, or you can put a tomato cage over each one to keep them contained.
Another crop suitable for bags is beans of any kind. Follow the planting instructions for peas above.
The cole vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower can be planted again in the fall. Start them inside and transplant into the garden bags when daytime temperatures peak in the 75-degree F range. They can survive in temps as low as 25-degree F. Replant lettuce, peas, radishes, and spinach at this time. These plants will be hardier and grow faster in the late summer because the ground is already warm.
Keep the soil moist in your bags. Stick your finger in the soil. If it feels completely dry, apply water gently around the roots. Use a cup or a water bottle. Do not wet the leaves. If you have gentle rains, let that be the water method. If you have an extended period of days of rain, you might want to put clear plastic over the beds until it lets up. If you don't trust chlorinated water, catch the rain water and save it. You can also use bottled water. Chlorinated water can be collected in buckets, barrels, or plastic bottles and let set without a lid for a couple of days and the chlorine will be gone.
Usually you will not have to weed, but check to see if one has sneaked through a hole in the bottom of the bag. Do not pull anything unless you are sure it is a weed.
You should not need to turn
the soil, but if it does seem compacted, gently stir it with a stick
or pencil. Be very careful not to disturb the roots.
If you see pests such as bugs and worms on your plants, pick them by hand (wear gloves if you are squeamish) and drop them in a jar of water. For no-see-ums or barely-see-ums make a pest spray by adding 12 garlic cloves to a quart of water in a blender along with one tablespoon of cayenne pepper. Blend, then bring to a boil on the stove or microwave. Cool down, and put in a spray bottle. Do not use poisons. That includes sevin dust. Even though it can be used on mammals, it is toxic to honey bees and other pollinators.
The beauty of bag gardening is that you will be able to harvest just enough for dinner tonight. Take your scissors and snip what you need. Leave the plant to continue growing. If you need to thin your plants, eat the thinnings. Put the baby plants in your dinner salad.
When the season is over, disassemble your potting soil garden. Make a frame around your bag and pull the bag out, dumping the potting soil onto the ground, cover with leaves and let it rest until planting time again. Now you have your first raised bed for next year's crop.
Maybe you will want to also repeat the potting soil garden for a mixture of beds and bags for next year.
A helpful site to check out:
What have you planted in potting soil bags. Have photos? We would love to see them.
Do you have a great story about this? Share it!