How to Grow Food in a Burlap Bag

How to Grow Food in a Burlap Bag

Part of Ep. 1906 Grow Local, Eat Local

You don’t need a garden or even a pot to grow vegetables, all you need is a burlap bag.  Susan Richardson shares a wonderful project going on in the parking lot of the Appleton Salvation Army Food Pantry where people are learning to grow their own food in burlap bags.  It’s easy, it costs practically nothing and it works.

Premiere date: Jul 13, 2011

TRANSCRIPT+
Wisc Gardener Transcript: 

Shelley Ryan:

It looks like a gorgeous, lush vegetable garden. But guess what? We are in the middle of the Salvation Army parking lot in Appleton. I'm with Susan Richardson. Susan, tell me why we're standing in the middle of a parking lot. It's not my first choice for a vegetable garden.

 

Susan Richardson:

You're right, Shelly. A lot of people wouldn't think to grow vegetables in a parking lot.

 

Shelley Ryan:

No!

 

Susan Richardson:

But we're doing this as a part of a partnership with Salvation Army. To assist food pantry recipients in learning how to grow food, and to grow food in unusual spaces and in spaces where they don't need a lot of land. We are doing this as a result of a grant that we received from the Community Foundation of the Fox Cities. It's part of the Basic Needs Giving Partnership Grant. We're a program of Goodwill Industries, so we have a lot of participants in this particular project, including food pantry participants, who have grown this food.

 

Shelley Ryan:

So Salvation Army, Goodwill, and what's your involvement then?

 

Susan Richardson:

My involvement is the educational piece and teaching people how to grow food in new and different ways. This particular method in growing food is used extensively in Africa, to teach people how to grow food in a very arid climate.

 

Shelley Ryan:

It also works in very arid parking lots, too.

 

Susan Richardson:

Exactly.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Basically, you could grow food anywhere with this technique then?

 

Susan Richardson:

That's exactly right. We call this the Good Garden Works Bag.

 

Shelley Ryan:

It's a burlap bag?

 

Susan Richardson:

It's a burlap bag, but you can grow food in it. We have a wide range of food growing here.

 

Shelley Ryan:

I'll say! Is this broccoli coming out of this bag?

 

Susan Richardson:

This is broccoli coming right out of the side the bag. We have tomatoes here. We also have nasturtium growing out of the side of the bag.

 

Shelley Ryan:

You've got eggplant over there, too?

 

Susan Richardson:

We have eggplant and tomatoes.

 

Shelley Ryan:

They all look very healthy and happy.

 

Susan Richardson:

They are.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Here, you've got tomatillos.

 

Susan Richardson:

We have tomatillos. We also have ground cherries growing in a container. We wanted to introduce an historic food to the mix of regular food that we're kind of used to seeing.

 

Shelley Ryan:

What else do you have growing in here? You've got this all along the fence here.

 

Susan Richardson:

Right, we have 16 bags growing here that contain a wide range of vegetables, from leaf lettuce to onions, a wide variety. We've kept it at about four different kinds of plants per bag.

 

Shelley Ryan:

So one bag could provide a family with a good crop.

 

Susan Richardson:

Exactly. The other thing about this particular concept is that it helps not only food pantry recipients to participate in a means of food security but to also teach it.

 

Shelley Ryan:

So they give back, as well?

 

Susan Richardson:

They give back as well.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Can you show me how to grow in a burlap bag?

 

Susan Richardson:

I would love to do that.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Let's do that.

 

Susan Richardson:

Well, Shelley, this it the bag that we're using today. You can use any burlap bag. It's very porous. As long as it's no more than four feet tall, you're going to have the same product that we have here in this parking lot.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Then what's this?

 

Susan Richardson:

This is our Good Garden Works, garden kit bag. These can be purchased. It gives instructions on how to grow the bags and also a list of plants that we recommend.

 

Shelley Ryan:

You're doing this as a fundraiser for your project?

 

Susan Richardson:

Yes, a fundraiser for our project.

 

Shelley Ryan:

We will have more information on your bags on our Website, but lets build one right here.

 

Susan Richardson:

Love to show you how to do this. We use gravel. Pea gravel can be used. It's probably recommended that we use pea gravel. We're going to create a base for this bag. You want to plant this bag exactly where you want it to be.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Instead of on this table!

 

Susan Richardson:

It's going to be quite heavy.

 

Shelley Ryan:

We're just doing it up here for illustration.

 

Susan Richardson:

Exactly. Then we're going to use a good organic soil mix and composted cow manure. However, let me just say as long as your using composted cow manure, you can use any kind of top soil.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Okay, it doesn't have to be a soil-less potty mix here.

 

Susan Richardson:

We want to keep it affordable. We're going to put this soil over the pea gravel. We're going to do a layer effect in this way.

 

Shelley Ryan:

We're building this in layers?

 

Susan Richardson:

Yes, then we're going to take a one-pound coffee can, we're going to take the ends out of the coffee can.

 

Shelley Ryan:

So you can put your hand through it.

Susan Richardson:

We're going to set that down on the soil and the pea gravel. We're going to fill it with pea gravel, because we're going to create a column of stone right up through the center of the bag. We're going to pack our soil all the way to the lip of the one-pound coffee can.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Like you've done here.

 

Susan Richardson:

Exactly, then we're going to lift this out.

 

Shelley Ryan:

The coffee can?

 

Susan Richardson:

The coffee can. And we're going to set it down. It's empty again, so we're going to put more pea gravel in it and we're going to build another layer of soil. We're going to do it all the way to the top of the bag.

 

Shelley Ryan:

You're going to set it here, put more gravel in it, then put more soil around it, and just keep repeating that?

 

Susan Richardson:

Just keep repeating it.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Why do you do that?

 

Susan Richardson:

This stabilizes the bag, but it also acts as a coolant for the plants’ root systems.

 

Shelley Ryan:

That's why you have the central core of gravel and that's why it's so heavy.

 

Susan Richardson:

Exactly.

 

Shelley Ryan:

So really, put it over there to do this.

 

Susan Richardson:

Exactly. If you noted earlier, we had plants growing out of the sides of the bags.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Yeah, I did.

 

Susan Richardson:

You can cut an L-shaped slit in the side of the bag, we used plastic cups.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Reduce, reuse, recycle.

 

Susan Richardson:

In order to secure the plant that we're putting in the side of the bag. We would recommend that you put plants in the side of the bag and seeds in the top.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Because, if you put the seeds down there you might lose them somewhere in there.

 

Susan Richardson:

Exactly. As you can see we can grow anything, anywhere. We've got patty pan squash, cauliflower, peppers.

 

Shelley Ryan:

The sky is the limit.

 

Susan Richardson:

Exactly.

 

Shelley Ryan:

If we can grow it in a parking lot, we can grow it anywhere.

 

Susan Richardson:

Yes.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Susan thank you so much.

 

Susan Richardson:

Thank you.

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