My Experience With Raised-Bed Gardens Using Fabric Pots

by dustytoes

I don't enjoy having to dig up the grass to begin a garden bed. I have found the perfect way to avoid doing that by using fabric pots.

I'll tell you, I am so happy to have discovered this simple way to start a new garden bed using fabric pots. I began with the small ones, but quickly decided the large size might suit me better. Last year (summer 2013) was my first attempt at growing vegetables in fabric pots, but I have purchased an additional large bag to use this year.

Any gardener will tell you that getting the soil right is absolutely essential to growing a good crop. But what if you live in a house that has no ready made dirt spaces? That means getting out the pitchfork and digging, unless you own a rotatiller I suppose. Which I don't. I also don't have a very large yard.

Using fabric pots is perfect for anyone who doesn't have the manpower, money or know-how to build a raised bed with wood. The most difficult part of using a big fabric bag is filling it with dirt, but if you can use a wheelbarrow, you're all set.

I Am The Gardener

Fabric pots are easy to use.

garden vegetables I am writing this page as a single, middle-age woman, who does all her own gardening.  From lugging the dirt to the beds each Spring, to weeding, harvesting and the Fall clean up, the jobs are all mine.  I garden because I love it.  

Another BIG reason I grow my own veggies is that I know what has been used on the plants - nothing!  I can eat vegetables that I know are organic.  

Setting up a fabric raised bed is easy, and it can be used year after year.  I have used mine since 2013 when I lived in New England.  Now I continue to buy fabric grow pots while beginning my new garden adventures in central Florida.

(My photo - everything came from my backyard.  Radish, peas, parsley, and squash flowers.)

Small, Medium and Large Grow Bag Sizes

I have used all three sizes, so read on to discover how well I liked them.
GardenMate 3-Pack 4 Gallons Planting ...GardenMate 3-Pack 8 Gallons Planting ...
$39.95  $19.95
Smart Pots Big Bag Bed Fabric Raised Bed
$36.70  $31.99

Do you use fabric pots?

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Yes, it's a great way to garden.
Veronica on 08/29/2015

I certainly do and I put a photo on Wizzley ( Preserving the best ) just this week of my rhubarb plants in canvas pots. I have a small garden and I think they are marvellous.

Southern Gardening Using Individual Fabric Pots

Buying more fabric bags to fill my little garden area.
Beginning a new garden in Florida
Beginning a new garden in Florida

Beginning a new garden in Florida

Buying new fabric potting bags.

I recently moved to the south where I must begin establishing my vegetable gardens all over again.  My son made a wood framed raised bed, but because it will be difficult to get a truckload of dirt to the area, I bought some fabric pots and bags of organic soil to begin planting.

Eventually I can empty the bags into the bed and build it up slowly.  In the meantime I already know that the black fabric bags work well for growing.  I've used them since 2013, so I believe my vegetables will grow nicely while protected inside that wooden barrier.  We have raccoons who come out at night and dig in everything, and the wooden sides of the bed seem to be keeping them out so far.

On this page I share my experience with the various size bags.  Some it was written when I lived in New Hampshire.

Recently I purchased the 7-Gallon size bags

These came in a set of five bags and the price is very reasonable.
The 7-Gallon size in my new Florida yard
The 7-Gallon size in my new Florida yard

The 7-Gallon Pack of Five is a good deal

This is a very good price and 7 Gallon bags will hold one tomato plant.
247Garden 5-Pack 7 Gallon Grow Bags /Aeration Fabric Pots w/Handles...
$23.95  $8.95

The Shorter Bags are Made by GardenMate

I love this option! I can use for herbs, garlic, or onions.
GardenMate 3-Pack 4 Gallons Planting Grow Bags Made Of Growth Frien...

The 3-Pack, 4-Gallon size bags

Why this size is perfect for certain vegetables and herbs

I love using the black bags because they are easy to fill and move around.  But often I wished I had a shorter bag for growing things like onions, garlic or herbs.

Now I have found just such a bag!  GardenMate offers a three-pack of the shorter, 4-gallon size bags and I recently purchased them.  I love that I don't have to use as much dirt, but can still grow vegetables.

Handles are a great addition to the grow bags, and if the bags are filled with loose loam and not heavy dirt, they can easily be moved.  (Move them before watering!)

Use the shorter bags to create a little flower garden and place it wherever color is needed!

New GardenMate Pots - I Bought the Shorter Size

This is one of the shorter 4-gallon grow bags
Growing cucumbers in a short pot
Growing cucumbers in a short pot

Follow my Florida gardening blog.

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I Began Using Fabric Pots at my Home in New Hampshire

A little background on my life in the north and why I was so happy to discover these grow bags.

When I moved into my new home in summer of 2011, I knew the yard was a mess, and gardening is my thing!  So my work was cut out for me.  I went to work planning for planting the following year and watched the placement of the sun so I'd know where to plant things.

After I ripped out some nasty blackberry bushes that had taken over the tiny backyard, I needed to dig down to the dirt to prepare the soil and get rid of the grass.  Using a pitchfork, I managed to create a small patch of dirt to plant a few tomatoes, cucumbers and squash in 2012.

I've been continuously adding garden space along that sunny strip of land, but unless I stay on top of it, the grass grows right back.  Creating all the good dirt space I wanted was going to take me years.  I don't have a wife in the house helping with homework and making supper while I garden!

So the idea of filling a pot with dirt and having a ready made space for planting sounded perfect to me.  Set it in a sunny spot and fill with either bags of dirt, your own compost, or delivered dirt.  The biggest bag will take a lot of dirt.  I decided to order a few yards of loam (garden soil).

Here is why I like to garden using bags:

  • Set up a garden in the best sunny location- anywhere.  It can be taken down later.
  • No rocks get in the way of digging or planting.
  • The soil warms quicker, which keeps plants happier.
  • It's virtually weed-free.
  • It's easier to get water straight to the roots.
  • Moles and other critters can't get to the roots.  Worms do appear!
  • Access the plants from all sides.

I have cats and they never go up into the bags to do their business, so that is another plus.

Growing Potatoes in Black Bags

Trying this again.

I tried growing potatoes in bags up in New Hampshire and all I got was a bunch of very small potatoes.  Also bugs ate the leaves.  I decided not to do that again.

Now, I am in Florida and I have planted red potatoes in two separate grow bags.  One is a 10-gallon size and the other is seven gallons.

This is how I am doing it (see my photo below), and it's really an experiment, which I will comment on when I dig them up.

1. Add a few inches of soil in the bottom (I use organic soil in a bag).

2. Cut potatoes with at least 2 budding eyes in each piece, and set 2-3 pieces into the bag

3. Cover with another few inches of soil.

4. As the potatoes grow, cover the green stems leaving just the top sticking out, until the bag is full of dirt.

5. The green leaves will eventually die and this is when the potatoes are ready to dig.

My potatoes growing in Florida this year (March)

Growing Potatoes in the 7-Gallon Pot Size
Growing Potatoes in the 7-Gallon Pot Size

Use the Right Size Pot For Growing

If you know about growing a vegetable garden, you can probably figure out which veggies will grow best in which size pot.  For those who aren't sure, I'll give you advice from what I've learned by using these pots over the years.

The Extra Large Bags (see mine below):  Grow just about anything except tomatoes in this size bag.  The bag is too short to add a tomato cage, or stakes, to hold the plants up, unless they are added to the ground outside the bag.  A zucchini will take over the bag, so plan on growing just zucchini if you choose to do so.  I like the large bags for grouping a number of smaller growing veggies like peppers, parsley, celery, onions and garlic (around the edges).  You could even throw a flowering plant into the mix.

The Medium Size (7-10 gallon): I've grown potatoes in these with success.  You won't get a big yield, but the bags work, and can be dumped out to collect the potatoes.  Beans, peas, carrots and any long rooted vegetables work well in this size, but they won't hold a lot of seeds.  In fact the 7-gallon bags with handles I have linked to on this page are nice and tall.  I have one tomato plant in a few of mine this year.  Don't overcrowd the bags.

The Shorter Bags:  I have just discovered this size and I'm thrilled.  They are perfect for any vegetable that doesn't need a deep bag.  Think lettuce, onions, garlic, or most herbs.  Use less dirt and the bags can be moved easily.

 

In the Beginning.... Ready to Plant - Spring 2014 in New Hampshire

These are the extra large garden bed bags. See how it filled in with veggies in the photo below!
Extra large garden bags can stay put through winter.
Extra large garden bags can stay put through winter.

Mid-Summer 2014 My Big Bag is Overflowing

Large bag filled with veggies
Large bag filled with veggies

Growing Garlic and Zucchini

I had these two raised beds in another area and everything grew wonderfully.
Garlic and Zucchini
Garlic and Zucchini

Buy the Extra Large Size Grow Bag

Buy this one at Amazon. It comes with handles, but I doubt it could be moved once full of dirt. Maybe it could be dragged if partially full.
Large Grow Bag Raised Bed with Handles, 1 Pack, 100 Gallon by Boots...
Only $29.99

Mistakes I Made, and Changes I made in my northern garden.

Yes, I made mistakes while planting.  Live and learn is a good motto.  I had too many tomato plants (which I blame on the nursery because they sold them in 6-packs!).  And I hate to discard a decent, growing plant.  So I put tomatoes everywhere I could.  And I had too many of them growing in the big bag bed.

In fact I will not plant tomatoes in the fabric beds again.  They are not deep enough to hold a trellis or stakes or cages.  So my advice is to not grow something that will need staking, unless you put the stakes in the ground outside the bed, OR use the taller, single bags and put one tomato plant in each. Stakes can go outside the bag to help hold the tall vines.

My Beans Did Very Well (New Hampshire)

I will plant more beans this year. They need post (or the deck rails) to climb.
Green Beans in a 10-Gallon Bag
Green Beans in a 10-Gallon Bag

Yes, to Carrots (New Hampshire)

I never have any luck with carrots but they did pretty well in a bag. Even with the over-crowding.
Carrots
Carrots

Each Garden Season is a Bit of an Experiment

I'm still getting used to planting my vegetables in grow bags.

I love that I can move the fabric pots.  Finding enough sun in my tree-filled New Hampshire yard, is my biggest challenge.

This past winter a tree had bent over the yard from heavy snow, and it never righted itselft.  Come spring, the leaves filled out and it completely shaded one of my big bags.  I had to remove the dirt and move the bag to use it for planting.

In fall 2014 I planted garlic bulbs around the edge of one bag and left it up over winter.  In New England we plant garlic in October and harvest it the following summer.

As you can see in the photo below, my garlic looks wonderful.  (Tall spiky plants.)   And it turned out to be excellent.  I let it dry inside my patio green house in the shade, and had garlic to eat all summer!

About the big potting bed

It may look small, but it holds a lot of dirt, as you will see when filling it!

The black fabric potting bed is a great size to create a raised garden you want to keep in one place year after year.  It's the perfect size for growing peppers, eggplant, celery, onions, parsley, garlic, or a couple of zucchini / squash plants.

Of course it could be emptied out and moved, if needed, but in New Hampshire I left mine up over the winter and began in spring by adding amendments to the soil.

One of the very nice things about using this type of bed is the relative absence of grass and weeds.  Some will pop up, but none can creep in from the yard.  Also, fertilizer stays within the boundary of the bed and won't seep away from the crops.  The same will happen when watering.  The black color brings extra warmth to the soil, which will keep plants happy and growing well.

 

Tomato Fail!

Not enough space, and can't keep them staked up.
My Big Fabric Bed - Summer 2013
My Big Fabric Bed - Summer 2013

My Backyard With The Big Grow Bags in Place

They can be left up over the winter
My raised beds have been planted - Spring 2013
My raised beds have been planted - Spring 2013

The Orbit Brand Spray Nozzle is an Excellent Choice

Mine doesn't' have that awesome thumb control like in my Amazon link above, but I love it.
My Orbit Sprayer
My Orbit Sprayer

Finally, a Great Spray Nozzle

I always dread buying spray nozzles for my outdoor hoses because they end up disappointing me.  Either the handle sticks or the spray choice ring is hard to turn, or something happens and I end up hating the thing.

While shopping locally I came across the last package of the Orbit sprayers.  It contained two types of spray nozzles and I needed two.  One is just a jet spray, which is perfect for the very back of the house where I need to clean off my kayaks, and the other has the typical spray options ring.

I haven't used the single jet sprayer yet, but the other nozzle is wonderful.  The ring is easy to turn and the sprays all do what they say.  The shower spray is gentle enough to water in the lettuce seeds I planted.  I'm very happy with this brand.

What is your experience with fabric pot gardening?

The first year, I emptied the dirt from my bags and put them away for winter.   I needed the dirt from the big bag to build up the back area of the house.   

The second year I did not empty the dirt and left the big bag and a few smaller ones filled over winter.  They did fine.  In spring I added some nutrients, like bonemeal and compost to stir into the dirt.  Snow did pack the big bag down a bit, but it was fine.

I now live in Florida, which is a completely different way of gardening, but I plan to use my fabric pots here too.

Updated: 03/03/2017, dustytoes
 
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Please share your gardening experiences.


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frankbeswick on 01/17/2015

jptanabe, your defence against groundhogs etc is plastic or nylon netting. Rabbits will burrow under fences, unless you use rabbit wire, which is a bit hard for you to out in, but they cannot burrow into pots. Deer be deterred by netting, but will attack young trees. Hogs are the most difficult. They can rip up netting, but pots that are solid and fixed, and covered with strong netting will provide some defence.

In Britain we have hogs, wild boar to be precise. You cannot handle them without a hunting rifle, as I am sure that you know. I don't know if your ground hogs are as bad as wild boar, but you have wild boar problems in parts of the United States as well.

Lay the netting as a ground, which will deter rabbits, but then ensure that you cover individual beds/pots with netting firmly fixed.

dustytoes on 01/16/2015

@jptanabe I am very happy with the fabric pots. I can't build a fence either. I don't bother to grow things that I'm sure would be eaten - like corn. It's trial and error. This past year all my tomatoes got a disease just as they were turning red! I was so discouraged. They were in the ground, and not in a pot. Live and learn. I now know about wilt and how to deal with it.

jptanabe on 01/16/2015

What a great idea! I'd love to grow more vegetables but the groundhogs, deer, rabbits and who knows what else tend to eat everything except tomatoes I grow in pots on top of buckets by my backdoor! I know a fenced in area would stop them, or at least most of them. But building a fence .... well.

RuthCox on 11/13/2014

I am really intrigued by these fabric bags for planting. I have a small yard and limited sunlight due to trees, but I am definitely going to try this come Spring.

sheilamarie on 08/09/2014

Sounds like a great idea for those with limited garden space.

dustytoes on 08/05/2014

It's a good idea to use the deeper pot for the crops you mention. I'll have to look for them. Thank you for that info.

kimbesa on 08/05/2014

We tried a deeper brand of pot, and first time for anything like these. We had tomatoes and potatoes in them. Because they are deep, we could stake the tomatoes. They have turned out well.

frankbeswick on 05/18/2014

There are about forty of us with plots there.

dustytoes on 05/18/2014

Thanks Frank for that additional info. The allotment sounds like a good idea. I will have to look into the community gardens around my area, but it's nothing like what you describe. It makes sense that you would get something for a structure on the land. Sounds like a good way for property owners to find income to pay their taxes and such on empty land. I certainly understand your being busy.
Other questions I would have (which you may or may not address in your article) are:
1. Do you pay year round even when it's winter and you can't grow anything?
2. Do you need permission and approval to add a structure or building?
3. How do you keep your gardens "safe" if you are not there to keep an eye on them?
4. Is your allotment next to another allotment, or is it one piece of land just for you?

Thanks all for the interesting conversation. Good luck with your garden too WordChazer.

WordChazer on 05/18/2014

Looking forward to reading from you when examination season is over, Frank. I worked one season for a University College and count myself lucky to have survived! I'll stick with audit administration for now, if it's all the same to my bosses... My deadline is in just over one calendar month/six weeks (20 June) so I'm likely to be scarce until then too. After that, boss has promised me TOIL so I shall be sitting at home writing furiously, listing eBays and tidying up the house as if my m-i-l was coming over *ahem*.


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