Earth Bag Garden

When we bought our house over twenty years ago I was so excited that I had a little over two and one half acres of lawn that I could turn into a garden. Before we had even settled in and the paint was dry, I had borrowed a rototiller and started to turn the soil for the garden. There was an open area of the lawn that got lots of sun, so the garden was positioned there to maximize the light. I knew that there were a few blue spruce trees relatively close to the garden spot, but, as they were no more than 10 to 12 feet tall, I figured that it would be quite awhile before the trees caused a shade problem on the garden. Last summer, it became clear that the spruce trees were casting a long, dense shadow over the garden, and, although the potatoes managed to grow with less sun, the harvest was less than expected.

So, during the long winter months, I formulated a plan that would allow me to relocate the garden as soon as the weather broke, and, hopefully, yield a better harvest than the summer before.

As the gardening catalogues began to arrive in early January, I started my research to figure out how to make a garden in the front of the house that was attractive and capable of high yields.

As I thumbed through my new Growers Supply catalogue I saw that they offered bags that could be filled with soil and used in a variety of unique ways, to grow vegetables, herbs, and ornamentals. They can be hung and planted by cutting slits into it and planting, contoured to level uneven ground, placed on roofs, again by cutting slits and planting, and used to control erosion on slopes...the possibilites were almost endless!

As I looked at my new garden plot out front which had a slight slope, I decided to give earth bags a try.

I searched for a local top soil supplier and staked out the plot according to my master plan of turning the whole front into a series of smaller plots, each specializing in an assortment of plantings such as herbs, fruits, and, of course, vegetables. I found a supplier that would deliver for $24.00 per yard with a $40.00 delivery fee. I estimated that it would take 4 yards of top soil, so I placed my order and was told that it would cost $147.50. We agreed upon a delivery date and I prepared by gathering my materials for the job ahead, which included:
earth bags,
twine and stakes (I use bamboo plant stakes),
plastic zip ties to close up the bag ends, and,
a funnel made from an old plastic pot with the bottom cut out of it big enough to fit the bag opening.
An elastic cord is handy to help keep the bag on the funnel.
Straw bales (available at local feed & Grain and livestock supply stores)
Strong fence stakes
Strong Deer Netting (available in 100 foot rolls at the hardware store)
7 foot bamboo poles, or other poles suitable for supporting the netting

I did the final stake out of the garden, which measured 40 feet by 10 feet and placed the empty bags around the perimeter in order to get a visual estimate of how many bags would be required and where they would be placed. I had just enough bags for one layer, so I had to make it count.

The top soil arrived on May 26, and as I took out the cash to pay the owner/delivery man, he said his cash price would be $120.00! Since he was able to gingerly back the truck up and dump the soil in the exact location, I was overjoyed and tipped him $15.00!

At Long Last, Construction Begins!

I placed a bag in the wheelbarrow with the open end accessible and propped up along the front, slanted side of the wheelbarrow facing the top soil pile. I slipped the home made funnel into the opening of the bag and placed the elastic cord around the top of the bag, holding the funnel and bag in place. The funnel was made of a plastic pot the right sixe to fit into the bag with the bottom cut out. As I added each shovel full of soil into the funnel, I lifted the bag to allow the soil to shift down the bag to the bottom, tapping and adjusting the bottom of the bag to the back of the wheel barrow. With each shovel full, the bags grew...and became heavier. Be careful to keep the bags in the center of the wheel barrow to keep it from tipping as the bags get heavier. When the bag got as long as required, or I ran out of bag, I twisted the open end shut and secured it with a zip tie. As I placed each bag, I tucked the closed end under so that it would not be seen. With the help of my husband, we were able to fill all of the bags, place them and fill the bed evenly with the rest of the top soil in one afternoon.

In New York, if you want a garden, you need a fence!

Because I only had enough bags for one layer, the garden still had a bit of a downhill slant, so, to help with erosion and adhere to the "No Bare Earth" policy, I covered the whole bed with a layer of straw. This mulch helps keep weeds down and hold moisture in the soil. Do not make the straw layer too thick as it will not allow for water to penetrate and reach the soil.

Before I could plant anything, I had to build a fence around the bed to keep the abundant deer, woodchucks, rabbits and squirrels away from the plants. I measured out from the edge of the garden, placing sturdy metal stakes at the corners and at even intervals around the garden plot. I used heavy duty deer netting around the entire perimeter, overlapping at the two short ends to form a gate, of sorts.

To support this netting I used 7 foot bamboo poles woven into the mesh of the netting that I bought from Gardeners Supply, which was strong enough to support the heavier netting and zip-tied the poles to the stakes. Allow one foot or so at the bottom of the fence to stake down. I placed bamboo poles along the bottom extra edge of the net close to the metal stakes, and, using cheap tent stakes, I secure the bottom edge of the long sections of the fence to help keep out the rabbits. Rocks, bricks, logs, or anything heavy along the edge will work, too.

I planted my heirloom seeds and bought some rosemary, oregano, and thyme plants and heirloom tomato starts, and, before you know it...a garden was born. I placed the two trellises for the climbing pole beans and cucumbers and planted the seeds. I placed stepping stones to aid in planting and harvesting, which will allow me access to the center of the garden plot without compressing the soil in the bed with my footprints.

This is the results as of June 10, 2011, a month after our last average frost date for this area.

Check out the progress of the Earth Bag Garden in July here.

Check out the Earth Bag Garden in August here.