Ways of Growing Vegetables – Growing Bags
Different Ways of Growing Vegetables
You will find on this site, all the different growing systems that you as a gardener are likely to come across and use for growing your vegetables..
Although you can adapt more or less any container to grow some sort of vegetable, the growing-bag is certainly the one that I would recommend, especially for beginners. They have been made to a specification and are streets ahead of anything you can make up yourself.
Although growing-bags for gardeners were introduced in the mid-1970s, it’s surprising how many people still have problems with them. They’ll quite happily grow plants of all sorts in pots, tubs, window boxes and but can’t get the idea into their head that a growing bag is simply another sort of container; for which exactly the same rules and techniques apply.
What to Grow
As far as vegetables are concerned, virtually all can be grown in bags but, obviously, some are far more suitable than others. Some people think it necessary to compare the cost of the bag with the value of the crop. However; because bags sometimes represent the only way in which you can grow any vegetables in an otherwise floral garden, this isn’t always as important as it might at first appear to be. Anyway, most growing-bags cost less than a pint of beer.
Clearly, one would still aim at growing the higher priced vegetables and, without a doubt, tomatoes are the most popular. Peppers and aubergines (egg plants) are also easy but don’t try to grow them outdoors in the open; whatever you may hear; they just aren’t a success. A cold greenhouse is probably the best place, though tall cloches can also work.
Sow peppers and aubergines as and when you would tomatoes. Prick them out straight into small (3-½ in /9cm) pots and then into one just over 4-½ in/11 cm. Both will naturally form bushy plants but aubergines are sometimes reluctant to send out side shoots so the tops should be pinched out when they’re about 6in (15cm) tall. They should be planted in the bags at the same stage as you would tomatoes, when the first flowers are open. Help pollination by tapping the stems to release the pollen – again, as you would tomatoes.
The business of drainage probably raises more queries than anything else but really it’s quite simple. There should only be a need to make arrangements for drainage if, for some reason completely unrelated to growing-bags, you simply cannot get the hang of watering and perpetually give far too much. Under these circumstances, a few slits 1 in (2.5cm) long can be made in the side of the bag just below the overhang. Even this, though, should only be done as a last resort.
Holes made in the base of the bag lead to the need for more watering and feeding during the summer and, in the case of tomatoes, you run the risk of the roots growing out into possibly diseased.
The actual watering is also sometimes a sticking point with beginners; but this applies equally to pots and most other types of container. Correct watering is really the secret of success with growing-bags and it’s perfectly simple. There is also plenty of latitude as to the amount of water that a bag should be given; it isn’t at all critical.
The initial watering after planting should usually be about a gallon, (4-½ litres). You shouldn’t need to look at them for a week then, unless it’s terribly hot. More detailed advice is sometimes given in the bag’s instructions but, even then, the dampness of thewill determine just how much is needed. Just try to avoid having the plants swimming.
Always avoid extremes of sopping wet and bone dry; that’s bad for any plant. The real way to master the watering is to pay attention to the dampness of the compost. If about the top inch is dryish, give water; if not, don’t bother.
Always water thoroughly; it should never be necessary to give less than about half a gallon (2-1/4 litres) and you can even wait until it will take a whole gallon. Keeping the compost evenly damp at all times is the aim, to which one must add that the plants should always have as much water as they need.
A few years ago you could buy a bag-sized plastic tray with 1 – 2 in (2.5-5cm) high sides and ribs in the bottom. You made three slits in the bottom of the bag and wicks of capillary matting were pushed in, leaving a couple of inches hanging out. The bag was then planted up, placed on the ribs and watered. A few days later the tray was filled with water. The wicks dangled in it and were able to absorb water and pass it into the compost.
Couldn’t be easier and it worked like a charm. Perhaps It was too cheap to be profitable but it was one of the finest aids to gardening in growing-bags ever devised. There should be a good market awaiting a similar product but, in the mean time, a shallow trough scraped out of the soil, lined with polythene and with three bricks placed in the bottom should work almost as well.
How Many Plants?
The number of plants per bag sometimes presents difficulties, if it isn’t in the instructions. Lengthy research at Levingtons showed that the best number of tomato plants is three per bag when grown in the greenhouse and four when grown in the open. For other plants it is largely a matter of common sense but here are some examples, including a couple of fruits: runner beans, 8;, 3; and , 2; lettuces, 6-8; peppers and aubergines, 3; melons, 2-3 according to variety; strawberries, 10.
Supporting tall crops can be puzzling. However; if the bags are standing on soil, have plants toward the back of the bag and push in canes behind them outside the bag.
When on concrete at the base of a fence or wall, nails can be driven in level with the ends of the bag (or row of bags) 3-4ft (0.9-1.2m) above them. Wire is then drawn across between the nails and soft twine suspended from this above each plant and lightly tied to the stem.
There are also several proprietary devices that work very well but it is usually found that a little ingenuity is equally effective. A good system is to stand the bags on planks to the back of which are secured canes opposite each plant. This is especially handy because the bags are put on the planks at planting time and kept in the greenhouse for as long as is necessary without the risk of disturbing anything when (or if) they are moved outdoors.
When it comes to feeding it is difficult to lay down rules because different makes of bag need different treatments. This is because the amount and type of nutrient already in the compost, its persistence and the trace element status vary.
All that can really be said about feeding is that you should use a well-known brand of liquid feed and follow the instructions on the feed container. These are sometimes at odds with those on the bags but, because feeds vary in strength, I prefer to stick to the ones on the feed rather than the sometimes rather loose ones on the bags. The simplest advice is really to buy the same make of bag and feed; that way, they’re sure to agree.
Re-Using Growing Bags
Something that is often asked about growing bags is whether they can be used for a second year?The answer has to be yes and no.
Let us say that you used the bags originally for growing tomatoes. By the end of the season, their plant food content will be completely unknown. Added to that, the compost will be run through with roots and as hard as an old mattress. Physically and chemically, therefore, the growing-bags will bear no resemblance to new ones. There’s also the very real risk that there are root diseases in the compost. The prevention of soil-borne diseases was, after all, how the growing bag came about.
Put all this together and you’ll see that growing long-term crops, such as tomatoes, cucumbers, melons, peppers and aubergines in ‘second-hand’ bags just isn’t sensible. On the other hand, if the compost in the bag is chopped up and broken down, then the bag can certainly be used again for a short-term crop. This could be something like lettuces,, herbs, spring flowering bulbs or even strawberries. In fact, and as a slight diversion from vegetables, strawberries do very well in a once-used growing-bag, better than in a new one, because of the abundant potash and comparative lack of nitrogen.
Bulbs such as, hyacinths and can also be planted after the main crop has been pulled out in the autumn. The compost doesn’t really even need to be broken up, though it does help with planting.
Conversely, a short-term crop can be grown in a new bag in the autumn/winter to be followed by the main crop in the spring or early summer. It must be said, though, that this is less satisfactory.
Another frequent query concerns the uses to which the old compost can be put once a bag has been finished with. Broadly speaking, it has all the uses that peat has, except one. You can dig it into the garden, use it as a mulch, even brush it into the lawn as a top-dressing. The only thing you shouldn’t use it for is in place of new peat in home-made seed or potting compost. It isn’t sterile any longer andgrown in it can easily suffer.
Personally, I sieve the growing bag compost after use, store it over the winter and then rake it into the top 1-2 in (2.5-5cm) of soil in the spring at Sowing time. It makes all the difference to the speed and quality of germination and the seedlings are strong.