Thursday, May 8, 2014

Step by Step Method for Planting your Garden in a Bag

Gardening in a Bag Kenyan Style is being brought to you by Bridges International Development and thechurch.at.  Garden in a Bags allows people to share in similar growing experiences around the world and benefit from low-water high density planting methods. Fundamental to this project is awareness and prayer for the people of Kenya and the ongoing missions. We encourage you to pray while you are enjoying working your the Garden in a bag. As I have said before, I am honored to be asked to participate in this project by receiving the first grow bag from thechurch.at as well as sharing the adapted United States techniques with you.

If you have not previously read Garden in a Bag and Must Knows for Garden in a Bag I encourage you to read those before beginning.  There is nothing worse than having a garden fail, especially if it was easily prevented.

Materials Needed:
cutting bottom out of pot to make
 cylinder for Garden in a Bag

Feed Bag
Composted Cow Manure
Top Soil or Compost
Utility Knife
Plants
Water
Small Rocks (Pebbles 1/4 - 1inch varying in size. You can find these or buy these)
Cylinder (8 to 10 inches tall or more and 8 inches wide such as an old plastic pot with the bottom cut out or an old Folgers coffee canister with the bottom cut out)

Method:

Feed Bag with top folded in
First place your Feed Bag now repurposed as a Garden in a Bag in its location. You will need to fold the top 12 inches down inside itself. Our bags available here are much narrower than the ones used in Kenya and will topple over if you use them full size. You will flatten and round the bottom of the bag the best you can.

Rock Column inside of Garden in a Bag
Next place your cylinder flat on the bottom of the bag. You will fill the cylinder up with rocks. Pack the 50/50 mixture of Cow Manure and Top Soil or Compost (your preference) around your cylinder. I combined the mixture in the bag as I went. After your Manure/Soil mixture is even with the rocks, wiggle your cylinder up and fill the cylinder again with rocks. Then pack the Manure/ Soil mixture around the cylinder again.

You will repeat this process until you are within about 5 to 6 inches of the top of the bag. With my bag it took doing this procedure twice. Make sure you keep your rock column as straight as possible. If it moves on you a little it's not the end of the world. Just try and keep it lined up.


First 1/2 moon slit in bag
Once you have reached within 5 to 6 inches of the top of the bag wiggle your cylinder out and top the bag off with your Manure/Soil mixture.  Soak the bag with water. Watering down your center column of rocks. You won't see the rocks, but you know where they are. You will always water the bag in the center. This allows the water to percolate though the bag reaching all plant areas, as well as distributing the water most efficiently.

After thoroughly watering the bag you will be ready for planting!  You will use your utility knife to make small 2 inch 1/2 moon shaped slits in the bag. My slits ended up being a little big. I couldn't get my knife to turn when I wanted it to.  Leave about 4 square inches between moon slits.  I started at the top of my bag and went in a circle. I only made slits for plants I had. It is normal to see dirt water ooze from the moon slit. It means your dirt is wet and ready for a plant! 


Side view of Day 1
Garden in a Bag
Top view of Day 1
Garden in a Bag
In each 1/2 moon slit poke your fingers in or what ever tool you choose and poke the dirt back so you can transplant your plant inside. You can also plant seed if you choose.

 I had to roll my Sweet Pepper plant's roots around a bit in order to get them to fit inside the slit. I was gentle and they are doing fine. After a few days you will notice the plant start to turn upwards, making almost a C shape. This is also normal. Just continue around and down your bag staggering and spacing your plants. Keep in mind sunlight requirements.

You should plant the top of your Garden in a Bag. Don't plant in the center where the column of rocks is under the dirt however.

I planted my Ukrainian tomato off center and will trim it to manage the size. You can plant your bag as you go. I still have lots of room to plant in my Garden in a Bag. I will most likely plant one more ring, staggered by 4 square inches with Basil, Oregano and one more Pepper plant. The metal stick you see coming out of the top of the bag in the picture is only 8 inches long and was just in there temporarily holding up my tomato until I get my bamboo sticks out and make a teepee frame for the tomato. If you aren't planting tomatoes, you most likely won't need a stake.

If you realize later you made too many holes, or you no longer need one you can just flip the flap up. You may experience some dirt/water leakage from that location though.

Tips:

Remember to always water down the center column. You can use left over water if you like. For example I always seem to have leftover water in my water bottle at the end of the day. Over the past few days I have enjoyed walking out to the bag at the end of the day, praying, and then poring my water in.  The great thing about growing with this method is that it uses water very efficiently. You won't need to water it every day, and honestly your water needs will depend on what you plant.


Coming Next… How the Garden in a Bag is doing Week 2


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Must Knows for Garden in a Bag

If you haven't already read Garden in a Bag please check it out.
Kids building Garden in a Bag
The information that follows is what you need to know before starting your Garden in a Bag. The information below has been adjusted for the United States from the Kenyan method used there by Bridges International Development.

Just a bit of planning is needed in order to make sure that you bag is a success. Also, don't forget to include your kids. This is a great project to teach them about people around the world as well as an opportunity to pray with them!  My kids (2yrs and  8yrs) really enjoyed building this bag. In fact, if we are able to get plenty bags, they want to plant their very own.

Finding feedbags suitable for using as a Garden in a Bag

White bag is example of what you need for
 Garden in a Bag
The feed bags available in the United States are much smaller than Kenyan bags due to our unit of measurements being different. You will also want to be very cautious of the bag material.  Many birdseed bags or dog food bags look like they would work, but don't use them. The ones that I have found so far have a plastic outer coating that will not allow the water to percolate properly. The green bag in the photo is an example of what you don't want. It's fibers are tightly woven and it has a thick plastic outer coating.

You are looking for a bag most likely from a feed store or mill that has a loose weave of the plastic fibers without any additional plastic coating on the inside or outside. The white bag in the photo is an example of what you do want.

Burlap bags will not work for this method. They will deteriorate before the summer is over in most locations and disappoint you. They will also dry out too fast.

Remember, if you are local and able you probably will be able to receive a bag from thechurch.at’s mission department.

Placement of your Garden in a Bag
First, let me say that if you are in an apartment or rent house this low cost Garden in a Bag method will work great!  If you happen to be on the other end of the spectrum and are a home gardener with an expansive vegetable garden - you know who you are - you no longer have grass in your yard because it is all growing beds - this method is for you also!

Once you build your bag you will not be able to move it. The bag will have a center column of stones and be very heavy. This center column is vital for the bag to function properly and allow water to percolate though the entire bag. If you do manage to move your bag without ripping it most likely your center column will no longer be intact. 

Placement is key.  You will be planting the entire diameter of your bag. So if everything you plant needs full sun, you want to make sure that your bag will be in full sun throughout the day.  This means morning sun would get ½ your bag and evening sun would shine on the other ½ giving you the full 6-8 hours of sun many garden vegetables need.  If you will only have partial sun then think about planting herbs or lettuces on the side that will receive limited sun. Limited sun will keep lettuces and herbs from bolting, especially when the summer gets hot.

Plants for your Garden in a Bag
This low-water high density planting method is great! You only have a couple of limiting factors, sunlight, and in the United States (due to bag size) plant size. If you would like to grow a tomato in your bag you will want to grow it in the top and use a patio variety or else plan on limiting it’s growth.  Remember that you probably don’t want your top plant shading your others (unless that is in your plan). 

This bag will hold a ton of plants. My initial planting I had 7 plants to put in thinking that would come close to filling it up. I didn’t do any calculations – math just isn’t my favorite.  Needless to say, I will be going back with at least 6 or 7 more plants.  I started with a Ukrainian Purple Tomato, 2 Bell Peppers, 2 Mini Sweet Peppers, and 2 Strawberries. I plan to add Oregano and Black Opal Basil, Sweet Basil and possibly another Bell Pepper.
 
Excess Food
Most likely you will grow excess food. What do I mean by this, food that will spoil before you have a chance to use it. Please grow what you need and then be sure to share the rest! What a great a great way to start a conversation with that neighbor that maybe you've never talked with than giving them some of your fresh home grown garden vegies. Also, many food banks desperately need your donation, no matter what the size. If you are unsure of where to take your donation check out Ample Harvest. Food banks from around the country have signed up requesting home gardeners donations.

Prayer
Each time you go out to work in your Garden in a Bag pray for the people, the missions in Kenya and Bridges International Development.


Coming Next… Step by Step Method for planting your Garden in a Bag


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Garden in a Bag

In Kenya, Bridges International Development is combating hunger by teaching people how to grow their food in bags. These are nothing other than feed bags used for livestock or grain that have been repurposed. Bridges has partnered with thechurch.at to share this agricultural technique and raise awareness for the missions in Kenya. I am honored to be asked to participate in this project by receiving the first grow bag from thechurch.at and sharing the adapted United States techniques with you.

http://bridgesid.org/economic-development/garden-in-a-bag/
Bridges with a Kenyan and his Garden in a Bag
The key motive behind bringing the Garden in a Bag project to the United States is to pray for the ongoing missions in Kenya and for people to share similar experiences while growing in the bags.

With many parts of the US now facing lingering drought just as in Kenya and water being so precious, often even rationed, this low-water growing technique is extremely beneficial.

You can participate in this project a few ways. Prayer for the missions and people of Kenya while working the bags and for the project is key. If you are close to one of the thechurch.at's locations (Tulsa, OK or Dupage, IL) then contact the mission's department and as grow bags are available you can pick one up and get started. The feed bags are donated to the church as they are emptied, so quantities available will vary.  If they happen to be out of bags currently or you aren't close I will give you tips on locating a bag suitable to grow in on the next post.  

Coming next... How to set up and plant your garden in a bag


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Photo Courtesy of  Bridges International Development's website

 

Monday, September 23, 2013

The best food dehydrator for herbs!

Fresh herbs are a real treat in the summer, but when fall arrives out comes the food dehydrator! Dehydrating the herbs that I grow over the summer gives me access to wonderful tastes all winter long. The best part is that I know how they were grown, so I know exactly what I'm adding to my food... Pesticide Free Goodness!

Let me show you how I dehydrate Basil. This is one of my favorite herbs to grow and use. It is also often thought to be one of the trickiest herbs to dehydrate.  I'm going to bust that thought and show you how easy Basil is to dehydrate properly.

Materials needed:
Food Dehydrator (I highly recommend the Nesco FD-80A Square-Shaped Dehydrator Amazon Frustration-Free Packaging)
Fresh Basil
Kitchen Towel
Zip Lock Bag

Method:

Rinse Basil leaves 
Pick your Basil from the plant and collect leaves in a bucket or colander.  Rinse leaves under running water while in the bucket. Just a quick soak and spray on the bucket of leaves, you don't need to hand wash every one of them. Then dump the bucket of rinsed leaves on a kitchen towel. Spread them out, allowing them to dry off. I have mounds of leaves and just move them around on the towel while waiting their turn for the dehydrator.


Lump Basil Leaves on Dehydrating Tray
Next you are going to place your leaves on dehydrator trays. How you do this part depends on your dehydrators quality and ability. If you have the square NESCO this is so easy - just lump handfuls of leaves on the tray. If you have another type of dehydrator you may need to place the leaves only one layer thick with room around each leave for air circulation. This method is not needed for the NESCO. Just lump the leaves on the trays and stack them up.


Dehydrated Basil Leaves
Next set the temperature, plug it in and come back in 6 hours. I set the NESCO for 135 degrees. It has a herb setting on the machine, but I've always used the fruit setting. After 6 hours come back, check your leaves for crunchiness, unplug your machine and dump your leaves into a Ziplock Bag. Keep drying leaves until you run out.

Now you have the option to crush he dehydrated leaves or store them in a bag, an air tight shareable container, or what ever method you desire.

Happy dehydrating!
 
This is the product that I personally use.  It dehydrates all sorts of foods and has a large capicity for a very low price.  You also have the ability to purchase additional trays. I highly recommend this product.
 

Monday, September 9, 2013

Organic Pest Control using Frogs

Organic Pest Control using Frogs!
I love natures little surprises... 

Can you find the little frog hiding on the leaf of my pepper plant?  I found him just as I was about to pick these bell peppers. The peppers have been grown using organic methods --- and this little guy is an example of that.

By not using pesticides I am able to preserve natures balance. When pesticides are used in the garden, often frogs are driven away and made sick to the point of death.

Find more organic gardening tricks, cost saving methods and fun gardening projects with kids on this website.


Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Basil, the Unexpected Flower Arrangement

Create uniquely aromatic and visually interesting flower arrangement with Basil. Use the herb Basil by itself or mix it in with other flowers for several weeks of interest. White flowers slowly open toward the tip as time passes. Mix different varieties to create different aromas and contrasting leaf colors increase visual interest.
Sweet and Spicy Basil flower arrangement 
I grow both sweet and spicy Basil. I like to mix them in arrangements for the color contrast  as well as the scent combination. The primary reason I grow Basil is for use in cooking, but come to my house and you will find bouquets of Basil tucked away in various parts of the house.  Just rustle the leaves when ever you pass for your custom scent combination to be released over the next hour or so.

All you need to do is snip some stems that are close to flowering. Then place the stems in a glass or vase and presto, you have a quick flower arrangement to keep or share with friends.

Also, by snipping the stems and keeping the flower from blooming on the plant you keep the plant young and flavorful while at the same time encouraging bushiness.

Typically you grow Basil from seed, however I have found that you can also take a cutting from a non blooming stem and in about a week you will have roots.  Just keep refreshing the water for a few weeks and then you can plant the stem with roots and leaves in a potting mix. This produces a larger plant quicker, but you must have a Basil plant already established before you can use this method of propagating.

These are the two varieties I grow and share.
 
 
 
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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Organically Make a New Garden Bed

Expanding or creating a new garden bed can be simple and quick if you use these quick easy steps.  You don’t need to dig up grass, spray weed killer, or break your back. This is a simple, organic, zero digging garden bed method!

This is an update on a previous post titled No Dig Garden Bed Method.  I have tried a few more tricks and have found ways to speed up the process of getting garden beds ready for planting. I also have pictures from different beds using slightly different techniques over different time spans.

Materials Needed:
Newspapers (No Slicks) Black & White preferable
Rake
Water/hose
Weed eater – if available
Manure or Compost – enough for a depth of 1 minimum
Mulch – enough for a depth of 1 to 2 inches
Non Windy Day


Method:
Cut Grass & Weed, No Need to Dig
If available use a weed eater to cut the grass or weeds down to the ground.  Rake the debris in a pile away from your new bed (you can save and use in your compost pile).  If you don't have a weed eater, just rake your weeds flat and as many away as possible.  You the want the newspaper lay as flat as possible on the ground.
Dig Free Garden Bed Method
Use a garden hose to wet the area that will be your bed.  Now you are going to place newspaper in crisscross overlapping fashion over the entire area.  You want sections overlapping sections. Each section should be 10 or more pages thick.  You don’t have to count pages; you don’t even have to unfold them if you don’t want, just place them around in thick chunks. 
Before you get too far, squirt some water on the freshly laid paper. If you happen to get a breeze the papers won’t blow away. Continue until you have covered your entire area with newspaper. Make sure the entire area is fully covered or you will have weeds pop through in that spot.
If it looks like you have a Paper Mache flower bed you did a great job! This is your weed barrier and eventually the grass roots and weeds underneath will die. 
Have you ever sat something on your lawn for too long and the grass and plants underneath died?  You are accomplishing the same thing with the newspaper, a free weed barrier and in many cases better than what you buy at the store.   You can do this around existing plants or shrubs if you wish.  Just realize that the grass will grow towards the hole left for the shrub and you will have some weeding to do.
Organically Made Garden Bed at 3 months
Next you are going to put down either compost or manure. What you choose to put down depends on what you may have on hand and what you want to plant in your bed. How much of it you put down depends on your time frame.  If you want to plant seeds or starts immediately then you are going to need to put down 3 to 4 inches of compost and pasteurized manure mix then top with 1 inch of mulch. Don’t mulch where you place your seed. 
If you have a bit more time then you can get away with 1 to 2 inches of compost or manure and 1inch of mulch.  Of course if you can put more compost/manure mix in your bed the better your plants will be in the future.  Water your bed thoroughly after you have mulched.  Make sure to immediately pull any weeds that may appear.  The only weeds I have had were ones that jumped or went under my edging and are at the edge of the bed, making them quite easy to pull.
Organic Garden Bed Method at 10 months
Result:
The newspaper along with the manure/compost and mulch block all light and will kill any weeds or grass trapped below. The newspaper will gradually break down over the next 8 months to year with the manure mixing in leaving you a nice healthy bed to plant in.
Tip:
Pull weeds as they appear. You will likely see them hop your edging or surface just at the edge.  You shouldn't see any in your bed, unless you used this method around existing trees or shrubs.
This method also works well to prevent weeds if you plan to build a raised bed.
 
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