Instructables
Picture of A garden in a sack
We made a garden in a burlap coffee sack to demonstrate a simple way to garden when you don't have much space (the link is to engineeringforchange.org's sack garden how-to guide). These garden sacks are popping up in impoverished urban neighborhoods in Kenya and other developing countries. They also work in small yards or on apartment balconies.

We took tips for our how-to guide from Appropedia's and Gardens for Health's bag garden pages and Send a Cow's video tutorial for making a bag garden in Uganda. This is how we did it.
 
Remove these adsRemove these ads by Signing Up

Step 1: Materials, tools and build time

Picture of Materials, tools and build time
Sack-garden-2.JPG
Materials
*1 burlap coffee sack. Feed sacks and food aid sacks work, too, as would any large bag.
*3 cubic feet of soil. We used organic compost, but a soil-manure mixture would work, as would compost from an ecological toilet, a household waste compost bin or any nutrient-rich soil.
*Gravel. *A large yogurt container with the bottom cut out. Coffee cans or other similar-sized containers also work.
*Starter plants. We planted serrano and habnero chiles, sweet potato, sweet pepper and two kinds of basil.

Tools
*Utility knife.
*Trowel or shovel (optional)

Build time
We spent about one hour gathering the materials and 1.5 hours putting it together the first time. It could go much faster once you know what you're doing.

I plant my potatoes in burlap sacks. It's easy to hill them as they grow taller and at the end of the season, just dump out the soil onto a tarp to harvest the potatoes. The sacks usually only last one season but it works really well.

I've actually used the recyclable shopping bags from the grocery store to do this in the past and they lasted over a year here on the very wet West coast. I grew beautiful eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes, and sweet peas. One of the benefits of the grocery bags were the handles that made them easy to move them around. Great kid's project too!
Good plant choices. Bet that was delicious.
bfoster42 years ago
Nice instructable. I have a Kona Mountain Thunder bag hanging at the roastery, thats one of the cooler ones.

If you're looking for bags, find a local coffee roaster and ask them for bags. Most have tons of empties, and will give them away for free.

Many Brazilian coffees are shipped in bags made of plastic fibers that will stand up a lot longer, and the jute ones make great compost.
gegn bfoster42 years ago
Could I buy a Kona Mountain Thunder bag from you? I can't seem to locate one in Manhattan.
Engineering for Change (author)  gegn2 years ago
Ha. I made this in Oahu where I live (I'm E4C's news reporter) and I got the sack from one of my neighbors. E4C's headquarters is in Manhattan, though, if you were wondering.

If you don't mind having one that's not Kona specifically, I just googled "burlap coffee sacks" and found a place that sells them online:

http://www.onlinefabricstore.net/landscape-and-garden/landscape-garden-and-nursery/burlap-and-burlap-bags/burlap-bags.htm?gclid=CM3auOP91a8CFQJ9hwodilFDDg
shibuza2 years ago
I live in central Florida, and have been using plastic bags to plant in for several years now. The various types of plastic hold up to the semi tropical sun differently. The typical plastic grocery bag with handles only last 4-6 months until they fall to pieces unless shielded from direct rays (packed closely together &/or shaded by vegatation) By then the roots have bound the dirt fairly well & the entire mass can be slid into another bag if needed. I like the translucent bags from cereal boxes and the aluminized potato chip bags better as they hold up to UV better. Can get up to 2 years use from them.
I MOSTLY use small bags (Ramen noodle, Saltine cracker tubes cut in 1/2 & granola bar bags) to plant seeds & seedlings in until large enough to transplant into the garden ...square foot gardening style.
Just finishing planting about 350 red onions started like that... size varied from 4-10" high & bulbs up to golf ball size. Tomatoes up to 12" tall.
Engineering for Change (author)  shibuza2 years ago
That sounds interesting. It sounds like a good use of materials that are normally just tossed out.
jjmcgaffey2 years ago
You may find that you've given your plants _too_ rich a soil - most composts are designed to be mixed in small amounts (10-50%) into soil, rather than being the planting medium themselves. I checked the one you showed, and it doesn't say specifically how much to use, but it does say to work it into the soil - http://preview.tinyurl.com/8ypgla9 . If the leaves start looking burned in spots around the edges, that will be the problem (though that happens more often with liquid fertilizer than with compost). If so, I'd get some potting soil (without any fertilizer in it - which is hard to find these days!) and try to mix it in gently, without disturbing the roots too much. Or, if you decide it needs this soon, before their roots have grown too much, pull the plants out (gently!), mix in the soil, replant the plants.
Good tip, thanks. I haven't seen that, yet, but I'm looking for it now. By now all of the plants are doing well, actually, and one of the chile peppers has already made buds. There is another houseplant that shows the burning that you mentioned, though, and now I know why. Thanks!
Judith7562 years ago
Great ible, was just looking at this idea on a smaller scale on another site, but like this one much more.Your pictures are very nice and clear.
Thanks!!
mobiledeb2 years ago
Another amazing garden idea. Thank you.
sniffydogs2 years ago
If you're anywhere near a coffee roaster, just ask. Where I live they toss them out. Great Instructable!
panakanic2 years ago
These would only need to last through one growing season, especially if you have a ready supply of bags. A lot of folks buy large bags of dogfood, etc. and those would work... That said, I'm thinking about growing potatoes this way. Thing how easy harvest would be: just dump them out! Great idea, thanks for posting!
mamalaoshi2 years ago
How long does the sack last for once it is being used as a garden and watered? Is it something you redo every year or does it last a little longer?
I'm hoping the burlap sack lasts a year, but this is an experiment with it. I've read that plastic feed sacks last a year.
This might last a year, depending on UV rays and water requirements.



If you use a plastic sack inside a burlap one, it will last longer than a year.



I love the look you've created!
Good tip, thanks!

The look you mentioned might be that way in part because of the photos. I shot it on the "pinhole" setting of an Olympus PEN EP-2 with the fixed 28mm-equivalent lens, if you were interested. Love that camera.
vaggelas2 years ago
Nice and beautiful idea,but i don't think the burlap will last a year.Burlap is very nice material but i think it has to be dry to last.
I use burlap sacks and a season i left a few outside in the winter and they were all destroyed in a couple of months.
Maybe Hdpe Monofilament net sacks will last much longer(not so pretty though as burlap)
I was definitely going for aesthetics with the burlap, not durability. Plus, it was easier because that's what we had on hand. I'll try to remember to update this when it breaks down to give an idea of how long it lasts.
Pro

Get More Out of Instructables

Already have an Account?

close

PDF Downloads
As a Pro member, you will gain access to download any Instructable in the PDF format. You also have the ability to customize your PDF download.

Upgrade to Pro today!