A Garden in a Sack




About: E4C’s mission is to improve the lives of underserved communities by better preparing the global development workforce, optimizing the solutions development cycle, and ensuring public health and safety.

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 urban neighborhoods in Kenya and other emerging economies. They work in small yards or on apartment balconies just about anywhere in the world.

We took tips for our how-to guide from Appropedia's and Gardens for Health's bag garden pages (no longer up) and Send a Cow's video tutorial for making a bag garden in Uganda (no longer up). This is how we did it.

Step 1: Materials, Tools and Build Time

*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.

*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.

Step 2: Begin Making the Center Column of Gravel and Fill the Bag

Start by putting a shallow layer of soil in the bottom of the sack, place the yogurt container (or coffee can or a similar container) in the center and fill it with gravel.

Shovel the soil around the rock-filled container and fill out the sack to the edges. When the soil reaches the top of the container, pull it up gently, leaving the rocks in a column in the center. Repeat until the bag is full with a center column of gravel. The column is for drainage and water distribution throughout the sack.

Tip: In hindsight, wire mesh (ckicken wire) or (maybe) a wide PVC pipe (or some other material that makes a cylinder) would make it easier to create the central column of gravel. Shape the wire into a long cylinder, put it upright on the bottom of the bag, fill it with gravel then fill in the bag with dirt around the thing. You could leave the wire mesh inside when you're finished. And if you used a PVC pipe, you would have to pull it out when the bag is full of dirt.

Step 3: Plant It

Plant the top of the sack. You can plant herbs, veggies, flowers or whatever you want that you think will thrive in this space.

Tip: Try putting root crops on top and leafy vegetables and herbs in the sides.

Step 4: Plant the Sides

Cut a small hole in the sack for planting along the sides.

Tip: We cut the holes too big. Try making a small cut that looks like an upside down "T," then scoop out soil from below the cut to make a little shelf for the plant.

Step 5: Ta Da!

Finished. We settled on six plants, but a sack this size could hold more. Now, you just have to water it, keep it in a sunny spot and cross your fingers.

- Engineeringforchange.org

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    22 Discussions


    1 year ago

    this kind of bag garden

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    2 years ago

    I can't believe how fast you had this prepared. My wife and I have been looking at planting some garden bags. We will certainly use your steps when putting it together. The suggestion to start with sweet potatoes particularly caught our attention and appetite. http://www.growbagbuy.com/about-us.html

    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.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    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!

    1 reply

    7 years ago on Introduction

    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.

    2 replies

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Could I buy a Kona Mountain Thunder bag from you? I can't seem to locate one in Manhattan.

    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:



    7 years ago on Introduction

    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.

    1 reply

    7 years ago on Introduction

    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.

    1 reply

    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!


    7 years ago on Introduction

    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.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    If you're anywhere near a coffee roaster, just ask. Where I live they toss them out. Great Instructable!


    7 years ago on Introduction

    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!


    7 years ago on Introduction

    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?

    3 replies

    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.