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Grow Bags

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Grow Bags

Post  momvet on 5/27/2015, 2:53 pm

I am not sure if I am posting this in the right thread, but I have a question for those experienced with grow bags. When I planted my SFG, I had extra tomato seedlings that I had started and decided (as an experiment) to plant them in the grow bags I had purchased from the 99 Cent Store. They are going CRAZY (much better than the ones in beds). I filled the bottom of each with garden soil and topped off with Mel's Mix (and a little Miracle Gro because I ran out). My question is - I recently watched a few YouTube videos and realized that when it gets hot (and it will - inland SoCal), they will dry out and not do well. I did ask DH about drip, but it would be difficult to put it in where they are). My question, what if I put a reservoir under the bags? And if so, how can I do that without spending a ton of money? The bags would need something at least 18" and I have a couple of very big ones that would need 30". Not sure at this point that we could even lift them to put a saucer in, but they still aren't attached to the fence I have them against so it is now or never.  Any advice would help - they look SO beautiful now.pale
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Re: Grow Bags

Post  sanderson on 5/27/2015, 3:57 pm

I had a bad experience with putting saucers under pots my first year.  The Mix got septic (anaerobic) at the bottom and the plants (peppers and tomatoes) suffered.  When I removed the saucers (and stinky water) they recovered.  This year I wrapped the new potato "grow bag" with cardboard and it really helped keep the soil moist and cool against the sun.  Before wrapping.  It is just cage wire and weed fabric in this photo.

Here is a photo of cardboard around a food grade white bucket. I did it for a tomato bucket this year but the rain undid it.  Have to wrap the rest.  I think the amount of sunlight that the white buckets let in really heats up my soil on sunny days.  The best tomatoes in buckets are the ones protected from sunshine.  I have to wrap the rest what with the 80*F+ weather this week.

So, my suggestion is to wrap them with corrugated card board. Not pretty, but I have had good luck with this method.

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Re: Grow Bags

Post  Tilth on 5/27/2015, 5:43 pm

momvet, I grew some excellent cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower in grow bags last fall. I would have continued using them, but they are not as water efficient as a sub irrigated planter(SIP), so given the California drought, I have gone that way for now. I will go back to them if things change.
  What I did, from the start, was to place the bags in a plastic tray. I put about 1.5" of water in the tray, than let the water level dry out for a day or two before I would water again. This also prevents mosquitoes from breeding in them.
  You can get plastic trays/containers in many sizes and shapes and they are not overly expensive, from small dish washing tubs, auto parts cleaning tubs, cement mixing tubs, clear up to those plastic pools used for young kids and pets, which can be found for like $10.00 on sale at stores like Walmart, Kmart, Ace Hardware and others. These would hold your largest bags. Also, if the "tub" is greater than about 2" deep, you need to drill an overflow hole so that when it rains, you don't flood your plants.
  If you haven't done so, go to Youtube and do a search for Larry Hall Kiddie Pool, Larry Hall Grow Bags and watch his videos. I'm sure you will end up with more ideas and projects for next year than you want.
I foresee a self watering Rain Gutter Grow System in your future. rofl
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Re: Grow Bags

Post  Razed Bed on 5/27/2015, 7:51 pm

We use crushed ice to water our containers when the temps head north of 90.  We water in the early morning and then place the crushed ice around the perimeter of the plants in containers.  You can also add mulch and shade cloth to keep containers from drying out.

I do not like black grow bags.  They deteriorate and frequently can only be used one season.  The black adds heat, which is great if you live in the far north, but not so great if you live where you will have 50-60 days above 90 and 5-10 of those days above 100.

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Re: Grow Bags

Post  vortex on 5/27/2015, 9:49 pm

About a 1/4" of sand will really help keep it from drying out super quick. That sand locks that moisture in like crazy.
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Re: Grow Bags

Post  momvet on 5/28/2015, 11:51 am

Wow, so much information - thanks! I am thinking that if I put the saucers down, but let them dry out as suggested, maybe I won't have Sanderson's stinky water problem? Also, I thought tomatoes needed full sun - do the shaded ones do well ? (I don't think I can move these bags - they are already really heavy, plus I will be attaching them to the fence for support). The smaller bags are green and I found some plastic trays on EBay for them. The larger bags ARE black (live and learn Very Happy) and they are too big to put saucers under so I will try the crushed ice and/or cardboard. These were just "extras" but they are doing better than anything else I have planted so far - would hate to lose them due to my inexperience. In the future, 5 gallon buckets instead of bags (I will avoid white)? Finally, I have already mulched with straw - where would I put the sand - below it? Sorry so many questions - Embarassed
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Re: Grow Bags

Post  Razed Bed on 5/28/2015, 1:09 pm

Tomatoes are a full-sun crop, but they also stop producing a lot of fruit when the temperatures stay above 90 degrees in the day and 70 degrees at night.

Adding a shadecloth does not take them out of the sun.  In full sun without shade, the actual surface temperature can be 130-140 degrees.  Remember, the temperature reported by your weather services is taken in a box in the shade that is 4 feet off the ground.  No sun hits the thermometer, so if it is 90 degrees in the shade, it can be 130+ degrees in full sun.  If you have containers that absorb heat (black or dark color or worse translucent or transparent), you are going to have to supply constant moisture and even then risk burning.

We have several self-watering containers, and the nitrogen dioxide and anaerobic build-up and can become quite unpleasant, so we add fragrant essential oils to the water.  Cinnamon, rosemary, clove, and lavender help.

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Re: Grow Bags

Post  Tilth on 5/28/2015, 2:00 pm

momvet, just some things to think about. As I live in San Diego and you are north and further inland, our gardening conditions are quite different. That said, I am somewhat familiar with your area. One thing I have learned, so far, is that all gardening is local. What I would do is this:
 Acquire a good soil thermometer. Planting in grow bags, or even containers, is a little different beast than planting in the ground or a raised bed. The reason I say this is that with grow bags, they get wet and water evaporation takes place all around the root ball, tending to cool the soil the plant is growing in. This can also be different depending on whether you water them manually(only partial cooling) or have them in a tray of water(constant cooling). This can markedly change how a plant responds as the soil in them will warm slower early in the year but stay cooler a little later into the summer. I know your summers can get quite warm some years.
 Now, I can't give you specifics on what to do when with soil temps. You can find a lot of info on the Net about this, but I do know that growing in grow bags can change things "at the margins" for this reason. Living along the coast, I don't get frost most years, so frost dates mean little. However, planting seedlings or starting seeds of warm season crops outdoors before the soil warms sufficiently in the spring is very "iffy".
 As an aside, there is a lady on Youtube, username Calikim29, who lives in Temecula, not far from you. She does not SFG as far as I know, but you might check out her vids for some gardening info that might be a little more relevant to you in your location.

Happy Gardening
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Re: Grow Bags

Post  sanderson on 5/28/2015, 3:54 pm

I bought the white ones because they were food grade. Uline sells grey food grade buckets for $5.05 each, plus shipping and taxes. Ouch

This is wiki so take this with a grain of skepticism. http://www.wikihow.com/Identify-Food-Grade-Buckets

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Re: Grow Bags

Post  Tilth on 5/28/2015, 6:40 pm

Last month, some Canadian scientist were having problems with some experiments they were conducting. Long story short, they traced the problem to two chemicals leaching out of the polypropylene equipment they were using. This is apparently a problem with all polypropylene plastic. I'll leave you to be the judge.

The info is here:
http://www.lawyersandsettlements.com/articles/defective_product_personal_injury/bpa-bisphenol-polypropylene-bottles-plastic-11479.html
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Re: Grow Bags

Post  CitizenKate on 5/28/2015, 10:14 pm

sanderson wrote:This year I wrapped the new potato "grow bag" with cardboard and it really helped keep the soil moist and cool against the sun.  Before wrapping.  It is just cage wire and weed fabric in this photo.

Here is a photo of cardboard around a food grade white bucket. I did it for a tomato bucket this year but the rain undid it.  Have to wrap the rest.  I think the amount of sunlight that the white buckets let in really heats up my soil on sunny days.  The best tomatoes in buckets are the ones protected from sunshine.  I have to wrap the rest what with the 80*F+ weather this week.

So, my suggestion is to wrap them with corrugated card board.  Not pretty, but I have had good luck with this method.

I'm going to have to try this on my SIP containers.  They've done incredibly well for me every year, but there are times I still wonder if even SIPs aren't for some species or hybrids of tomatoes.  Last year, my Rutgers tomatoes just started frying in the sun right about the time they were finally starting to kick into production, when all my other tomato plants were just loving the heat.  I just chalked it up to Rutgers wanting a cooler climate than we have here in NE KS.  Maybe this is part of the solution to keep them happy.  (I'm also now experimenting more with compost-based nutrient treatments.)

As for the white buckets vs colored ones... one thing I've noticed every year since I started using the plastic buckets to grow veggies in, is that the darker the color of the bucket, the less mold I find in them at the end of the season.  This makes sense, since mold doesn't like being in the dark much.  So a light blocking wrap should also help with that, too.
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Re: Grow Bags

Post  Marc Iverson on 5/29/2015, 4:46 am

I'm reading a few things here that don't seem to make a lot of sense. I urge everyone reading this thread to keep an open mind, but also to think through what they read carefully.

I do have something of my own to share, to take as you all will. I grew in cloth bags last year that were about a foot square and did phenomenally well with the beans and peas I grew in them. This despite our 3 to 4 months of 90-plus heat that can actually be sustained higher than that for extended periods ... like 100 degrees a day for more than a month, etc., and regardless of temps, "No rain all summer" is the motto around here. Severe conditions for most plants. Yet ... I still had peas growing well into the summer. I removed them as much because I wanted to try beans as because peas aren't "supposed" to grow well in summer.

I think this may have worked out so well largely because my bags were square and I pushed them up against each other. There were no gaps between bags. One bag's soil breathed into another's, and moisture content was shared across all bags until it evened itself out. I essentially created a bed by cramming individual cloth containers against each other. I think you can do this with the usual round containers too. And even if you don't want to ... you might want to consider pushing your bags against each other, especially if you have terribly hot summers that attack the moisture level of your soil. I think my results were terrific even with a spring crop under hot summer conditions because in pushing the cloth containers together, I created what worked as a large bed, which helped store moisture and even out temperature fluctuations.

You won't be able to do that with plastic containers,as even up against each other, there is no breathability between one barrier and the next.

Another note: I found some success last year partially burying some five-gallon industrial food grade buckets an inch or so beneath the soil. This helps do at least two things: moderate temperature in the buckets (a huge problem) and retain moisture longer. Five-gallon buckets lose moisture very quickly, and the crop perhaps most frequently grown in them, tomatoes, are very thirsty plants.
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Re: Grow Bags

Post  momvet on 5/29/2015, 1:02 pm

Marc Iverson wrote:

I do have something of my own to share, to take as you all will. I grew in cloth bags last year that were about a foot square and did phenomenally well with the beans and peas I grew in them.  This despite our 3 to 4 months of 90-plus heat that can actually be sustained higher than that for extended periods ... like 100 degrees a day for more than a month, etc., and regardless of temps, "No rain all summer" is the motto around here.  Severe conditions for most plants.  Yet ... I still had peas growing well into the summer.  I removed them as much because I wanted to try beans as because peas aren't "supposed" to grow well in summer.

I think this may have worked out so well largely because my bags were square and I pushed them up against each other.  There were no gaps between bags.  One bag's soil breathed into another's, and moisture content was shared across all bags until it evened itself out.  I essentially created a bed by cramming individual cloth containers against each other.  I think you can do this with the usual round containers too.  And even if you don't want to ... you might want to consider pushing your bags against each other, especially if you have terribly hot summers that attack the moisture level of your soil.  I think my results were terrific even with a spring crop under hot summer conditions because in pushing the cloth containers together, I created what worked as a large bed, which helped store moisture and even out temperature fluctuations.

You won't be able to do that with plastic containers,as even up against each other, there is no breathability between one barrier and the next.

Another note:  I found some success last year partially burying some five-gallon industrial food grade buckets an inch or so beneath the soil. This helps do at least two things:  moderate temperature in the buckets (a huge problem) and retain moisture longer.  Five-gallon buckets lose moisture very quickly, and the crop perhaps most frequently grown in them, tomatoes, are very thirsty plants.
I guess when I say "grow bag" people are thinking of plastic bags. These are cloth bags I purchased from the 99cent store (except for the 2 large ones that I "think" are also cloth. My bags do touch each other so maybe I will be OK? I am glad for everyone's input on this subject. You wouldn't believe the difference between the bagged tomatoes and those in my bed.
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Re: Grow Bags

Post  momvet on 5/29/2015, 1:03 pm

Tilth wrote:
 As an aside, there is a lady on Youtube, username Calikim29, who lives in Temecula, not far from you. She does not SFG as far as I know, but you might check out her vids for some gardening info that might be a little more relevant to you in your location.

Happy Gardening
Thanks Tilth - I think our location is a little "unique" so it will help to check her videos out.
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Re: Grow Bags

Post  momvet on 5/29/2015, 2:20 pm

I thought I knew how to edit a post, but apparently not. (I searched). Anyway, this is my grow bag set-up just in case I can get more advice.

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Re: Grow Bags

Post  Marc Iverson on 5/29/2015, 6:51 pm

They are looking pretty happy, Kathy. Awfully close together though. I bet they'd appreciate being able to spread their wings more.
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Re: Grow Bags

Post  Razed Bed on 5/30/2015, 9:32 am

Cloth bags are much better than the alternative.  They still have the problem of becoming too hot in really hot weather.

About the plastic issue, here is a good primer on the different types of BPA-free varieties with their dangers.

http://www.rodalenews.com/bpa-free-plastics

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Re: Grow Bags

Post  momvet on 5/30/2015, 11:12 am

Marc Iverson wrote:They are looking pretty happy, Kathy.  Awfully close together though.  I bet they'd appreciate being able to spread their wings more.
I can pull them farther apart, but am relying on the fence behind to provide support. I am confused, though, because you said that pushing them closer together was the key? Only when it gets hot? It is going to be in the 90's here for the next few days (and often thereafter).
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Re: Grow Bags

Post  vortex on 5/30/2015, 2:56 pm

Marc Iverson wrote:They are looking pretty happy, Kathy.  Awfully close together though.  I bet they'd appreciate being able to spread their wings more.


Seeing as this is an SFG board, this made me laugh a bit. Very Happy
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Re: Grow Bags

Post  Marc Iverson on 5/30/2015, 4:29 pm

vortex wrote:
Marc Iverson wrote:They are looking pretty happy, Kathy.  Awfully close together though.  I bet they'd appreciate being able to spread their wings more.


Seeing as this is an SFG board, this made me laugh a bit. Very Happy

The SFG book recommends giving some plants more than a square. Anyone growing tomatoes will notice how much they like to sprawl, whether bush or vining types.

There are also more than growing issues involved. It is easier to train and harvest from tomato plants when they're not too close together. Especially if you don't want to be breaking branches.

The two light blue bags in her first picture look like their plants will get entangled with each other.

Another thing I've both read and found is that disease (and bug infestation) is very fast between plants when they're jammed right up against each other. Last year I had tomatoes too close. They grew great, but spores would fall from one plant onto the other. One branch could infect so many more. I wound up clipping off a lot of infected branches where two plants would come together.

No point having them grow so lush if you're just going to wind up clipping it all back anyway.

If you are going to have tomatoes that close, I'd single-string them.


Last edited by Marc Iverson on 5/30/2015, 4:42 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Re: Grow Bags

Post  Marc Iverson on 5/30/2015, 4:37 pm

momvet wrote:
Marc Iverson wrote:They are looking pretty happy, Kathy.  Awfully close together though.  I bet they'd appreciate being able to spread their wings more.
I can pull them farther apart, but am relying on the fence behind to provide support. I am confused, though, because you said that pushing them closer together was the key? Only when it gets hot? It is going to be in the 90's here for the next few days (and often thereafter).

It helps with water retention and keeping the soil cooler. Containers of any kind subject plants to more heat. Not only because they aren't insulated all around by the ground, but because heat rises, and they are higher than the ground. And of course, more of them is getting hit by the sun.

It's not what most people do with grow bags, but I think it helps with heat. The outside edges will still have the breathability and air-pruning that people like bags for. It may not be the very best way to use bags, but it worked very well for me last year, when we had months of record-breaking heat in a row.

Also, I wouldn't move grow bags around once planted. It shifts the soil about pretty significantly sometimes, which can damage roots. I got a dolly to put some bags on this year, in case I want to move them once planted. I'll start them off on the dolly and leave them on it all season.

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Re: Grow Bags

Post  momvet on 5/31/2015, 6:11 pm

Marc Iverson wrote:
momvet wrote:
Marc Iverson wrote:They are looking pretty happy, Kathy.  Awfully close together though.  I bet they'd appreciate being able to spread their wings more.
I can pull them farther apart, but am relying on the fence behind to provide support. I am confused, though, because you said that pushing them closer together was the key? Only when it gets hot? It is going to be in the 90's here for the next few days (and often thereafter).


Also, I wouldn't move grow bags around once planted.  It shifts the soil about pretty significantly sometimes, which can damage roots.  I got a dolly to put some bags on this year, in case I want to move them once planted.  I'll start them off on the dolly and leave them on it all season.

Oh no! I may have just blown it then! silly me I found some trays on eBay for a reasonable price and today, we lifted the bags and put them in the trays. This is what I get for overthinking things! I am anxious because I am gone at least 2 days out of every week, leaving DH to take care of things. He thinks that if a plant looks bad, give it water. I have tried to tell him not to water overhead but he just wants to do it as fast as possible. Anyway, we carefully lifted the bags from the bottom and set them in the trays so hopefully not too much damage done. I won't move them again, although I did soak two of the bags (I am leaving tomorrow and won't be back until Thursday) and they ended up with a ton of water at the bottom, which I siphoned off. The other two, I just watered lightly and put some water in the trays, which did get sucked up. Will let you know how it goes (I have tomatoes on a couple of the plants already).
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