PHOTO: Jessica Walliser
March 24, 2017

Throughout the winter, I always manage to collect a few dozen feedbags, both from the birdseed I purchase for wild birds and from the bags of chicken feed and scratch we feed our hens. This cool feedbag garden project is a great way to reuse all those empty bags.

Although the feedbags can be made of a variety of materials, I find those made of either fabric, woven plastic, burlap or synthetic burlap to hold up the best. Paper or wax-coated paper bags don’t last the entire season, so be sure to avoid those—though they’re biodegradable which is certainly a plus! I also skip bags made from a thin sheet of plastic simply because I don’t like the way they look; plus, I find they tatter and look pretty trashy by the end of the growing season.

What To Grow In A Feedbag Garden

One of the best things about growing a feedbag garden is its scalability. Gardeners with limited space can use smaller feedbags and plant dwarf tomatoes, eggplants and other crops in the bags, while gardeners with large patios or decks, can use bags that once held 35 or 50 pounds of birdseed, animal feed or bedding. Big bags can easily house a single determinate tomato plant, as long as you find a way to trellis or cage the plant.

Almost any veggie, annual, or herb is a good candidate for a feedbag garden. Try growing various combinations of sweet or hot peppers, determine patio-type or dwarf tomatoes, broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, eggplants, tomatillos, ground cherries, zucchini, winter squash, or even green beans in your feedbag garden.

What You’ll Need:

  • empty birdseed, chicken feed, horse feed, or similar bags
  • enough 50/50 potting soil and compost blend to fill the bags
  • plants and/or seeds (Plan to plant one large or two to three small crops per bag.)
  • tomato cage or stake, if needed
  • scissors

Step 1

Begin by selecting a level location that receives a minimum of six hours of full sun per day. The bottoms of the bags need to sit flat against the ground so they don’t topple over. If you don’t have a level site (or you find your bags don’t sit level even when filled with soil), pick a spot where the bags can lean against a wall, fence, large rock or something equally as sturdy. A group of bags can also help support each other if you place them properly.

Step 2

Prepare the bags by folding the top edge of the bag down over itself two or three times. This helps hold the top of the bag open when you fill it with soil or irrigate.

Step 3

Fill each bag with a 50/50 blend of compost and potting soil until it’s 1 to 2 inches beneath the top of the rolled edge.

Step 4

Use a sharp pair of scissors to cut two small Xs toward the bottom of the bag on the back side. These drainage holes ensure the bags will not become waterlogged.

Step 5

Plant one to three plants per bag, depending on the volume of soil the bag holds and the mature size of the plants. Be sure to carefully loosen any pot-bound roots before planting. Repeat this step until all the feedbags are filled with plants.

Step 6

Water your feedbag garden well. Remember, because the bag’s opening will eventually be covered by plant foliage, hand watering is the best way to target irrigation water directly into the bag. If you use bags made of fabric or another porous material, such as burlap, you’ll need to water them more frequently than those made of woven plastic.

Step 7

If you’re growing tomatoes or another crop that needs physical support, now is the time to install a cage or trellis. Insert a wire tomato cage over the plant, or stick a 1-by-1-inch hardwood stake into the bag, making sure it goes all the way to the bottom but not through it. An alternative method would be to install a trellis or staking system behind your feedbag garden, not in the bag itself, and lean the bag against the trellis. Be sure to train the plants to grow up the trellis if necessary.

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