When I talk about my FarmTina project, I often hear the response, "I wish I could grow food but I just don't have any space!" To that I say, PHOOEY. Excuses, excuses.
Yes, lack of space is one of my biggest challenges in gardening in the city, but that has actually been a fun obstacle to overcome. As a reminder, I've had only a paved patio for the last 2 years, no ground soil at all, so everything I've grown has been in containers of some sort. I suppose I could've filled my yard with fancy terra cotta pots and structured grow beds, but that just seems wasteful and expensive. Instead, I got creative.
For example, I punched drainage holes in the bottom of found tall metal trash bins from Ikea to grow my potatoes. I also drilled drainage holes into large Rubbermaid storage tubs to grow corn. I used a long, flat under-the-bed plastic storage box as a lettuce bed, a box which I had used for storage for years and was going to throw away because it was cracked. I even created quite a bit of vertical grow space using an industrial pallet that my mom "found" (ok, maybe stole from) in front of a warehouse.
My most recent space-saving project was featured in an episode of GROW, a Whole Foods video series documenting urban farmers around the country. I simply needed more space, so I decided to build an outdoor-strength vertical grow bag that would hang on the fence surrounding my yard. And, of course, it would need to look cute.
Check out the video to see the grow bag in action, and then make your own! The "instructions" are more like beginner's guidance, and I'd love to hear your updates & improvements to my first-time experiment. Here's how to make my outdoor vertical planter (written instructions below the diagrams):
- One large piece of oil cloth fabric
- 2 cut pieces of landscaping fabric
- Waterproof SRT tape, or other strong waterproof tape
- A rod (old curtain rod, closet dowel, something awesome found on the street, etc)
- sewing machine & sewing pins & sewing scissors
A lil' bit about these fabrics:
Even if you don't recognize the term, you have definitely seen oil cloth. It's that plastic outdoor fabric that always seems to be covered in either 1950s kitchen designs or Mexican floral patterns. It's very strong and can survive in outdoor weather, but it's also flexible enough to be sewed and constructed like normal fabric. It's important to use outdoor fabric so you don't risk cracking or rotting. Watch out for rubberized cotton, which has a water resistant front but is still just normal fabric in the back-- NOT weatherproof.
Landscaping fabric is a type of outdoor cloth. It has tiny holes in the fabric that allow water to seep through, but not anything else (like soil or seeds), and it's mold and mildew-proof. You'll often see it used as a ground covering spread across a planting bed to kill weeds or grass in small spaces.
1. Figure out how big you want the overall grow bag to be. This doesn't need to be perfectly measured; I literally chose the size of my grow bag based only on the size of fabric I found on sale at the time.
Cut 2 pieces of the landscaping fabric to be about the size that your final grow bag will be. Cut one piece of the oil cloth to be 8 inches wider and 14 inches taller than the final size.
Lay the oil cloth on the floor upside-down, pattern facing the floor. Lay the 2 pieces of cut landscaping fabric over the back of the oilcloth, one on top of the other. Leave equal sized gaps around the bottom and the sides, and a larger gap at the top.
2. Fold up the bottom edge of the oilcloth over the landscaping fabric. Pin & sew straight across through all 4 layers of fabric. For those of you who are used to sewing, your instinct is probably going to be to iron this seam to make it flat... probably not a good idea to iron plastic fabric, k?
If you don't pin before sewing, you will definitely end up with bubbles and uneven fabric. Don't cut corners, dude. Pin it!
3. Fold over each side of the oilcloth in the same way as you did the bottom. Pin & sew straight. Don't sew across the top yet!
4. Keeping in mind the size of the plants you'd like to grow in these bags, decide how high each row of sacs should be. They don't have to all be the same size, and you can even have just one row if you'd like.
In this example we're creating 4 rows. To do so, pin & sew 3 horizontal lines, which each function as the bottom of a row of sacs.
5. To seal off each sac and create 4 sacs in each row, pin & sew 3 vertical lines starting at the top of the landscaping fabric.
6. Flip over your work. It should easily lie flat and probably already looks totally awesome.
7. Now it's time to cut the "mouths" in each sac. Read this carefully first: from the front of the grow bag, you are going to cut through the layer of oilcloth and only the TOP LAYER of landscaping fabric. Do not cut through the back layer of landscaping fabric or you're totally screwed.
Near to the top of each sac, but not so close that you threaten to cut the sewn edges, cut a horizontal slit in each sac. At the edges of each opening, cut a small vertical slit as well. Cut a hole
8. Cut off the top and bottom flaps of each slit to make a larger rectangle opening in the bag. You should be able to see the back layer of landscaping fabric peek through the hole, and you should be able to put your hand inside the sac.
9. This is my solution for keeping the edges of the "mouth" clean & sturdy. I took my SRT tape-- mine was leftover from art school when we were graded on our abilities to build silkscreen frames from scratch, but you could use any similar waterproof plumbers or construction tape-- and I lined the edges of the "mouth" with the tape, folding it into the sac to completely cover the cut edges.
10. OMG this is looking so cool. Now you need to attach the rod, which is how we'll hang the grow bag. To make a fabric tube for the rod to slide through, simply fold the top flap of oilcloth back onto itself. Sew across the bottom edge so that the oilcloth covers the last remaining opening in the landscaping fabric.
There are endless ways to hang the grow bag depending on where you plan to put it. On a wall? Attach the same type of hooks you'd use for a curtain rod. On a chain link fence? Use hooked fasteners from a hardware store, the type intended to hold pipes. If you a corner in your fence, you could even lay it across the top of the fence, sort of kiddy-corner.
Finally, fill each sac with soil up to the mouth and begin planting! When you water the plants, the landscaping fabric should provide drainage, yet still be solid enough to hold in soil. This would be a good way to grow smaller plants without deep roots, such as strawberries and lettuce, or annuals that will die off before they outgrow the sacs.