BY KOKHEONG MCNAUGHTON
Starting a garden from scratch in this area can be a daunting undertaking given the poor soil. This is especially challenging if you’re trying to convert your lawn into a productive vegetable garden. When I retired from my last job 18 years ago, I did just that – converting both front and back lawns into productive gardens that not only produce abundant vegetables and fruits, but also have lots of wild flowers and native plants to provide a sustainable natural environment for bees, butterflies, birds and other native species.
I didn’t know anything about bag gardening then, so I did it the hard way, digging out the sods by hand one square foot at a time. I thought that if I could just do this every day, one square foot a day, I could convert the entire front and back lawns within a year or two (not working in the winter months, of course). But the math didn’t work out because the sections I completed a few weeks ago would start sprouting new grass and I would have to go over them again, and again… and again until something else grew in their places or they were heavily mulched. It has taken me almost 10 years to get rid of the lawns. Today, I’m very happy with the result of my hard work. It’s now a certified wildlife habitat.
If I had known about bag gardening then, it would have been a lot easier and quicker to make the conversion. The idea is simply buying a few bags of top soil (they cost less than $3 a bag at our local Metzger’s), laying them on top of the grass, cut the top flap open leaving a 2” margin all around to hold in the soil, punch 10 to 12 holes in the bottom of each bag with a screw driver to provide drainage, and planting the seeds directly in the bags. The one big problem with this technique is to make sure that the soil is kept moist because they dry out quickly. I did this by sprinkling with a hand-held pressurized Gilmour sprayer that produces a very fine mist twice a day until the seeds germinated. You can buy ready-to-transplant potted plants if you prefer, but you’ll still want to make sure they don’t dry out. Since there’s not much depth in the bags themselves, we are limited to what sort of vegetables we can grow in them. I began with 4 bags (see picture) and planted spinach, mixed lettuces, a strawberry-spinach and Parisian Carrots, a variety that produces short, rounded carrots. I enclosed the entire set-up in a rabbit-proof fence. I’ve seen pictures of healthy-looking squashes, tomatoes, eggplants and a wide variety of vegetables grown in a bag.
The bags can be used for several growing seasons if you replenish the soil with compost every year. After a few years, you can remove the plastic bags and dig the soil into the ground and you’ll have a nice plot of productive vegetable garden.