Grow Bags

We learned from our friend, Curt Lindley, a Peace Corp volunteer, that the two plastic buckets used in the classic Global Bucket may not be practical in developing nations because of their cost.

So we wondered, "Are there any low cost alternatives?"

We believe "Grow Bags" may provide a solution.
A Grow Bag is simple, lightweight, soft-sided fabric bag, usually made out of a polypropylene material.  In the USA you may purchase Grow Bags for about $6 to $15 (Smart Pot, Garden Soxx).  We're not sure what's available in downtown New Delhi, but in the USA, there are very low cost (25 cents) grow bag alternatives (see below). 

Why Plants Dream of Grow Bags
1) Aeration.  One of the Global Bucket's best attribute is the aeration provided by the many holes you drill into the bottom of the inner plastic bucket.  With a fabric grow bag, the entire surface of the bag provides aeration. 

2) Drainage.  The #1 killer of plants grown in a container is inadequate or poor drainage.  With a grow bag, drainage is quick and thorough.  It would be almost impossible to over water in a grow bag.

3) Planting Mix.  A container garden must use a light fluffy potting mix to create tiny air pockets for aeration and to provide drainage.  Because aeration is dramatically increased by using a fabric grow bag, you may use a heavier, less expensive planting mix, perhaps even ordinary soil and compost.

4)  Heat.  The plant's roots are less stressed during the hot summer season because Grow Bags stay cooler than the enclosed non-breathing environment inside a hard plastic bucket.

5) Fibrous Root Mass.  Grow Pots produce a far greater root mass than plants grown in hard plastic containers. This is a result of the process (air root pruning) that occurs when a root grows to the side of a Grow Bag.  The root stops growing in length and then develops many fine root branches.  "Root circling" is also eliminated.

5) Lightweight.  Grow bags are lightweight, most have handles and may be folded-up in the winter for storage.

Grow Bags : DIY Low Cost Possibilities
1) Reusable Shopping Bags.  Pictured are some examples of the reusable shopping bags commonly found in the USA. Many are given away for free as promotions.  We've located vendors throughout the world where these type of bags may be purchased in bulk for 25 cents each.  To determine if your bag is porous, try filling it with water.  If the water pours out of the fabric you've got a winner.
2) "Sock" Grow Bag.   Similar to the Garden Soxx, you may create a bag out of breathable materials.  Possible materials include fabric weed blocker cloth, empty plantation coffee bags, nylon shading material, etc.  Fishing line (micro-filament) could be used for any required sewing.  The more expensive UV resistant septra fishing line will last longer than the more common cheaper fishing line.

3)  Rice/ Fruit Bags. Trish from Hong Kong writes: Rice sacks are common and porous and could be used to contain soil until they break down, cloth would be the same, maybe a year. A container which is used to hand wash clothing is also available and common. I've started seedlings this way. Straws and water hose and plastic water bottles could be used.

Grow Bag Irrigation : Ollas Work Great!
We've successfully incorporated Ollas (clay pots) into Grow Bags.  If you click on the photo on your left, you'll see one of the Olla's 1/4" poly pipe sticking out (there are two 1/4" poly pipes attached to the Olla, but one is not visible in this picture).  We have a number of Grow Bags with our automated Olla irrigation set-up in series, so there's no boring watering involved.  You could, of course, just bury an Olla with it's top exposed, so you could hand water it.

Also, our water is delivering the fertilizer so it's KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid)

You could also set-up a drip irrigation system with Grow Bags.

Grow Bags with AquaValves
Ben Frimmer has designed a brilliant system that combines Grow Bags with AquaValves.

  Click here to see Ben's design.

Update : August 7, 2010
Our D-I-Y (cheap shopping bag) Grow Bags with Olla irrigation are doing really well.  These tomatoes have been growing for about five weeks.  The tomato in the green bag is the same one pictured above. Click on the images for more detail.

Update : September 5, 2010
It's late summer and the Grow Bag experiment has been great.  In fact, next summer we'll only use Grow Bags, completely eliminating the "expensive" plastic buckets.

Also, next summer. we'll try using actual soil, as opposed to potting mix for two reasons.  First, soil should be less expensive in developing countries than potting mix.  Secondly, we're interested in seeing if using soil will keep the growing environment more moist than potting mix.

Finally, next summer our plan is to build our own Grow Bags out of materials that should only cost a few rupees or pennies.

 We just received this great letter from Mrs. Germaine Jenkins.  She's a very smart woman:
I love the simplicity of your Global Buckets concept. Our (American) family has limited income and I've experienced success using denim jeans and shorts as homemade growbags (in portable beds surrounded by leaves). Denim holds on to water forever it seems and they're going great as stand alone grow bags. Soon after I found your website I decided to try and combine the two ideas. I used Eliot Coleman's organic soil mix and overturned plastic pots to keep the denim bag above water in my buckets. I cut holes in the lid and planted heirloom tomato seeds that I covered with water bottles bottoms removed and filled with holes (a la winter sowing). Within a few days the tomato plants started to germinate. So far so good.

Newspaper by far is my favorite go to gardening staple. I use it all the time for mulching and also made this fruit tree newspaper pot

As far as your experiments with garbage, have you considered using newspaper and leaf mold as a filler for your buckets? Here's a another good article for your review. One other possible alternative will be the byproduct from chicken coops, if their owners employ the deep litter method. The deep litter method combines some medium like pine shavings, food grade diatomaceous earth with earthen floors and compost materials and uses chicken power to break it all down along with their own waste to keep the coop smelling fresh for extended periods. I came across a youtube video of a gentleman that applies the finished product directly to his garden beds. Just wondering if it would work in global buckets too.

One note on reusable shopping bags: I'd been experimenting with some reusable shopping bags we had lying around the house but recently found an article online about high lead contents in said bags - thanks Tomatoville Garden Forum (! Here's the link to that article I didn't find the lead content of the bags I used but transplanted my blueberry bushes into porous feed bags instead just to be safe.

Keep up the good work guys! Hungry people all over the world are benefiting from your valuable experiments.

*I don't update my own website often enough to show you all of my pics but you can take a look at some of what we've done at

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