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August 28, 2014

Make This: Burlap sacks make frugal, eco-friendly planters

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Posted: Sunday, April 27, 2014 12:45 am

I am a coffee person. Like many people, one of the first things I do in the morning is prepare the daily pot of joe (along with two sippy cups of chocolate milk — kids have their routine, I have mine). Rarely are we out of coffee and when we are, it’s usually worth a 6 a.m. trip to Walgreens to pick up a new block of Folgers. It’s the best part of waking up, right?

And wouldn’t you know it, coffee is pretty handy at perking up a garden too. Coffee grounds are relatively rich in nitrogen, which makes them a good addition to compost — the paper filters are biodegradable and compostable as well. When I don’t feel like composting, I’ve been known to just dump leftover grounds directly on top of the soil around the plant as a mulch. If you’re a Keurig/K Cup user, you can even use those little cups as seed starter; a little bit of grounds mixed in with the soil will give the seeds an extra boost.

In my quest to grow as many fruits and veggies as possible in my front yard this year, I’ve turned, for the most part, to container gardening. What I’ve used so far is from my gardening stash — plastic gallon planters purchased in years past, beds created from landscaping blocks, cinder blocks and reclaimed bricks and a couple of decorative metal tubs.

This year I’m foraying into what is new garden territory for me: potatoes. After a bit of research, I found that potatoes are wonderfully suited to container planting, but there is a caveat — it needs to be a tall container.

This is where coffee comes in. Downing’s General Store in downtown Anniston sells large burlap coffee sacks for $4, which make great planters. Not only are they quite large, but the loose weave of the burlap helps with drainage.

The way to grow potatoes is by planting seed potatoes, which are certified disease-free spuds sold specifically for planting. You bury a seed potato in several inches of soil, making sure it is completely covered. If a potato comes in contact with the sun, it will turn green and become toxic — this is why you should never eat green potatoes or potato sprouts, and why you should store harvested potatoes in a dark place.

Once buried, the seed potato will sprout a stem out from the eyes. As the stem grows, potatoes develop off of it. But you don’t want those potatoes to come into contact with the sun because of the aforementioned toxicity. This is where “hilling” or “mounding” comes into place. When the stem is 8-12 inches tall, bury it about halfway in soil, covering leaves and all. More potatoes will form off the buried stem, which will continue to grow taller out of the new mound of soil. Then just keep mounding soil over the stem as it grows — this is why a tall container is needed.

To plant in the coffee sack, I rolled down the sides until the bag was about a foot tall. I put about three inches of soil in the bottom, spaced out about five seed potatoes in each one (also purchased from Downing’s), and covered them with more soil. As the stems grow, I’ll unroll the sides of the bag to make it taller and add more soil.

When the potatoes are finished growing, harvesting is easy — just dump the whole bag out and pick out the spuds, no digging required. The sacks should last a couple of seasons before rotting out (but make sure to use new or different soil with each planting to discourage disease), and when they finally do wear out, the burlap is compostable or can be used as a ground cover or weed barrier. You can also grow potatoes in a heavy-duty trash bag with holes cut in it for draining. I find burlap to be quite a bit more aesthetically pleasing than black plastic, though.

I used two more coffee sacks as planters for tomatoes and squash (one of each plant in each sack). They are elevated in a table that was made for me out of some of the old windows from our house — a table that doubles as a cold frame to extend my growing season. If all goes well, the tomatoes will vine out the top, and the squash will cascade down to the ground, so they won’t be competing for space.

Now my front porch can be a nice place to sit and enjoy a cup of joe and watch my garden grow.

Visit our gardening board online at www.pinterest.com/starfeatures.

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