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Burlap Bags in the Garden

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Last week I stopped by one of my favorite neighborhood coffee shops and asked if they had any extra burlap coffee bags. The barista said, “Sure, how many do you want?” and then disappeared into a back room. He returned with a stack of bags and handed them over, free of charge.

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The bags smelled faintly of coffee and had charming logos on the front and pretty blue and pale green stripes on the back. Burlap is made from natural jute fibers that are woven into a loose, breathable, biodegradable cloth. It’s a super handy material in the garden and now that I’ve found a free—and endless—supply, here’s how I plan to use it:

Aid Germination. Carrot and parsley seeds take for-ev-er to germinate. Laying a damp layer of burlap over the seeds after you sow them helps keep them moist. When the seeds germinate, you simply pull off the burlap and expose the seedlings to the light.

Block Weeds. To keep weeds down in pathways, I’ll layer burlap bags over the soil, overlapping them slightly, and then spread 3 inches of wood chips on top of the bags.

Build New Beds. This fall I am going to sheet mulch big sections of my backyard to make way for new garden space next spring. Sheet mulch is an easy way to kill grass and build good soil. Basically, you lay down a thick layer of damp cardboard and then spread grass clippings, chopped leaves, and compost on top. Placing burlap over the pile helps keep everything in place and speeds decomposition. By spring, you’ll have nice, nutrient-rich soil to plant into.

Protect My Compost. In my wet climate, winter rains can leach nutrients out of compost if you leave it exposed to the sky. I think that I’ll cover my fall compost piles with burlap and then cover them up with a plywood lid for good measure.

Make Compost In Place. We used to garden at the Interbay Community Garden in Seattle. A popular way to compost there is to mix disease-free vegetable garden debris with some leaves, pile this combo over a garden bed, and then cover it all up with burlap. By spring, the pile has composted and all you have to do is dig it in. Genius!

Outdoor Tablecloth. I just can’t get enough of the burlap’s lovely, handmade texture. It is so pretty, I almost hate to use all of it in the garden. So, I’m going to cut a few of the bags up and use them to make outdoor tablecloths and pillows. If they get wet or dirty, no big deal! I’ll just recycle them in the garden.

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18 Responses to “Burlap Bags in the Garden”

  1. 1
    Nurit - 1 family. friendly. food. Says:

    How creative!

  2. 2
    Dennis L. Says:

    Great ideas! Thanks for sharing! I think I’ll swing by my local caffeine pusher and see if I can get them too. Here’s a place you can buy them in bulk if needed: http://www.unitedbags.com/c-2-burlap-bags.aspx

  3. 3
    Ben Fairfield Says:

    Hey Willi!

    I am thinking about trying to grow no dig potato plants in burlap sacks this year. This would prevent me from having to dig them up at the end of their season and then i can re-use the bags in the garden!

    Have you heard or seen anyone use them for this purpose before? If so how did they hold up?

    Thanks
    Ben

  4. 4
    Dee/reddirtramblings Says:

    Great ideas. I would never have thought to ask. Thanks.~~Dee

  5. 5
    Lisa Says:

    Love these ideas and best of all they’re free! I need to go find me some now!

  6. 6
    Annie Says:

    Oh – fun ideas! I already get coffee grounds for my compost pile… now I have another thing to “recycle” from them. Old flour sacks are great too. Hard to find, but fun.

  7. 7
    vagabundo Says:

    I just found out our local lumberyard will give you the large pieces of plastic that the lumber is wrapped in for shipping- a great free source for reuse of product to put down under mulch!

  8. 8
    Willi Says:

    Vagabundo–Love it that you’re recycling! You might want to consider using the lumberyard plastic to cover a hoophouse instead of using it under mulch. A few years ago I did some research on plastic and it can actually disintegrate into little pieces that would be hard to remove from the soil. You could use it to warm up your soil in spring, because for that technique you only leave the plastic on for a few weeks. Thanks for the tip on where to find free clear plastic!

    Annie–I agree that coffee grounds are awesome for compost.

    Lisa & Dee–I discovered that almost any coffee shop (even the big guys like Starbucks) will give away the bags.

    Ben–I haven’t heard of anyone using the bag, but I bet it totally works. You could just roll the bags down, put in a bit of compost, bury the potatoes, and then add mulch as they grow (and unroll the bag). I just might have to try it! As far as holding up, I’ve had bags last for an entire wet Seattle winter, so they should be fine for one summer.

    Dennis–Thanks for the link!

  9. 9
    Ace Evans Says:

    Willi, great idea ! I use them for weed controls. I will see if I can get Buffe to make outdoor pillows!. I get mine at
    Distant Lands Coffee
    Corporate Office & Roasting Facility
    801 Houser Way N.
    Renton, WA 98057
    800.758.4437
    info@dlcoffee.com

    I Dumpster dive and get most of them but I have also asked nicely at the warehouse a few doors from the main office and they brought them out in a pallet!

    Ace

  10. 10
    Lelo Says:

    What a great idea. I have an old grain feed bag from my grandparent’s small Kansas farm town: I use it as a drapery cover on a small window. It’s funky, perfect, and makes me smile when I remember my grandparents.

  11. 11
    Melanthia Says:

    These are great. I started using them a couple years ago. One thing I noticed in recent weeks … weird fungi growing where some of the bags have been placed.

  12. 12
    CheyAnne Says:

    this is a wonderful idea, I have a few I’ll have to dig up and use in our newlly tilled up garden plot (you are very right about watching your sexy man dig up ground, mine got all sweaty and I loved every minute of it).
    peace n abundance
    CheyAnne
    http://newmexicomtngirl.com

  13. 13
    Karen Says:

    I got some from another garden blogger friend (Paula of Petunia’s Garden) who works for a coffee co. I use them mostly as temporary cat-repellants in newly-dug beds, as I they always seem to find the fresh dirt and use it for a potty! I like the idea of growing potatoes in them, but wouldn’t water just spill out? Maybe they’d have to be lined with garbage bags or ?? Great post!

  14. 14
    Gina Says:

    I am in search of bags in my hometown of St. Louis – I plan to use them as a hanging garden to avoid having to build cages over raised beds (I have planted tomatoes for the past 4 years – they always fruit, but I have yet to eat one…. the squirrels, however, have had plenty). I’m picturing my own recycled tomato topsy turvy or whatever it’s called. I am also concerned about the water falling through, but I think that enough soil will make it ok… keeping my fingers crossed.

  15. 15
    Erica Mulherin - Currently » Burlap and Pests: Says:

    [...] to allow my vegetable illustrations to grace her page. Yesterday she talked about the benefits of burlap in the garden and it was such appropriate timing as I had just laid down a bit over my carrot seeds to help them [...]

  16. 16
    Jen Says:

    Great idea! I have been asking my local Starbucks and they don’t seem to know what I’m talking about… I think I’ll try to hit up a local coffee shop instead. Thanks for the idea!

  17. 17
    CheyAnne Says:

    A year later and still great ideas to think about now that spring is somewhere around the corner (I hope). Anyway up here in north eastern New Mexico @ 8000 ft is gets soooo hot. My little lettuce was having such a hard time, so I a little frame about 6″ wide and as long as the bed. I then tacked the burlap to the frame and propped it up to shade my little lettuce babies and it kept them cool and let the rain it too. This year I’m going to use shade cloth over most all of my garden. I will remember the carrot germination tho.
    Peace n Abundance,
    CheyAnne @
    http://cheyannesexton.etsy.com or
    http://redbubble.com/people/nmexicomtngirl

  18. 18
    jute seed bag Says:

    yes this is good idea. really i am impressive.
    thanks sharing for good idea.
    jute seed bag´s last [type] ..Vestibulum ac diam sit amet quam vehicula

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