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.
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.