Growing in Coffee Bags

This weekend I planted my potatoes in recycled coffee bags just like I did last year.

What I love about this method is it allows you to grow bonus food by simply finding a few square feet anywhere in the right light conditions, even over concrete.  If you aren’t using your driveway to park the car or have unused patio space you can turn it into grow space!

Here are other bonuses:

  • Inexpensive compared to raised beds or pots
  • Re-use existing materials rather than increase consumer demand for plastics or wood
  • All natural materials can be composted at the end of the grow season so nothing to store over winter
  • Easier to hill late variety potatoes by simply unrolling the bags sides and adding more dirt
  • Excellent drainage during wet and soggy springs keeps your potatoes healthier
  • At harvest time simply dump the whole thing into a wheel barrel and sort for potatoes, no more cutting into them with the spade or stabbing with a garden fork
  • Growing in bags around the base of young fruit trees allows you to use that space without disturbing the tree’s root zone and the tree roots will benefit from the mulch effect and any draining water from the burlap bags (sort of a slow release watering.)

Where can you get some coffee bags? You can check with your local coffee roaster but if you live in Seattle you’re in luck. You can get them from Upcycle NW. And while you are there you can pick up free coffee chaff to use either as organic matter and browns to your compost pile, as a top layer for your worm compost bin to keep fruit flies at bay, or as chicken bedding (which then gets added to your compost pile as the brown organic matter layer.)

They also have roasted coffee grounds to add nitrogen to your compost pile or soil mixes and roasted and unroasted beans to use decoratively in the garden or as a top mulch layer that will slowly release nitrogen into the garden. And if you are container gardening adding a few inches of beans at the bottom of the container will help improve drainage.

Can you tell I’m a huge fan?

As an added bonus if you reply in the comments that you want any organic coffee bags to use as containers I can have them at my open garden on April 17 for you to purchase.

The no cut are $3 each (have not been sliced open) and the top cut bags are $2.25 each. I’ve used both as planters and either work fine.

So if you weren’t planning to grow potatoes (or squash) because they take up too much valuable garden space go outside and look around for any possible spot to put a coffee bag and then reply below or email UpcycleNW for their hours so you can pick some up.

Now go grow some food already!

32 Responses to Growing in Coffee Bags

  1. Absolutely love the look of those coffee bag planters. Very cool. What a great idea. I like this better than the wooden box with slats method.

  2. I’m trying potatoes in bags this year as well. (if I can actually stop working so much overtime lately and get to my garden). I hadn’t thought about trying to grow squash in them. With losing some of my planned space, I might have to try that as well!

    Wish I could stop by for the April open house. (it’s my birthday that day) I can’t wait until you do one in summer as I’ve been extremely curious as to how you set up all of the fruit trees you have.

    Also, I thought that there was potentially a problem with mold or some type of fungus on th coffee bags. Have you heard of that? I wanted to buy some as they do a beautiful job of keeping the ground moist after planting seeds, but then I got worried that I was going to be introducing bad things to my soil.

  3. Did you just fill them with potting soil? If you blended your own mix, what did you use?


  4. I’d be up for stopping by and picking up two bags. Maybe one of each, so I can test them both out? I’m going to send this to my PEPS groups and see if anyone else wants to try growing potatoes with their little ones.

  5. That’s brilliant. But what if someone nabs a bag?

  6. Jo, I’m sure that is possible but I know people have been using coffee bags as mulch here in Seattle since Starbucks first hit the scene. If it happens to me I’ll definitely let you know! If you do have blight in your soil buying fresh topsoil to fill bags is a great way to skirt the issue since you aren’t reusing soil that had issues last year.

    Joshua, we put in new raised beds in the back this year so I just got extra veg blend from Pacific Soil. There are lots of recipes for making soil out there and I have a good one from Steve Solomon but I haven’t used it yet since my native soil here is solid clay so it’s better for me to bring in something with organic matter and sand in it and add a little clay with resident earthworms to it.

    Lynne, I’ll put you down for 2 bags.

    Julia, always a risk with containers. I live in a little out of the way neighborhood that time forgot. Last year my neighbors were tripping over the watermelons growing across the sidewalk and no one kyped one so I’m feeling ok about the potatoes. ;)

  7. Brilliant use of available materials and I am sure this works really well!

  8. I love the idea of placing the bags around fruit trees! I have a bunch of potato bags and it makes total sense now to move these to the orchard area!

  9. I plan to to make it to the open house and would love to pick up 3 or 4 bags. Thanks!

  10. Love this idea, they’re so pretty too (unlike the black bags you can buy from other places). I’ll have to ask my local coffee shop guy what he does with his bags. I keep wanting to ask him about his grounds too.

  11. Susy these are from a roasters (Tully’s) so you may need to find a local roaster to get them. Luckily we have plenty of those in Seattle. You will also want to get the organic ones if you use them in the garden. The designs on them are just beautiful and they make great mulch as well.

  12. What a great idea! Reading about this made me contact a local roaster (he’s been in the paper a lot lately since neighbors in this small town were against his roasting at home) to ask for bags. He just got back to me that he’ll have a bunch next week (he just got rid of a stack before he got my email). Anyway, I’m excited to have a way to expand my space and for making a new connection in my town. I’ll be sure to send some potatoes his way come harvest. Thanks for your very informative posts!

  13. Andrea, just be sure to ask if they are organic ones if you have an organic garden. I love these!

  14. I would buy four no-cut coffee bags ($3 ea) if it isn’t too late for you to get them — will pick them up Saturday at your open.

  15. Amy, see you there!

  16. I got my free coffee bags over a month ago from a friend/ex-coworker who is now in coffee import. BUT my potatoes just arrived on Saturday! I’m set to plant tomorrow but curious about how many potatoes you started in each bag? I tend to space my veggies very close because we have limited sun space so I never follow “ordinary” spacing guidelines. I have 20 bags though and sunny space in the driveway so I don’t NEED to crowd these.

  17. Marlyn,
    20 bags is great! It depends what kind of potato you are growing. The general rule is 1′ apart but I did more like 6″s apart because I’m rebellious. If they are smaller potatoes though you can do 1/2 that.

  18. Thanks for the info! If you see our potato box (which re-seeded itself) on our blog — last year we put close to 5 pounds of fingerlings in that space — TIGHT! And they produced wonderfully. I hilled with hay which was pretty, easy, and fragrant!

  19. I love the idea of using hay since I could put it in the chicken run when I’m done with it – dirt isn’t always easy to come by in the city!

  20. Read your article in today’s Seattle times…cool, I’ve tried it, and still do grow a few things!
    I have a way above ground grow box, covered with green house clear plastic, works good!
    The problum I was having with raised beds was mice, rats,and neighborhood cats using it for a litter box at night……gross!
    Gardening is a war of the worlds, how do you deal with this problum?

  21. Dennis welcome! We definitely have rats here since we are so close to the lake. Until the plants are established I cover the beds with remay. I built a metal roofing fortress around the tomatoes this year hoping to keep the rats out of there. I also just have to accept that I will lose some to critters of all kinds so I try to plant enough and not get my hopes wrapped up in that one prize tomato.

  22. You know, critters are food too! One way to deal with a problem, is to spell problem correctly, huh!

  23. Dennis there was a big thread last fall on the urban farming listserv about eating squirrels. If I didn’t know they ate out of dumpsters I would certainly be tempted…

  24. A few years ago, around the New Orleans area, the police arrested a guy trying to swap seven squirrels he shot for favors from a prostitute….guess she want cash!
    I have a squirrel that comes here every morning for peanuts, bet he’d be tasty!
    Keep it to gardening.

  25. Oh my Dennis I can imagine the headlines already on that one but let’s not go there on this blog, eh?

  26. Thinking about trying to grow mushrooms inside the garage this winter. Do you think it would be possible? If so do you have a suggestion where the best place would be to order mushroom spores?

  27. Hi Marsha,
    I was all set to start mushrooms up against the house in flower beds in full shade and then talked to someone who grows mushrooms. He said the spores move into the wood in your house and can compromise the integrity of the structure. YIKES! Why wasn’t that in any of those DIY books? So I’ve scrapped that idea and I can’t recommend growing them in the garage any longer. I’ll be buying my mushrooms at the market until the kids are big enough and then we’ll be foraging them ourselves.

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  29. thanks so much for this idea! I just visited seattle burlap yesterday and got all setup with bags…some for planters, some for mulching, and some “nice” ones that I’m going to try to make bags or something out of :) Thought I’d use the rest of the potatoes from last fall’s root crop buy to plant in these bags.

  30. Hi Jenny,
    I hope they work well for you! Just be sure not to place them on a deck because they will degrade by the end of the season. It’s long enough to support the dirt until fall though.

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