Fruit Trees in Fabric Pots with Kevin Espiritu

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A few years ago I heard about a non profit group called Giving Grove. They're based in Kansas City, Missouri, and that group was founded in 2013 with the goal of fighting food insecurity
by planting community orchards across the United States.
Now in just a decade, this group has set up 500 orchards in 14 states. The fruit trees are maintained by almost a thousand volunteers
and those fruit trees are expected to produce over 65 million servings of free healthy food in their lifetimes.
And that is a lot of fruit.
Now the Giving Grove team like to plant
bare root trees that come from specialist fruit tree nurseries.
And that's because bare root trees
are usually better quality and more affordable than fruit trees that you get from a big box store.
So bare root trees are often healthier than potted trees, for instance, because potted trees can get very root bound in their plastic pots.
The problem with bare root fruit trees is that you have to plant them in the dormant season.
And that's in the early spring or the late fall. And that can be a little bit limiting.
So, each year, Giving Grove orders almost a thousand bare root fruit trees, and most are planted in the spring in various orchards.
But, they keep a few hundred trees aside, and they get them ready for a fall planting.
So they pot up these trees not in plastic pots, but in fabric pots because fabric pots seem to allow trees and other plants to be healthier. Their roots are healthier because they don't get root bound.
So when the weather then cools in the fall, they take care of these trees in the fabric pots. Over the hot summer, and then
when the weather cools, they will plant the trees, take off the fabric pots, plant the trees, and they actually clean up the pots, the fabric pots, and use them again the following year.
So, this was a really long winded way of saying that fabric pots are interesting, and I want to learn more about them.
So, my guest on the show is Kevin Espiritu. He's the guy to talk to because he's the author of a book called
Grow Bag Gardening. And it's a comprehensive guide on using fabric pots not just for fruit trees, but for vegetables and for a lot of other plants too.
So, Kevin is also the founder of the information packed website EpicGardening. com, so you should check that out. And I'm going to talk to Kevin in just a minute.
But first, I want to hear from you. Have you ever grown fruit trees or any other plants in fabric pots like smart pots? What are the pros and cons?
During the live show, I'd love it if you can send in your questions, your comments, or you can also just email us to say hi. Send your email to instudio101 at gmail. com. That's instudio101 at gmail. com. And do remember to include your first name and where you are writing from. I look forward to hearing from you soon.
And so Kevin, thank you for coming on the show today. Hey, thanks for having me, Susan. So I'm glad you're here and you're obviously a person who was also interested in fabric pots, because you wrote a book about the topic. How did that come about? Yeah, for me, I, just didn't have a lot of space when I first started gardening.
So I had enough space in a small front yard for a few raised beds, but really it was a lot of concrete, side yard, backyard, all paved over. and so container gardening was, the way to go for me.
But these grow bags or fabric pots, as they can be called, really attracted me because when you grow in a container, as I'm sure Susan, you've got the issue of potentially root rot.
binding your plant. especially if you're growing a fruit tree, like sometimes maybe some trees like it, a lot of trees tend to want to spread out quite a bit more than that. and so when I started learning about the fabric pots, I was like, okay, well, it's a container, but it doesn't seem to have the problems that a lot of containers do being that causing that root circling issue.
And the reason why is because it's a porous material. It's a semi porous material at least. And so when the roots get to the edge of the pot, instead of, Kind of spinning around and spiraling down. They tend to actually just naturally air prune themselves off so that it'll dry out When it gets to the edge Tends to naturally prune itself there air prune itself as it's called Which then stimulates more growth from the core root system
So you get a much more healthy looking root system closer to how it would look if it was in the ground Obviously not the exact same Well, here's what's really interesting.
I got a picture and I'm going to show it in the video version of this. It's from SmartPots and they have a picture of a root ball. I think it's a blueberry, shrub, bush, whatever. And man, that root ball is like intense roots, lots and lots of roots. so, I guess that's a good thing. I guess the more roots, the more food gets into the tree and plant.
Yeah, that's the idea. I think what I've noticed, whether it's a fruit tree or a vegetable, like a tomato, let's say, is you're going to get a more natural sort of classic branching style root system than you would in a typical container. Now, of course, anything grown in a container is not going to have the quote optimal root system compared to how it might grow in the soil.
But it seems to be closer to optimal. And given that you're growing in a container, that's about the best you can get to. So you tend to have plants that. are more able to uptake nutrients, uptake, uptake water, than they might be if they were circled out like you might get at a nursery.
Gotcha. Okay.
We've got an email here from Edward. Edward says, Hello, Susan. Hello to Susan and Orchard People. This is a fantastic topic today, since most of us are in the dark about fabric pots. Thanks for sharing. Thank you for writing, Edward. That's so wonderful. We've got another email here. Hey y'all, this is from Rory, and I'm from Chattanooga, Tennessee, and I'm at the start of my food forest journey.
My question for Kevin. A lot of episodes I've watched and listened to involving fruit trees regard the pruning of fruit trees to be important. If I'm going for a more full, tall forest, should I be hesitant to take to the shears, or is there a happy medium? Do you know much about food forests?
Do you have a food forest, Kevin, I would say I have a more structured food forest than most people who would call themselves food forest owners.
Like, a lot of people who are in the food forest world are closer towards that more permaculture approach with the seven layers of permaculture. They have their very, tall canopy style trees. They have their smaller trees, their shrubs, their ground covers, their annuals, et cetera. I have some of that developing, but specifically for my fruit trees and this is part of my answer to that email is I tend to be a bit more active than some people might be with my pruning.
So with my fruit trees, take one example, I have a hedgerow with about 15 different citrus. And they're planted about four feet apart. So I don't really have the luxury given that I planted them four feet apart to let them just go free. They'll get a little bit too unruly and it would have defeated the purpose of the way I planted them that way.
I also have a large loquat. it's my largest tree on the property. It's about, that's about 15 feet tall. I don't want it taller than that though. and it could get taller. And so this is one I inherited when I moved in. So what I've done over the last. Two, three years, every single year after the fruiting season for loquat, which is roughly right now.
So somewhere around summer, I'll come through and I'll do a very serious prune, the classics, you're dead, diseased and damaged, of course, but then I'll prune for shape and structure because I frankly can't eat all the loquats that I get. It's a very productive tree. So if I cut down Transcribed A third a fourth of the height every year and let it regrow back.
That's to me. That's totally fine What I would say to the writer though is and I'm curious your perspective to Susan is it's really up to You don't have to prune a tree if you don't want to it's just your results are going to be a little bit different You might have you know, very productive and then very unproductive years based on the particular tree you might be letting grow.
you might find it quite frustrating to get to fruit. Let's say you were growing a fig. At that point, figs are fruiting on mostly new growth. You're going to be very tall up there and you're going to have to reach for those. So to me, I would always prune my fruit tree to some degree. I'm curious what you think.
Yeah, for me, I am all about pruning because for us, when you're growing a fruit tree, you want the fruit, you want the quality fruit. And when you are removing some of the wood of the tree, then that energy that would go to just have this big woody tree goes into the fruit itself. So the fruit tree has a limited amount of energy.
It's going to either put it in the fruit or in wood or a balance between the two. Since so much of fruit tree pruning is finding that perfect balance where you're directing enough energy into the remaining fruit so it's good quality. You were even talking about loquats. You can get loads of fruit that doesn't taste good.
Where you can get less fruit that is really delicious. So while you, Kevin, are making your tree more compact, you're also making the fruit better tasting because you're not pushing that plant to do everything all at once. I agree. I do that.
So this is something I do with my peaches and my nectarines is, last year I did the thinning, probably when small peaches started to form this year, I've actually done sort of a bud thinning before they've even started to sprout just to test it out.
Cause I already knew I could see on the structure of the tree, there was just going to be way too much fruit this year again. and so what I did is. When I did the shaping prune to control the vase style canopy and the vase style structure, bring the height down a little bit. I also looked at branches that I thought If I, fast forward time and I see this develop in my mind's eye, there's going to be too much fruit on this branch to support.
Maybe let's say, a main, a branch shooting off from the main trunk that then has an offshoot that then has an offshoot, right? And if there's 12, buds on each of those, you know at the very tail end of that, you're going to break that stem. and so I might as well cut it off now. and it, I have tended to notice, Susan, that the fruit, Is it's like you get less fruit, but the fruit's better, whether that's a sweeter fruit or a better size or something like that.
Absolutely. That is so exactly how I see pruning. It's a communication between you and the tree. It's, you guys working together for a common goal. Like, lots of people do plant a fruit tree and they're sitting back and they're thinking, okay, give me fruit. Give me what I want. It's a two way street.
We put in our work pruning. and caring for the tree, thinning the fruit if necessary that you mentioned, and some people even thin the blossoms, but I don't do that. I also use pruning as part of my thinning, as you were mentioning, right? When you're removing a branch, you are thinning, you're taking some of the extra.
Fruit away. So what a great question. Oh, nothing to do with fabric pots, but a really good question.
We've got another one here from lovely Greg from Urban Farm Podcast. Yay. Thank you, Greg, for writing. He says, Kevin and Susan, awesome work. Keep it up. Kevin, how to the, how do the fabric pots handle the heat of the low desert, i.
e. Phoenix? I've had some success, but not great success with the heat. Yeah, that's a, that's one of the downsides, right? So every growing method has. A reason you do it, and then it has the things to look out for. And so the reason you do it, as I mentioned, is you get that root pruning benefit.
You get a better root structure. You tend to get a healthier plant, but of course that's if you can keep the plant healthy via normal care. And so if you're in a very arid climate that's hot, I would say Phoenix is certainly a bit hotter, but I'm, in San Diego, which is a Mediterranean style climate.
So, what we've done is, I tend to, in, in Greg's case, what I would probably do is, I would either use a lined grow bag, so there are grow bags you can get, these are some we actually designed and developed, but you can get them elsewhere as well, that have a, an extra lining on the interior. So you, it's still a bit porous on that top, let's say two thirds of the sides of the bag, the bottom is, remained unlined, but you lose a little bit less water.
Because if something's going to be porous in root pruning, it's also going to lose more water than a traditional plastic pot, right? Because. There's way more avenue for evaporation to take place. And so what I've noticed is in warmer climates, that is the problem you run into with grow bags is you tend to have to water them a lot, which also means you might have to fertilize them more because you might be washing that fertilizer a little bit out of the system.
So the two ways I've solved that is to go to a lined grow bag, or to size your grow bags up. And, or to also use mulch on top of the grow bag, which I think a lot of container gardeners might forget that you can also mulch your containers. there's nothing preventing you from doing that. Absolutely, that is so interesting.
Great approaches. We've got a question here from Mike. Hello, Susan and Kevin. Can Kevin touch on raised garden beds? Any good? As in, are raised beds good in general? Yeah, I guess so, but I guess, I understand the grow bags also, you can get them in raised bed size. You can, yeah. Yeah, I mean there's, it's interesting because everything blends into one eventually.
A big enough container is just a raised bed, right? and an even bigger container like if one was hundreds and hundreds of gallons, it's just like growing in soil almost. so yeah, you're right. I believe SmartPots makes I think they call it like the big bag bed or something like that where you can unfold it and you get about a, I don't know, two by four foot space.
And so to me, that's a great option. if you're, if you don't want to build something out of wood, you don't want to buy, a prebuilt bed, you can just unfold it, fill it up and you're good to go. there's no real difference, in that than compared to like a grow bag or a raised bed. The only thing I'd say is you will lose more water than you would in, let's say, a wooden raised bed or a metal raised bed, similar to the, issue I brought up with containers, right?
If you're growing in a plastic pot, you lose less water than you would if you're growing in a grow bag, but you get the benefit of, first of all, rolling out a bed and throwing it up really easy. It's just handy. That's just nice. and then you also get a bit of that root pruning benefit too.
It's interesting, talking about this reminds me of a community orchard, here in Ontario that I visited at one point. They had a tennis court nobody used and they had, I can't remember if it was pots, either fabric or plastic pots. I think it might have been fabric bags on the tennis court. So that would be a reason why you might want to do it if there is no soil.
To build a raised bed at the same time. How are the roots going to feel especially tree roots might be very sensitive Being on very a very hard surface that gets hot, maybe it's better for a cooler climate like mine
Yeah so we got a couple more questions. This one is from seth. Hello, susan and kevin seth here tuning in from mohican forest in ohio's only section of 5b Basically just south of you, below Lake Erie.
Question about growing in bags. Will the winter exposure here harm the tree as cold can be able to surround the tree to a damaging degree, being above the soil line? Thanks so much. And Susan, I'm currently building a huge hugelkultur thanks to a previous episode. How exciting, Seth. Oh my gosh. I'm hoping you'll send me a picture of your hugelkultur because I want to see what happens.
So, that is very interesting. So just with regards to the question about Well, how damaging cold could be, what do you think about that, Kevin? Yeah, I think it's a real concern. So you know, when you're growing, let's say, a writer is growing, I don't know, a peach or something like that in 5b, typically, you have no problem leaving that in the ground, right?
Because it's going to need to accumulate its chill hours. But he's completely right. If you're growing in, let's say, a 25 to 50 gallon grow bag or container above ground, especially with that porosity of the side of the bag, you're going to get potentially you're going to freeze the container all the way through.
I don't know exactly how cold it gets there, but real concern, I would say. and so something. You can do to prevent that is you can cluster the bags together that would give them a little bit less exposure. You can cover them. you can bring them. The beauty of a container is you can bring it in and out of doors or in and out of cover.
This is something I've recommended a lot for folks who want to experiment with growing things that are quote out of their zone. Is you can grow them in a container. move them into, let's say, maximum sunlight during the growing season. And then of course, if maybe you're trying to pull like a citrus off in a lower zone, it's not impossible.
It's just, you pretty much are forced to grow that in a container and bring it in for shelter, during the winter months. And so if that's the case, it might also be the case. You'd have to do that with other fruit tree varieties if it's really getting that cold, but it's tricky because. As I'm sure Susan, it's all and it depends in the garden.
And so it does depend on how cold it'll get. How big is the bag? The bigger the bag, the less likely it is going to be seriously impacted by the cold. Obviously, a small 10 gallon bag would freeze through way quicker than a 50 gallon bag, right? But I think it's a real concern. And I would personally be protecting, insulating, wrapping, etc.
Or I may opt for a different way of growing if I was really concerned. Absolutely. and here in Toronto in the past, our winters have been getting much warmer, sadly. But, in the past, even with regular potted trees, we would just pile up, whatever mulch around the pots, just to make sure that those roots, those precious roots do not freeze.
Because if the roots freeze. your tree is toast. The upper part of the tree is designed to withstand the cold, but the roots are not. and they're so, when they're planted in the soil, they've, they're insulated by miles and miles of soil. So it's super question. I'm, so glad that question was asked.
We've got another question here.
This one's from Jessica. Hi, Susan and Kevin. I've tried growing vegetables and grow bags. But in sunny, dry Colorado, I have a hard time keeping the soil moist enough for the plants to really thrive. Any tips? I'd love to have a whole set of blueberries in containers. So that's Jess from Colorado.
And Jess, I love this idea of blueberries in fabric pots because I've heard that it can be done. And I think it's especially since blueberries need their own soil that's acidic and stuff like that.
What are your thoughts, Kevin? Well, I think, first of all, the blueberries in containers, it's the only way I've found to grow them successfully because I just don't have the acidity in my native soil to get close.
And so I haven't grown them in grow bags, mostly because I have these terracotta pots that they've been in for quite a while. But, to answer the question, one thing I've experimented with, that I didn't mention yet at least is, for a container mix of soil, it wouldn't be replicating your exact native soil and ground.
And it may not even be replicating what would be in, let's say a four foot by eight foot raised bed. Every single sort of growing situation may require its own mix or a bit of a shift. And so the point I'm getting at there is if you're running into a drying out problem, like Greg mentioned, and this writer also mentioned, there's nothing wrong with.
Changing your mix a little bit and the way to do that would be to add a bit more of a water retentive ingredient. And so what I've experimented with, typically you think when you make a soil, you think drainage, you think fertility and you think. Retention. So you want the water to come out. You don't want so much to come out and you want there to be some nutrition inherent within that mix and that's what a lot of potting mixes are based on.
So what I might do is I might say instead of about a third, of each of those ingredients, I might say in this case, hey, I know it dries out. Really fast. So I'm gonna bump my coconut coir. Let's say up to about half the mix I might go half coconut coir a quarter compost and a quarter of Wood chips or bark or that would be more for blueberries I don't want to I want to be clear like I don't want to steal nitrogen from the soil and that would be one Way to do that Or maybe a perlite or a pumice or something to add that drainage So a long way of saying just add more moisture retentive qualities to the soil mix is one way to prevent That is so interesting.
In your book, the Grow Bag Gardening book, do you talk a lot about soil and how to create just the right mix? Yeah, we have. It's been a while since I've written it, so I need to remember exactly how many mixes are in there, but there's a good handful of different mixes. I believe There's a peat free mix, if that's your thing, there's a citrus mix, there's a water retentive mix, and there's some fertilizer recommendations as well.
So there's some ways to mitigate it. Fantastic.
Okay, another question here, and this one is from Steve. Love your radio show today. A question. Does your guest have a website? Thank you. Yeah, we do. So we're on epicgardening. com if you are a reader. And then we're also everywhere else on the internet.
If you have a. YouTube thing, podcast. Everything's just called Epic Gardening. The podcast is called The Beet, B E E T. And, yeah, we're everywhere. That's part of our mission is teach the world to grow. Excellent.
Okay, we've got another email from Greg, Farmer Greg, Urban Farm Podcast. And I love this question.
Hey there, what materials are the bags made out of? Assuming that yours are made from healthy materials. Looking at your site and there are lined and unlined, what is the difference? And I, yeah, I want to chime in there because I think that there are a lot of like knockoff bags made in all over the world that may be made of toxic.
Materials like so anyways, what's the answer to Greg's question? Yeah, the bags can be made from a lot of different materials and it depends on your own preferences as a grower. Obviously, if someone is anti plastic in any of its forms. Then a lot of grow bag materials might not be for you because a lot of them are made with some version of either recycled or virgin plastic spun into fibers that are ideally designed to last quite a long time.
There are some, and in the book, even I cover like a grow bag is really just a container that. That a garden goes in that doesn't, that happens to not be fully solid.
So, you could use something like a burlap sack. we took some reader photos, in the book and there's someone that was doing really well, just burlap sacks.
They went to the store, bought a bunch of burlap sacks. Problem, of course, is that's a one season thing. They're gonna decompose within a year. Someone did coffee bags. Someone did, grocery bags. Of course that's plastic, right? And so it's a tricky, it's a tricky situation. The ones that we make, they do contain plastic.
They're BPA free, UV treated. the idea is that if My sort of my philosophy is if you're going to use plastic, you should try to make it last as long as humanly possible. It's an ethos we've brought through, the few things that we offer that actually do have plastic. It would be the grow bags and our seed trays that we sell.
the difference to Greg's question about lined versus unlined is an unlined grow bag is basically just whatever fabric was used to make the bag itself. That's what's on the inside as well. It's just a piece, right? the lined version has an additional sewn in lining on the interior to do what I mentioned, Susan, to lose less water out the sides of the bags while still retaining the air pruning benefit of the bag itself.
Because if you went, like, extremely lined, you basically get all the way back to a normal plastic pot. and what's interesting here is that the thing with plastic pots, they're pretty, relatively easy to sanitize and use again and again.
with a lined or unlined fabric pot, I know people do use them again and again, but how would you do that?
Yeah, The way to do it is, basically you can refresh the soil directly in and not even dump it out, which I've done many times. If you're growing in like a 25 gallon grow bag and you're, doing carrots or something like that, just because you harvest the carrots doesn't mean you have to somehow reset all the soil.
You can just throw a little organic granular for it in there if you want to reset the soil and just plant right in. so some people just do that. They just never, they never empty it. and some folks, if they, Are growing on limited space or they don't have too many bags. They want to do a different soil mix or something, dump it out, fill it back up with something that It's better for the plant you're trying to grow next and go for it as far as maintenance, which I where I think you were going on that, Susan, is what you can use like a baking soda and like a scrub type thing to get off any residue or debris if you want, because the thing that you'll see sometimes is you'll see like some salt buildup.
If you have hard water, you'll see that kind of show up on the fabric, right? Or if you've over watered or over fertilized and over watered, which is a pretty common thing for beginners, you might see like some green algae build up. and, that's, it's just a thing that happens if those situations are met in the garden.
I've seen it in containers that aren't fabric pots as well. My pond, it's just a phenomenon of biology. so yeah, those are some ways to do it. Excellent. Okay, couple more questions. We've got lots of questions coming through.
and this one is from Eric. Eric says, Hello, is Kevin an author?
And you can tell us about your books. If so, what are his publications and where can I purchase them? Thank you very much from Detroit, Michigan. So tell us about the various books you've written. Sure. Yeah. So the one we're talking about right now is called Grow Bag Gardening. That was my second book. The first book was called, Or is called Field Guide to Urban Gardening and the idea behind that one was it was my first book and the idea was, hey, let's teach someone how plants grow, not necessarily how to garden, but how to become a gardener.
And so it's the education behind how to plants use light. How do you plant plants? How do you create simple DIY systems at home? And it was really designed for. Someone more in my shoes at that phase of life, which was urban space, suburban space. I'm not. Having some huge homestead. I'm just trying to grow a little bit of produce at home for myself So that's the idea behind the first book and the book that just came out is the third one is called epic homesteading And that is the story of where I live now, which is about a third of an acre lot Small home, but a very productive orchard an in ground vegetable garden a coop solar panels on the roof, raised bed garden, grow bags, how to tie all these different systems together beyond the garden to create a productive, homestead.
And to answer the question of where they can be purchased, pretty much anywhere books are sold. If you're out of the USA, I would check Amazon. If you're in Australia, I'd check Booktopia. And then, we also have our own store where you can buy copies directly from us. Great. Okay, another interesting question.
this one's from Andy. Andy writes, I like to hold over the summer some apple trees to sell in the fall. That sounds a little bit like the Giving Grove story we talked, started off with. I do live in the Midwest, where my apple trees can get exposed to my Midwestern summers with temperatures hitting the 90 degree mark.
My question is, would it be better to cover the apple tree bags and mulch To keep them cooler or to leave them exposed to the nineties. So that's the opposite of what we were talking about before. We were talking about mulching to, to protect from the cold. Would you mulch these bags to protect them from the heat?
it's a really good question. I wish I had more experience directly with apples. Like there's one apple I've grown and that's in ground right now. What my sort of gardener's intuition would say is mulch does both things.
It's a buffer, right? And so it'll help, hot things. Stay less odd and cool.
Things stay less cool. so I, I probably would 90 feels a bit high for me on apples, but Susan, I'm curious what you think. I would definitely mulch around the roots, definitely, no question.
and in terms of, when I was thinking of putting together this show, I can see definitely how useful these grow bags are if you are in a small space.
And let's say you don't have in your backyard, a lot of sun, but on your front driveway, you've got lots of sun. We've used some grow bags before in our property in the front, because that's where the sun is. And I see the usefulness with trees. I think citrus is different. With an apple tree, they really want to stretch out their roots, and I am very much in tune with apple trees and certain other deciduous trees, and I want to see their roots go far and wide.
However, our story at the top of the show about how Giving Grove is using these pots to grow the trees for a few years until you're ready to plant them. That makes a lot of sense to me.
You've got a really strong root ball. you can reuse the pots. you may have to sanitize them. We may hear a little bit more about that later in the show, but, well, I probably would not grow an apple tree in the longterm inside a fabric pot, but.
If, the reader is doing it for the shorter term, please, yeah, do mulch around the roots for sure and just keep those roots. They're so important for, that's how the tree will get, all the moisture and all the nutrition, so it's really important. let's do one more question and then we'll have a little commercial break.
this one is from Bonnie.
Bonnie says, Hi Susan and Kevin, using a fabric bag, what would your mix be for blueberries? Well, the one, I can only speak to the one I've experimented with and I've had success and it is roughly, oh man, it's probably about 40 percent It's 50, it's, 50. I use micro bark, so small bark chips, and then I use a camellia azalea acid mix.
so I use those two and then I'll also throw in call it the extra 5 percent of like worm castings or some sort of organic amendment like that you might use in a granular for, I like worm castings cause you got some good biologicals in there, not too heavy on the NPK. you can't, really over fertilize with that.
It seems like, so that's what I've done. it's worked pretty well. I'm always experimenting because something I've noticed with that particular mix is. Depends on the life within the soil, but it can sink very quickly. the micro bark can decompose extremely fast, and then all of a sudden that blueberry is floating on nothing as it sinks.
So I'm still playing around with it. I don't know if you've done it, Susan, and you have a blueberry mix you really love. No, and we haven't grown blueberries yet. I would love to one day, but it's just too different from the soil that we've got. Yeah. we're all about easy over here. I'm going to pop in another question or two.
Hello, garden people. This is from Irene.
Kevin, who is Ruth Stout? So Ruth Stout is a woman, I don't know exactly when she lived, but it was probably about a hundred ish years ago or more is when she was born. but she was a woman who came up with a method of gardening, it's called the no work garden method or something like that.
great book, you can usually find a copy online or reprint on Amazon or something. the thing that I know her for the most is just her method of trying to be very Lazy effectively in the garden. Don't do things you don't have to do. And so something she would do all the time is she would just drop potatoes on the ground, cover them with hay, not bury them, and then just walk away and not do anything for the rest of the season.
And then when time came to harvest the potatoes, she would just walk out and move the straw away, take all the potatoes she wanted and then just move on. and so, it's just proof that. You can go to the nth degree in your garden if you want to, and I love to do that, frankly. And I think all people, you and I, Susan, we love to get deep into it.
But, if you're just going for food production, sometimes you don't have to get that fancy. Jacques on our team, who's, one of our gardeners, he tried the Ruth Stout potato method this year. And it was actually fascinating because again, you don't bury them there on the surface of the soil. You throw maybe six inches of straw mulch on top to, of course, protect them, keep moisture in and the potatoes just grow in that six inch mix.
So when you move the straw away. Unlike normal potatoes, where you have to dig them up and maybe you might spear one on accident, which I've done a million times, you can just see the whole structure of the plant right there. it's very fascinating and he had some amazing harvests just doing that. I think it's so interesting.
Hey, I have no problem with easy. I love easy.
and I did a previous episode on food forests and I love the idea of let's do some more perennials, like perennial vegetables. Let's do, let's let nature do the work. We give it the love. We give it the nurturing, but, it's not as much work as annuals. I, just love, but I love that potato idea.
We've got an email from Caleb. Bye. Bye. hi Susan and Kevin. Caleb listening live from New Zealand at 7am on Wednesday.
I'm aware the old French and Italian gardens had lots of citrus in planters, some with removable sides. I believe that this was so they could replenish soil and root prune. Fascinating, I had no idea.
Does Kevin know if we have developed, past Needing to do these practices, sorry, there's a typo, I'm not exactly sure, with air pruning and modern fertilizer, or is it still good to do this periodically? So, oh, if we have developed past needing to do these practices, so do we not have to have open sides anymore for our pots, especially for citrus, or would that be beneficial?
Would you like to design a fabric pot with a zipper that you could open? I didn't know that either. I'm going to have to research that because to me that's fascinating that would be the case. There is a fabric pot, it's not one that we offer, but I've seen it out there, it's called the potato pot. and so it does have a transparent side that you can zip down and like harvest the potatoes out of the bottom so you don't have to like dump the bag out.
The question is reminding me of that, I don't think that's It's not something I've tried. I don't, I like personally dumping it out and seeing what I got. I don't really want to see it develop. But to answer the question, I do think that if back then there was something that could air prune the sides, they probably wouldn't have developed the removable sides.
That being said, I think there's some merit to the idea of root pruning. No matter what container you're in, I think like on a long enough time frame for like a five, seven, ten year citrus, which of course citrus can go much longer than that, even in a grow bag, you're going to want to probably do a root prune or a pot up or resize.
I'm thinking. let's say you had a 50 gallon container or something on year five to seven, you may just want to do a hard prune reset, bring it all the way back down to something more manageable and in conjunction prune the roots. And so that would be an easier way to do it. That being said, you also could just pop it out of the pot and pop it back in.
I don't, see a problem doing it that way either, but it's cool to imagine these ancient gardens doing it that way. I would love to know where that, that information is from. That's so interesting. yeah, thank you for sharing that. Okay, let's have a few minutes. I'd love to listen to, some words from our sponsors.
And we're going to come back, we'll talk a little bit more, and I think we have a surprise guest on the second part of the show. So people are going to have to come back after the commercial break to find out who it is. But thank you, Kevin. So are you okay hanging on the line for a couple of minutes?
Absolutely. All right. You are listening to Orchard People Radio and show and podcast, brought to you by the Fruit Tree Care training website, orchard This is Reality Radio 1 0 1. I'm your host, Susan Poiser, and we're gonna be back right after this little break.
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You're listening to Orchard People, a radio show and podcast brought to you by the Fruit Tree Care Training website, OrchardPeople.
com. This is Reality Radio 101, and I'm your host, Susan Poizner. And in the show today, we've been talking to Kevin Esposito. He's the CEO and founder of Epic Gardening, and he's also the author of Grow Bag Gardening, right? That's your book, Kevin. That's it. Yeah. So we have been going into depth about fabric pots, using fabric pots, and how to, use them in your garden.
We're going to talk about that again in just a minute, but if any of you have questions or comments or want to share your experience, If you have any questions about your experiences with Fabric Pots, just email us right now in studio101 at gmail. com. And remember to say where you're writing from and your first name.
So we know where you're coming from. So, Kevin, we have another question here. This one. Well, let's see. Nope, we don't have another question. That was the previous question. so Kevin, at the beginning of the show, I talked a little bit about Giving Grove, and have you heard of that organization? I have not, no.
Well, we have a special guest today, because I had called Giving Grove. I know that they use Smart pots, which is a type of fabric bag, for their application. So I thought I would invite Matt Bunch from Giving Grove, to talk a little bit about it, Matt, are you with us on the line? Yes. Yes. Hello, Susan.
Hi, Matt. What's your position at Giving Grove? Yeah, so, I am the horticulturist for the, Giving Grove, and, we are a national organization that works with other community gardening organizations to get orchard, urban orchard programs established. So, I am talking to you in Kansas City, because Kansas City is where, the Giving Grove first got started, and so we, we work under the umbrella, of Kansas City Community Gardens here in Kansas City, with over 250, neighborhood orchards around the metropolitan area.
Wow. So, that's a lot of orchards. And so how did your involvement, like,
I do understand that you put the trees in the ground. You're not using the smart pots or the fabric pots for the long term. Is that correct? Correct. Yeah, we just use the, the smart pots, in a nursery situation. So we do order, about a thousand bare root trees in every spring, expecting Another shipment to come in a couple of days now, and then we will plant out some of those bare root trees in the spring.
But what we are unable to plant out in the spring, we save for our fall planting season And so we will pot them up in these fabric pots, anywhere from, from number fives to number twenties, and then we will, we will over summer them in the nursery, which basically means we're providing water.
We're putting mulch around the root bags to help keep the pots a little bit cooler and putting mulch on top of that, on top of that potting mix, to help retain moisture as well. Moisture retention and cool is definitely important. Because yes, in the show today, a lot of people are saying, wow, they need a lot of water.
And Kevin, you were saying that as well, that's one of the main considerations is if you're going to do fabric pots, you need to water them. Am I right, Kevin? That's right. Yeah. that's, the trade off I found is you, tend to lose more water, but you get that reprinting benefit.
So Matt, are you seeing that, when you do take the trees out of the fabric pots, what do you see in terms of root balls? Yeah, so, what is nice, because I've planted plenty of trees and planted plenty of container trees. And with those sort of plastic container trees, you get that classic spiraled root system, very root bound.
and it's. Very troublesome. Once you take that plastic pot off, then you're forced to either pull those roots out, tease them out, or sometimes butterfly the whole root system. Whereas you pull the bags off of these, smart pot root systems and you see this nice fibrous root network that is going all throughout that, fiber pot.
It's, a really neat thing. It's interesting because when I was researching this episode, I looked on YouTube and there's somebody who shared a video saying, do not, never plant a tree in a fabric pot, because when you rip the pot off, you're ripping the roots as well. Do we, what do you think, Matt?
Yeah. So, so these pots do prune roots. and so that is one of the things that they do. now when we take these pots off, so we've had to figure this out, 10 some odd years ago, how do we get these pots off effectively without destroying the root system? We, we turn a five gallon bucket, we turn it upside down.
And stand the tree and the pot on top of that five gallon bucket and then just peel that root bag that smart pot right off. Yes, you hear the ripping of fine. roots. but these are very fine roots. These, this is root pruning. the, benefit is you end up with a, much larger network of roots.
You have, we'll say a thousand miles of roots versus a hundred miles of roots. I know I'm exaggerating a little bit there, but, you do have a lot more root mass. So fantastic. And the last thing that I wanted to ask you, Matt, when you and I had talked offline, you were mentioning what you guys do, because financially, you need to reuse those bags.
And also for the environment, you want to reuse the bags. So how do you ensure that fruit tree diseases won't go? Like if you've got apple trees in those bags, and one apple tree happens to have canker or God forbid, fire blade or something, and then you put another apple tree in there, you're in big trouble.
How do you prevent that from happening? Yeah, certainly. And, yeah, fruit trees have, their dirty little secrets. yeah, things like fire blight for sure. and some of these pots we have been reusing for 10 years now. So, so they have longevity. so we will, get these pots off. We will take them back to our shop.
And then, We will just set aside a day oftentimes with volunteers. Thank you very much. Volunteers, to one brush all of the roots, cut all of the roots out. And then we will, once we have this relatively clean, we will use a certified organic copper fungicide on the pots. And so after we have done that, the system, the pots should theoretically be free of disease.
Excellent. Very interesting. Okay. A couple more emails have come in. One is from Grace. Hi, Orchard P. I guess that's Orchard People.
I live in an apartment and want to start growing. Any tips or tricks? I live in NYC. Kevin, do you want to answer that one? Yeah, frankly, this is how I started gardening myself.
So I was in a small townhouse in San Diego, California with no, no like outdoor space at all. I had an outdoor sort of. Entrance to the house, obviously, but that was on a north facing covered awning. So it was like, good luck, full shade. so what I did is I used a windowsill that was south facing, and I just had one of those very slim sort of sit on sill planter type things on the inside of my window, and got some soil.
any basic potting mix would have done just fine and threw herbs in. I think actually I did herbs because I don't know, it felt easy. I didn't know much about gardening at the time, but lo and behold, actually one of the higher value things you can grow in, the home garden. If you think about going to the store and buying herbs, like it's, weird to see a couple of sprigs of rosemary for like 4.
99, 3. 99, when you could just have. a bush effectively at your own house forever. and so to me, that's an amazing way to start. If, you don't want to do that and something else is more interesting, I might suggest microgreens. It's another way that, that I started out is any, anything that contains soil will work here.
You could use something recycled, an old milk carton. You could use a tray. Put some soil down. You'll grab a bulk pack of seeds. So like a big lettuce mix pack or something like that. And you sprinkle it much heavier than you would normally if you were growing in a normal vegetable garden and they'll grow in a mat and you can harvest them after about 10, 12 days, you get a nice little, bit of greens.
And it's a very easy approachable way to start gardening in, in literally any space. I love that. Now, Grace doesn't mention if she's got windows, or like everybody's got windows, but if she's got a sunny window, are there options if it's a sort of darker apartment? Would you get her to invest in lights? Or, I've always wondered, do normal house lights support plants?
If you leave a light on it, a regular light? Not really. And the reason why is because what we think is enough light for us to see. Of course, the plant's not using it to see, It's using it to photosynthesize and generate energy. And so when you think about an indoor like overhead light, like the one on any of our faces right now, it's just nowhere near enough actual photons to develop enough energy for the plant.
And so what I've recommended to folks starting is you can go to any big box store, buy what's called a T5 fluorescent shop light. It'll just be a shop light, like a, one of those long sort of rectangular style lights you would hang over like a workbench or something. and then as a rule of thumb to not get it, get into all the like nerdiness about light and how plants interact with it, just put it as close as possible to your surface of your plant without burning it, like literally without getting so hot that it burns it.
you can try being very close and if you see a little wilting, just bring it up until you don't see that's going to be. The best option for you. Cause even that is actually still worse than sunlight. and the sun's 93 million miles away. That's how powerful the sun is. So yeah, I would recommend if you don't have a good access to like sunlight streaming through a window, then I would recommend getting some sort of light and it doesn't have to be a fancy grow light.
And yeah, they don't have to be too expensive.
One more question here, this one is from Pam. Pam says, Hi Susan, no contest today? From Quebec. And so Pam knows that this show has been on air for, I don't know, many years now. And I've always run a contest. And in the past few months I'm trying to simplify my life a little bit because I was always juggling so many balls.
And I'm afraid the contest got axed. Sorry, guys. Oh my gosh, no contest. Too much work to find somebody to donate the prize, even though I've got wonderful authors often on the show, to get things shipped up to follow. Anyways, I'm sorry, Pam. I hope you still love the show. But no contest. For now for the time being so we're we've just got a couple more minutes.
I would love to hear Because we had that question about indoor growing. I'd love to get an answer from both of you guys about What for you is an ideal application for grow bags and can they actually be grown indoors? Let's start with you Matt. Would you ever use a grow bag inside?
I personally would probably not, just given, how I know, they do, how they drain, and most of the time these grow bags, now granted, you can find some rather small grow bags, now if, let's say you had a sunroom, perhaps, let's say you did have, some sort of greenhouse off of your kitchen, something like that, certainly, but no, I think the, application for these and, Kevin, I, love how, you got started out with this, because I've, been using grow bags in my driveway for years for a lot of the annual vegetables.
And, that's just, that's where I have the sunlight. it's on the asphalt. That's not in the yard itself. So, I think they are definitely a, an outdoor application and, vegetables for sure, but small fruits, definitely to fruit trees, just housing them in the nursery, but small fruits and vegetables for sure.
Oh, fabulous. And what about you, Kevin? What are your favorite applications, especially in terms of fruit? Like, I don't know, strawberries or whatever. I think strawberries are actually a really good application, if you don't want your strawberries running all over the garden, because of course they put out those runners that'll, they'll do some damage if you let them really run.
You might want that damage that you might want more strawberries. I agree with Matt. I really probably would not use a grow bag indoors. I'd use containers with effectively no drainage holes, or I'd use a pot and pot style method where you're You know, like house plant owners will do where they'll have like their plastic pot with drainage into an aesthetic pot without drainage.
but interesting things that I haven't mentioned yet is One way to use a grow bag I thought was cool is you could use it as like a portable pollinator patch so you could have your, like a little wildflower mix and you can bring it to the garden, when it's time, right? and like I say, you're growing cucumbers or something like that, squash, you could bring it over in that area and you're attracting a little bit more pollinators than you might be otherwise.
that's something that, that I tossed in the book that I thought was a cool application. you can use them. As like almost storage.
So let's say you're growing potatoes in a grow bag, right? Well, when potatoes are underground, starting to chit and starting to throw out that growth, they don't really need light.
effectively, they're in seed format, right? And it takes about a couple of weeks for potatoes to come up. So back when I had a lot less space than I did now, or I do now, I would keep all my potatoes and grow bags in the dark and The garage until I started to see the sprouts, and then I'd bring them out and put them in the light.
Another thing I'll do in that situation is I'd roll the edge of the bag down so that it hits the light faster because if you think about it, your potatoes, you want to keep like burying as you grow them, or that's one way to do it. If it's that far down in the bag, it's the sun actually won't hit it just because the way the angle the sun works and so I'd roll the bag down and let it access the light other things you could do.
you could just do themed bags. I thought that's really interesting. So the salsa bag or the citrus, the citrus bag, the berry bag. There's a lot of different sort of themed ideas like that. Oh, awesome. Well, people should get your book. So, okay, remind us again how they can find out more about you, more about grow bags.
Sure. Yeah. we're at Epic Gardening anywhere on the internet that you like to consume gardening content podcast is called The Beat, B E E T. And then for books, anywhere books are sold, if a lot of our listeners here sounds like are in Canada. So Amazon Canada is probably the best source. We currently on our store do not ship to Canada.
Hopefully we change that soon, but you can buy the books on our store as well in the States. And Matt, what about you? If people want to learn more about Giving Grove, maybe they want to start a community orchard near them and get some advice from you guys. How can they find out more? Yeah, so, go to givinggrove, g i v i n g r o v e dot o r g.
And so you can find out a little bit more, find about, find out about our impact, and if you are interested in bringing an orchard program, to your city. Now we are currently not in Canada, we are in 14 cities throughout the U. S., but, yeah, don't see why we probably couldn't be. We would welcome you here, but also lots of our listeners, but 60 percent are in the United States.
So you may get some calls. That would be great. Well, thank you for both it to both of you guys for coming on the show today. I will wrap it up for now, but if the listeners want to see what we've talked about, I'm going to be putting up in the next. day or so a video version of this podcast with lots of images.
I've got fantastic images from giving grove of their applications. I've got some images from Smart Pots. I've got lots of great images. So you'll, you can find that on the orchard people, YouTube channel. Or if you need to listen again or want to listen to other episodes, that's at podcast. orchardpeople.
com. So that's it for today. Oh my goodness. It's, already time to end the show again. Thank you to Matt. Thank you to Kevin for coming on the show. It's been such a delight to interview you. I hope you guys will come back again someday. Hey, for having us. Appreciate it. Yeah. Yeah. Thank you very much, Susan.
So that's all for now. I hope you, the listeners, will join me again next month when we're going to dig into another great topic. I'll see you then.

Creators and Guests

Susan Poizner
Susan Poizner
Author, fruit tree educator, and Creator of the award-winning fruit tree care education website
Fruit Trees in Fabric Pots with Kevin Espiritu
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