The Bag Man!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Marquitos and Celina Show Off the Flower Pouch
Bill Bird is the bag man -- and so is nephew Marquitos -- pictured here with his flower bag creation. It's rare when the new dog teaches an old dog some new tricks -- but that's exactly what happened this past weekend in the Bird Back 40.

I suppose a (short) explanation is needed.

I had never considered using bags to grow flowers or produce before until I spotted a photo of a bag in use some years ago while thumbing through one of the gazillions of gardening magazines we have strewn about the house (these things never get tossed -- they just get shoved into unused corners). This particular bag was covered with ripe strawberries -- and the particular advertisement was aimed at growers who had limited space.

I don't necessarily have limited space (though I am filling it up fast) -- but the thought of growing strawberries or flowers along the fence line did intrigue me.

Gaviota Strawberry Crowns
I have a lot of fence. My drip irrigation lines are already bolted to the fence. Possibilities abound.

Although the creators of the "Topsy Turvey" tomato creation offer a similar creation (strawberry grow bags) -- I wasn't about to blow $5 to $10 for just one bag. Bill Bird isn't just frugal. He's CHEAP! Ask the wife that is Venus -- and the rather ingenious plan to stick her diamond wedding ring in a box of Kentucky Fried Chicken (she didn't find it until she had consumed the mashed potatoes. Hey, priorities are priorities!).

Secondly -- I didn't want to plant the kind of strawberries that you find at your local nursery. Those are fine I suppose -- but I wanted something special. I wanted the varieties that you see in those one or two acre strawberry farms strewn across the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys. Know what I'm talking about? They are the plants that yield big, fat, juicy, lip-smacking strawberries that fresh fruit lovers dream about over the winter months.

Lip-Smacking Albion Strawberries
There's just one problem: Those varieties are "protected." Specifically developed by UC Davis, cultivars with legendary names like Chandler, Albion and Gaviota are NOT easy to find. The growers who maintain those one or two acre strawberry farms will be happy to sell you a flat of strawberries. But they stop short at selling a plant. I should know -- I tried -- and I failed -- MISERABLY.

Help would come in the form of a co-worker by the name of Nghia (Nee-Ah) Demovic (I call her DemoNvic because she takes great pleasure in making me look like a fool). Born in Saigon before the fall of Vietnam, Nghia immigrated to the United States when she was still a child. Despite the challenges that these children faced, Nghia easily transitioned from Eastern to Western Culture and is one of the top communications professionals working in California's State Capitol today.

But she also still has a firm command of the Vietnamese language -- which I put to good use. She could talk to the Vietnamese and Hmong farmers in ways that I could not. And -- in the space of an hour -- she managed to find what I could not discover over the space of six months: a source for the UC Cultivars.

Albion Strawberry Crowns Planted Beneath Apple Trees
I was like a kid at Christmas as I browsed through the Sakuma Brothers Strawberry Farm website. There they were -- the UC cultivars I had been looking for. And -- at a price of $5 or $6 for ten crowns (plants)? The price was right down Bill Bird's Alley of Cheapness. I couldn't order them fast enough.

As for the grow bags? Google is your friend. Once I started googling the terms of "grow bags" and "strawberries" and weeding through multiple advertisements for the Topsy Turvey strawberry bag and its inflated price -- I spotted something familiar. It was the bag that I had spotted in that gardening magazine years earlier.

The bag in question is called Original Al's Flower Pouch. And -- at a price of a buck a bag -- it was well within my price range. There are many outlets for the Flower Pouch, and some sellers will attempt to charge you more than a buck a bag, but keep looking. That's the nice thing about free market competition. Someone is always going to undercut the other guy.

Original Al's Flower Pouch-10 slots
Original Al's Flower Pouch contains anywhere from five, six or ten different slits or holes. These are very small. The first problem I would run into is, how do I fit that fat bundle of flower roots through that tiny hole? Should I fill the bag with dirt first and then plant? Or should I find a way to shove the plants into those tiny openings first -- then fill it with dirt?

The bag could not tell me. It was just a bag. Bags don't talk. And the bag did not come with instructions.

My first inclination was to rip the root ball of the petunia starter plants I'd purchased into two different pieces. But that wasn't easy. I nearly destroyed the first plant I tried this "trick" with. As a matter of fact, it's still trying to recover.

Petunia Starter Plants
It would take the advice of a seven-year old nephew to crack this nut. "Why not squeeze them," he asked in an innocent voice. I initially waved him off with a "no, that won't work" type of adult response when I discovered, to my horror, that he had already squeezed one root ball into the shape of a popsicle. I watched this boy -- in wonder -- as he slid that starter plant effortlessly inside that small hole. The base of the plant anchored itself to the outside of the bag, and the root ball, once inside, expanded to the point where it could not slip back out.

The kid is a genius.

In no time at all -- the kid who had all the answers managed to fill up all ten slots -- fill the flower pouch with dirt and hang it against a fence.

More Strawberries!
Venus and I would repeat the same kind of trick the next day with Albion Strawberry crowns. This was a bit trickier as we had to fill the bag half full with dirt first -- before planting the crowns -- then praying that they wouldn't fall out as we turned the bag up after planting and proceeded to fill it to the top with additional planter mix..

The crowns didn't move.

And so my good gardening friends -- there you have it. Bill & Venus Bird have graduated to "bag man" and "bag lady" status. There are eight more flower pouches to fill. What should we try next?

We are taking suggestions!