Whole Food Adventures: Planting a Garden

As I’ve mentioned before, Catherine and I have rented a 400 sq ft plot down at the Pullman Community Gardens. Two weekends ago, we spent a good four hours down there planting. As a certified plant-killer who simply married a Green Thumb, I’m going to keep things pretty basic for a description of what we’ve done, and my understanding of why what we did was important.

We began by sub-dividing the plot into a set of smaller, more easily managed patches. We went with one 20’ long, ~5’ wide patch that ran along one of the paths, which we filled with tomatoes and peppers, with a bit of squash and cucumber in the free space at the end. We didn’t do a lot of measuring of spacing between plants, but we did plant 3 plants wide on the tomatoes and the peppers, so I’d guess we had a good 9” between plants. We ensured that the plants were buried just beyond their lowest stems, evidently the branching stems that are buried will begin to behave like roots. From what I understand, some people (who planted far sooner than us), will actually plant their tomatoes on their side, encouraging really extensive roots in the new plants.

One of the most important parts of planting a new garden is trying to avoid walking on the places that you’re planting. This should be pretty obvious, actually, as if you’ve ever seen a walking path where a lot of people walk, it’s pretty much always heavily impacted soil, and usually nothing is growing there. It doesn’t take very long for soil to become so hard to it’s difficult to grow things there, so it’s very, very important to minimize the amount you want on the softer beds for the soil. Given that even now, two weeks later, the paths are incredibly solid while the beds are soft and spongy, it’s amazing how fast the soil hardened up. Even given the relatively high clay content, and low traffic that our plot sees, it’s still amazing how much hardened the paths are.

So, understanding that it’s important to keep the beds soft, and burying your plants just a bit deeper than their lowest stems will help with root development, that’ll take you most of the way to getting a garden planted, especially starting later with greenhouse started plants. For seeds, of which we planted some beets and carrots, follow the instructions on the package as far as depth of planting goes, and make sure you dig little furrows. Here’s the interest part though, while you’re going to have little hills, you plant in the hills. This helps make sure that the seeds don’t drown, but more importantly that the deeper parts of the soil can get nice and wet. Incidentally, this is important for all your plants, and some people suggest digging trenches around everything you plant. We’ve opted not to do that this year.

So, once everything is planted, it’s important to make sure that it doesn’t dry out. That clay content I’ve mentioned before is a blessing here, because while the surface of the soil may dry out, there is still usually plenty of moisture beginning a half inch down. This has been largely due to Catherine going to the plot daily, dumping plenty of water over the plot. This is particular important the first few weeks after planting, as the plants haven’t adapted their root structure and expanded it to be able to really effectively pull in moisture and nutrients.

In all, we’ve got a lot of plants planted, and should have a good harvest this year. I was a bit afraid of the amount of work we were going to need to perform, but aside from maybe 30 minutes a day, including travel time, and the less than twenty hours that we spent preparing the plot from a weed-filled patch of dirt to planting all our stuff, it wasn’t nearly as much work as I thought. Of course, we haven’t gotten any spoils of that work yet, which is disappointing, but the bounty should be great, and the layout of time wasn’t as severe as I’d feared.