Highline College

Wednesday, June 03, 2020

If you’re planted at home, why not grow a garden?

Bobby Butler
Head of Highline’s
Urban Agriculture Program

Marta Barlow Staff Reporter April 23

As the weather gets nicer, and with more people staying home because of COVID-19, some may want to pick up gardening and grow their own food.

Before starting a project, such as making and maintaining a garden, there are things to know and steps to follow.

First, decide what plants are going to be planted. Plants ranging from berries to carrots, to tomatoes could all be included in this garden.

Once it’s been decided on what will be planted, the next step is to find where to plant them.

There are a few things to look for when finding a spot to plant such as sunlight, soil drainage, and depth of the soil.

“Find an area with at least eight hours of direct sunlight,” said Bobby Butler, head of Highline’s Urban Agriculture Program.

Sunlight helps plants to grow so it’s important to have.

If you have an area picked out but are unsure if there is sunlight there for eight hours, one way to find out is to “step outside when the sun first appears to hit the site, and every few hours after to see when the sun no longer comes in contact,” Butler said.

This will help to get an idea of how much sunlight the plants will get once they are planted.

Other than the sun, the depth and drainage of the soil are also things to be looking for before planting.

Some plants may need to be planted closer to the surface while others go further down. So, “Find an area with at least six inches of soil and good drainage,” Butler said.

The depth of six inches is important, especially for growing vegetables, because that’s how “deep the average vegetable root grows,” Butler said.

Depth of six inches can be found in lawns or raised garden beds.

When considering how well the water will drain after the plants are watered, “look for areas that don’t appear to have standing water or “mushy” soil for several months out of the year. These are signs of poor drainage,” Butler said.

For plants to grow and survive, good drainage is important.

“Drainage is important because, without space for air in the soil, the roots will begin to rot,” Butler said.

So, for the plants to be healthy, avoid areas with poor drainage.

Once an area, with all the good qualities mentioned, has been picked for the garden, the next step is preparing the soil for the plants.

Plants can be planted in either a lawn or a raised garden bed.

If the lawn has grass growing on it, “use a shovel to dig up the grass and turn it upside down in place,” Butler said.

It’s important to turn the grass upside down because the grass will continue to come back unless it is killed.

“Grass is a resilient plant and simply damaging the roots won’t kill the plant, but by turning it upside down it starves the plant of light which will eventually kill it,” Butler said.

Whether it’s a lawn or a raised garden bed, the next thing to do is get the soil wet.

“Wetting the soil is just to make it easier to loosen the soil,” Butler said.

Once the soil is wet, to loosen it, “use a shovel combined with a digging fork (looks like a small pitchfork) to loosen up the soil clods,” Butler said.

To check if the soil is loose enough, stick a finger in the soil and see how easy it is to get to six inches deep. The looser the soil is, the easier it is to get to six inches.

“Having a loose soil is important because most vegetable roots don’t have the ability to penetrate compact soil,” Butler said.

Fertilizer should be placed on top of the loosened soil.

Adding fertilizer to the soil is beneficial as it helps “to improve the fertility, soil structure, and nutrient holding capacity,” Butler said

Fertilizer gives plants nutrients and without it, the plants may not turn out as well as they should.

“Fertilizer is important because plants need the same nutrients that humans need to survive. A nutrient deficiency ends in stunted growth, lower yields, and poor pest/disease resistance,” Butler said.

The last part of preparing the soil for plants is smoothing the surface.

“Having a smooth soil surface is important for uniform seed germination (sprouting),” Butler said.

To smooth the surface, a garden or lawn rake can be used.

Since the soil has been prepared, planting can begin.

When planting, people can either choose to plant seeds, or plant starts.

Seeds come in packets and should have the planting direction on them. To plant seeds, follow the directions on the packet.

These directions include when it is the best time to plant, how deep, and how far apart seeds should be from each other.

To increase the chances of having successful plants, follow the directions and don’t plant the seeds too close together.

“Most people are tempted to plant a few seeds in the same space as ‘back-ups,’ but each seed has about a 90 percent germination (sprouting) rate. So essentially, all that they end up doing is overcrowding their plants and lowering their yields,” Butler said.

If it happens that there are multiple plants growing in one spot, you can take some of them out, this is called thinning.

Plant starts are similar to seeds, except they have already begun to sprout.

“Plant starts are seeds that have been grown in plastic seed trays in a greenhouse to give them a head start on the growing season,” Butler said.

Planting a plant start is similar to planting seeds, except for the depth.

“Plant starts should be buried to just slightly above the start’s potting soil,” Butler said.

Now that the seeds and starts have been planted, all that is left is to water them, and consistently.

“Most vegetables need between 1.5-2 inches of water per week during the growing season,” Butler said. “That’s about a ¼ inch of water per day.”

Watering plants this specific amount may be challenging, but there is a way to measure how much water you are giving the plants.

“Take a common hardware store bucket and make a mark on the inside of the container with a permanent marker at ¼ inch. Using your watering hose, count how long it takes for the container to fill to ¼ inch,” Butler said. “This is how long you should water each “bucket-sized” area of your garden each day.”