Once you have decided that you want to start a garden, and have selected what you are going to plant, and how you are going to water it, it’s also time to decide how to plant it.
Wait, what? All I have to do is take the seeds and throw them in the ground. No, sorry. Not so easy. You won’t get very many plants that way, and the reason is that plants need space. They need healthy soil. They need friends (which will be another article), and they need as little competition as possible. In other words, they need YOU. It’s like having a pet, or a baby… only without the crying (sorry but the mess part is still there).
One method that is my favorite, especially for new gardeners, is called the bag method. I did not come up with this, I got it from a book entitled “Starter Vegetable Gardens”, which I also recommend not just for beginners, but even advanced gardeners- some of the stuff in there is pretty complex. What you do is lay down a single layer of cardboard where you want to plant (just get boxes and cut one seam open), then get a 50 pound bag of organic top soil or potting soil, I personally use the Ace store brand organic top soil because it’s cheap and I KNOW that it is not affiliated with those corrupt Monsanto monsters, and put the bag on top of the cardboard. Then go inside to your kitchen and grab a steak knife and bring it out to the garden with you- no running! Take the steak knife and cut a window in the side of the bag facing up, leaving about one inch of plastic around the edges. Remove the plastic that you just cut and throw it in the garbage. Now take your steak knife and stab into the bag of soil all the way through the plastic at the bottom and through the cardboard into the ground beneath. If you are planting something like tomatoes or cucumbers, make a few stabs like this directly underneath where you’re going to plant the seeds. If you’re doing something that’s going to be in an orderly row like carrots or peas, make stabs underneath where the row will be, and few outside of the rows line as well.
At this point if you’re going to add anything to the soil such as peat moss or guano or whatnot, do so. If you’re not going to do so, loosen up the soil a bit with your hands, plant your seeds or seedlings, set up your irrigation, and you’re done!
If you are planting seeds and you know that they are going to need to be covered to germinate, instead of cutting out a whole window, cut out only three sides and leave the plastic attached, that way you can lay it back over the seeds. Hold it in place with a decent sized rock or stake it down with tooth picks.
I like this method because not only is it easy, but it has SO many pros. They’re listed below:
1. If your yard has never has never had a garden before, and you don’t do much with it, your soil is probably not very healthy, and difficult to till or work with. It is also probably full of weeds. With this method, the health of your soil is irrelevant because your plants will get almost all of the nutrients they need from the bag of soil that you planted them in. This method also improves the health of your existing soil because at the end of the growing season you can pull up all your dead plants to turn to compost, and dump the bag of soil onto your existing soil. Voila, instant good soil! Tilling or otherwise working your soil is totally voluntary, which cuts down on your back aching, and the amount of time it will take you to get going. I’ve found that a lot of people get discouraged if something seems too difficult, so this will help boost your confidence and motivation to garden again. If you’ve got a ton of weeds, lay down the boxes and put rocks or stepping stones over the edges in the spring before the weeds start growing. Most of them won’t be able to grow because the boxes will smother them while they’re just starting to shoot up through the soil.
2. You’ve probably read my article(s) about watering, and hopefully you understand the importance of water conservation and using only what you need. With this method, you won’t use as much water as you would if you planted into the ground because not all of the water will drain away into the soil- the plastic bag retains it. This means that only the plants you grow are getting your water, not everything else growing that you don’t want there, and you also have to water less often because the soil will stay much more moist. If we’ve had a good downpour in my area, I usually turn off my drip system for 3 or 4 days to avoid overwatering.
3. Less weeding! Maintaining the weeds in your garden is important, but with this method you don’t have to do much. Most of the weeds won’t even grow because, as mentioned earlier, the cardboard smothers them. Once the roots of your plants are through the bottom of the bag and into your existing soil though, the weeds will realize the holes are there as well. However, if you pull them early once they do start growing, it’s really easy to get rid of them because their roots are flimsy and weak- they’ve been lazy due to how easy it is to obtain water and nutrients in your bag of topsoil. Less weeds, and weaker weeds, also means that you will have a more plentiful harvest.
The downsides to this method are that you do have to be super careful when watering. The dangers of overwatering are plentiful enough when planting into the soil, but with this method it is much easier to drown plants, particularly in the early stages of growth. If you water too much or too often and leave the soil too moist, you will also cause mold and mildew to start growing in your bag, and most of your plants will probably not be able to compete with that.
The initial cost of using this method is significantly higher than if you plant into the ground. If this is your first year gardening, and you want to grow lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, and carrots, the cost of the seeds will be around $22 (remember, I am quoting prices for heirloom seeds only!), and you will need 4 bags of topsoil if you want 4 heads of lettuce, 1 cucumber plant, 1 tomato plant, and 15 or so carrots, which is another $10. However, this method also enriches your own soil at the end of the season, and if you were to try and buy enough stuff to enrich your own soil and make it super healthy before you planted, you could easily spend 4 or 5 times that.
The bag method is one of my favorites, and I hope to spread the word to see it used more often. What do you think of it?