By Ginnie Lin
Like one of the young artists said in our children’s art contest, “Spring has Sprung!” Although COVID-19 and shelter-in-place orders have changed our daily routines dramatically, Mother Nature’s schedule is still right on track. In the Pacific Northwest, this means sunny weather, blooming flowers and trees, and perfect planting weather!
As quoted in this NPR article on the power of gardening, “We’re really seeing the fragility of our systems,” says Dr. Rupa Marya, a professor at the University of California, San Francisco’s medical school. She is also an avid gardener. Planting a garden is “a way to connect to something immediate here and now and watch it grow,” she says. “It’s got a lot of great health benefits. People are outside. They’re getting sun on their skin, generating vitamin D.”
(Note: make sure to check your region’s climate zone; different areas have different soil types and climates that affect gardening. A good place to start for more information is your local extension service).
Early Spring is a prime time to plant, giving your budding seeds plenty of time to grow and produce before cold returns in the Fall. Whether you’re using it as an educational tool for children “stuck” at home or looking for a rewarding hobby, here is how you get started on your COVID Victory garden:
1. Pick a quality spot for your garden.
In your enthusiasm for starting a garden, don’t forget the basics!
- Sun: Does your garden plot get enough sun exposure? Are there trees or bushes to the east/west of it that may cast shade over it? You can check the light exposure and shading at different times in the day to make sure.
- Water: Is it close to a water source? In the Pacific NW, the spring season also is the transition to the drier season which means lots of watering every day.
- Soil Quality: Is the soil too sandy or composed of too much clay? This will affect how well the small roots of your emerging plants can break through. If you’re worried about your soil, you can always purchase potting or gardening soil or even compost to till into the ground.
A little thinking ahead before you start your garden can make a huge difference when harvest time comes.
Planting in containers and pots
No garden space or want to give the seeds a little head start in early spring before planting them in the ground? No problem! You can use just about anything that can hold soil, from decorative planters to humble gallon jugs. They can live on your balcony or by your windowsill. They also have the added benefit of being portable — when an unpredictable freeze arrives, you can just haul your beloved plants indoors.
If you want to plant seeds in the early spring, you could consider starting with some pots inside. Ensure that you find a place that has plenty of moisture and sunlight. Refer to a planting calendar and check out the local weekly weather report. Once the daily low temperatures are high enough to reduce the risk of frost, you can transplant your seedlings into the soil of your prepared garden.
2. Gather your tools and get your plot ready.
If you’re like me, I started with a grassy plot full of weeds. The plus side was that this indicated a healthy soil and placement for my garden. The down side was that I had to clear all of it.
When you’re a beginner in gardening, it is tempting to buy every interesting gardening tool at the store. It’s true that many of them can make gardening easier, but, in all honesty, you really don’t need much.
- a hoe: to uproot layers of grass and weeds, to break up and aerate the soil
- a trowel: to help dig up stubborn weeds, to help make holes in the soil for planting
- gardening gloves: and this one isn’t even that necessary; some gardeners actually like working with their bare hands. If you have spiky weeds or have cuts on your hands, these come in handy, though.
- watering can: for if you don’t have a hose. You can make one, again, out of the humble gallon jug for a fun project with the kids!
And that’s it. With these items and a lot of elbow grease, you can prepare your garden. Try to do it when your soil is dry and not after a big rain, otherwise you will just wind up with dense, muddy clods.
If needed, amend your soil.
If you’re concerned about your soil quality or want to give your future seedlings an extra boost, you can add elements to your soil like compost or fertilizer.
Compost is a great option because it’s full of nutrients that plants love AND it’s very easy to make your own!
If you’re a casual gardener, try digging into your soil with your hoe to a depth of about 4 inches, add in a 2 inch layer of compost, and then till it all together, compost and old soil.
If adding fertilizer like Miracle-Gro, follow the directions carefully to avoid over fertilizing your garden. Dig deeper and sprinkle it well below where the plants will be planted. If it is too close to the roots, the high chemical concentration will burn the roots of the plant. You want it just deep enough to enrich around it and to draw the roots down into the ground.
3. Plant your seeds or transplants!
Go to any garden supply store, and you’ll see more seed packets than you could possibly fit in your garden! After all your work in tilling and preparing your garden, it’s exciting to pick out what you’ll grow.
However, though the possibilities are endless, be realistic about your area’s climate zone and what plants will flourish in your region.
For example, some vegetables that do well in the Pacific Northwest:
And these are just to start! Some, like radishes, will begin sprouting within a week and ready to harvest after just a month. All you need to know about planting the vegetable is on the back of the seed packet. Every plant and species has a different spacing, depth of planting, etc.
Here are two examples of seed packets:
You’ll see clearly descriptions for depth (how deep to plant the seeds), how far to plant the seeds (“sow thinly in rows 12″ or “sow about 6″ apart”) from each other, and estimates for germination to harvest times. Once you’ve planted a row of seeds, thinning is a technique to artificially select the strongest looking sprouts and pull up/cut the rest of the sprouts at the distance indicated (thin: 3 in or thin: 12 in). You will end up with sprouts growing a healthy distance apart and not competing with each other.
If you’re a little late to gardening season or you want a head start on planting, you can also look for transplants, or seedlings that have already been grown from their seeds. They’ve sprouted and are ready to go directly into the dirt.
(Note: just be wary that more delicate plants like peas or radishes do better if you start them from seed. The process of transplanting can damage their fragile roots.)
4. Water and maintain.
Now that the seeds have been sown, make sure to water them daily to help them along! Try to water in the evening lest the afternoon sun dry up all the water before it reaches the roots of the plants.
Look out for ever-present weeds and pull them out so they don’t crowd or take nutrients from the seeds you’ve planted.
Over time, your tender loving care will turn into a wonderful garden!
Some additional activities that kids will enjoy around the garden:
Decorating Garden and Stepping Stones
Kids will love stepping stone kits that come with marbles and fun additions to personalize your garden area.
You can craft bird feeders from just about anything. Make a quick DIY project out of it with the whole family and together, you’ll enjoy watching new winged friends come visit your outdoor space.