Getting Down to Earth

A zealous young recruit may feel it's high time to start planting when the first balmy breath of spring wafts by. But you will have to use other tests and apply other judgments.

First, you must determine whether the ground is workable. The time-honored test for friability is to squeeze a handful of dirt. If it stays in a tight little wad it is not ready. If it crumbles softly apart it is friable, and you can start digging.

Second, the notebook must be consulted to see which seeds can be planted as soon as the ground can be prepared. These will be the cool-weather crops. They won't mind subsequent cold spells. Warm-weather varieties must wait until soil is thoroughly warm and weather really settled.

The art of digging a garden is a skill to master early. The spade should be stuck into the ground at a slight angle, pressed down with the foot as far as it will go, and then turned over with a smart flip (like turning a pancake), so that the spadeful of soil is completely upside down. Then, with the back of the spade, the hunk of soil is given a sharp whack, so that it breaks up into small pieces. Proceed along the row, digging, flipping over, and whacking. Work back and forth, repeating this process, until all the garden is turned over.

At this point a balanced fertilizer is often sprinkled over the surface, and chopped into the soil with a hoe. Make sure it is evenly distributed, well mixed and free from lumps and that the ground is reasonably fine and level. Then, with a rake, the seedbed is worked over until it is beautifully fine and smooth.

Now the garden is ready for planting, and it is time to get out the garden chart and notebook. Proper distances between rows should be measured off with a yardstick, and stakes anchored in the ground on each side. By pulling the point of a hoe lightly along strings stretched tautly across the garden between these stakes, the child can make nice straight V-shaped planting trenches. Depth of trench depends on size of seeds to be planted. His notebook will tell him exactly how deep to plant each variety.

Proper distribution of seeds is a matter to impress on the beginner. Explain that seeds are always planted just a little more thickly than wanted, to allow for some duds. But they must not be planted so thickly that plants will come up in clusters.

After seed is properly placed in the furrows the earth is pulled over it with a hoe.