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Kip Anderson
Gardener Kip Anderson

May: Perfect Seed Spacing

This month Kip gives instructions on how to make your own planting board
by Kip Anderson

Here in eastern Massachusetts, the month of May marks the transition between days when frost is still possible and the frost-free summer growing season. By mid-May the ground has warmed up sufficiently to permit direct sowing of many vegetable crops: carrots, parsnips, kohlrabi, witloof chicory, turnips, and all kinds of salad or cooking greens, for instance. True warm-weather crops such as beans, cucumbers and squash will have to wait until the end of the month.

One of the tools we find indispensable when it comes time to sow rows of fine seed is the planting board. Nope, you can't buy one — you have to make it yourself. Here's how:

First find some 1x4 stock, preferably Western Red Cedar or other weather-resistant wood. Cut it to a 4-foot length. One long edge should be beveled at a 45-degree angle on both sides to form a sort of blade along the length of the board. This is used to make straight furrows perfect for sowing rows of closely spaced seed. The opposite edge gets V-shaped notches cut into it at 6-inch intervals. (We like to make the ones at 1 foot, 2 feet and 3 feet, slightly larger than those that mark the half-foot locations.) Your new measuring stick is now ready to be used for correctly spacing any plants that require a nominal center-to-center fixed distance from one another. Don't forget to drill a half-inch hole in one end of the board so it can be hung on a nail in your garden shed.

A further elaboration of the measuring board that I have found extremely useful is marking every inch with a shallow saw blade kerf. I often need to space plants 8 inches, 9 inches or 15 inches apart, and having a board that is calibrated down to the inch makes doing so a whole lot easier.

Finally, I would hate to make do with fewer than three planting boards. When sowing patches of, say, spinach, the job goes quicker if I line up a board on either side of our 4-foot wide beds and make a series of transverse furrows spaced the proper distance apart with the third planting board — a perfect gridiron for the most meticulous gardener.

Kip Anderson has been the Victory Garden's head gardener for over 20 years.

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Published August 31, 2007