Don't you just hate it when Spring's sprung and you haven't! Every time you look out the window, the vegie bed's more over-grown than ever, and you're another day past the due-by date! This year, I've got a great excuse for a seriously-delayed start to the gardening season – I've been swanning around the community gardens and allotments of Europe (more about that in the coming months) and the first budget flight I could find home wasn't until the end of October. But since then, it's been all go. I hit the ground running and I'm making up for lost time with a tried-and-true shortcut that won't break the bank – or my back!
Our family gardening motto is: "If it ain't in the ground, it ain't growin'", so in emergency situations, I toss time and energy-consuming garden-prep methods out the window and reach for my trusty grubber. I loosen the soil just enough to pull out the weeds that will come willingly, while any that won't budge simply get chipped off. The whole pile gets dumped in the compost heap – I'll sort through for perennial weeds next time I turn the compost but, for now, I just want to get the seed in the ground.
With the bed levelled of weeds, I sprinkle fertilizer (if I have it) over the ground. If there's none available (I'm a long way from a garden centre!) it's not a problem – I'll pour on liquid fertilizer once the seedlings are a couple of centimetres high. Next step is to roughly loosen the earth along the rows where the seed will go (at this point I like to remind myself that it's only a row a few centimetres wide that I'm working on, I'm not digging the whole garden!).
With the rows of earth roughly loosened, I press the back of a rake-head into the soil to create a depression about two centimetres deep, running the length of the garden. This "seed drill" gets lined with a centimetre-deep layer of fine, dry soil. Because It takes so little mix to do it this, and because it's the one step in this quick-prep method that's worth taking time over, I use commercial potting mix for the job – that's assuming I have it on hand and can afford it. If not, I can usually scratch up some dryish earth from under a hedge, or find some at the base of my compost pile (sieving makes it even finer.) The seed gets sown on top of the fine soil, and covered with a sprinkling of the same.
The rest is easy-peasy. I gently moisten the seed using the watering can, run a scattering of slug bait along each drill, and cover the whole shebang with plastic salvaged from the various skips I frequent when in the city. Once the seed is through the ground, and I've caught my breath, I'll run a mulch along between the rows to supress the weeds. As the vegies grow, I might even move the mulch aside and get round to loosening the soil between the rows. But for now, disaster has been averted. My late-spring vegie bed may not have the manicured look of my neighbour's, but the seed is in the ground and, the rest can wait!
Note: this short-cut method can be equally-well used with seedlings when you concentrate your efforts on creating plant-friendly pockets rather than digging an entire garden bed.