What I learnt today: preparing a bed for lawn seed and broadcasting

Today – for the first time in about seven months – I sat in a classroom with the other apprentices on my course. It was amazing. I had missed talking as a group, finding out what we had all been up to and working together. These kinds of college days remain a rarity, as we will be studying from home every week except for practical days. Today we worked on the following:

  • Soil cultivation, preparing for a lawn
  • Seed broadcasting
  • Calibrating a broadcast spreader
  • Hand scarifying with a rake
  • Hand aerating with a fork
  • Top dressing
  • Ident walk

We kicked off the day with some soil cultivation, preparing a bed for lawn seen broadcasting. Preparing a bed for any use is time consuming and – in some cases – back breaking. For example, if the practical test pare required a 20m² bed to be prepared for planting vegetables, good luck! This likely means you will be double digging the area or at least digging to a depth of about 30cm. Then, you will rake this over, tread it in and rake level.

Fortunately, lawn establishment only requires the top layer of the soil for the roots. As such, we worked on simple digging, which involves inserting the bottom third to two thirds of a fork into the soil and tousling it. This allows for gaseous exchange in the soil and alleviates compaction without digging too deep. After that, we roughly raked over the soil with a soil rake, combing through it and flicking away any large rocks, while also giving larger clods a good bash to break them down. Then comes the penguin walking, or treading in, which involves putting all of your weight into your heels and methodically taking very small steps across the soil. This presses the soil in and firms it up as when you cultivate, it adds more air into the mix and raises the level.

Once we made our way zig zagging back and forth over the bed once, we used an industrial rake to rake it over again. Unlike soil rakes, which have wider teeth and are primarily used to move material, industrial rakes have very fine teeth and are about 1m wide. They are used to break down clods and gently create a level without moving the soil around too much. Importantly, they also have a long flat bar when you turn it upside down, allowing you to smooth the surface of the soil and create a presentable, flat level.

Buddleja ‘Buzz Velvet’, Hand scarifying and aerating, Preparing bed for lawn planting, seed broadcasting and pretty patterns by Jordan.

Once we had finished leveling off, we began working on broadcasting grass seed. As grass seeds are so fine and accurate broadcasting is important to grow a strong, consistent sward, measurement is key. As per the box instructions, the grass seed had to be cast at the rate of 30g/m². Our prepared beds were 4m², which made it easy to make out these 1m² boxes, as all we had to go was place a stake in the middle of the original square.

To provide even distribution, the broadcasting is done in two passes (i.e.: from North to South, then from East to West). This means that the volume of seed recommended per m² needs to be halved. In our case, this means that 15g of seed will be broadcast per metre squared. When sowing seed, it is important to factor in a certain loss of seed to animal feeding. As such, it is common practice to add an extra 10% on top ‘for the birds’. This made our total seed volume 33g/m² and 16.5g per pass.

Broadcasting seed is best done with broad passes, using your hand or a cup/ container. Try to keep each pass as even as possible and fill in any gaps when making the final pass. When all the grass seed had been broadcast, gently rake over the soil to lightly cover the seeds. The last step is watering, very lightly, to avoid puddling, seeds pooling in one are and the soil level being disturbed. Use a rose adapter on your hose or watering can to diffuse the water and pass over it a few times with a spray, as opposed to a drench.

I had a wonderful day working with my classmates again and having a laugh while we learned some new skills. I can’t wait for our next practical day next month!

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