Spring is here and all of us green thumb wannabes start thinking about planting and growing stuff. Whether it’s flower beds, gardens, warm season food plots, or even lawns, there’s an old saying that someone old once said, “it all starts with the dirt”. To create the best environment for our plants to grow, we amend the soil with fertilize and lime. We apply herbicides to control unwanted weeds and maybe an insecticide so there’s more vegetables left for us. We try to plant enough seed to get a good crop, yet not so much that we waste money and overdo it. So we’re standing in the lawn and garden section of our favorite store, trying to figure out how much of everything we need. The bag says it covers 1,500 square feet, or maybe it says it covers one-half acre. After mumbling something like “I don’t know how many square feet my freakin yard is”, we start to guess. As we’re checking out, there’s this nagging feeling that we didn’t get enough of whatever it is we’re about to throw on the ground. In order to make appropriate applications and amendments, it’s imperative to know the area you’re dealing with. The process of measuring area is pretty simple and this week’s blog will teach you how. I’ll warn you ahead of time that there’s a little math involved but, if I can do it you can too. I once did time in summer school for flunking math!
If you’re working with a flower bed or garden, you will most likely need to know square feet. The formula is simply “length in feet x width in feet”. So if you have a flower bed that’s 10′ wide and 30′ long, you have 300 square feet. If your front lawn is 150′ long and 70′ wide, you have 10,500 square feet. Flower beds and gardens are usually square or rectangle, which makes them easy to measure. Lawns may be easier to do by breaking them down into sections. By doing that, you can still usually have squares and rectangles.
Food plots are usually measured in acres, which adds another step to the equation and forces us to remember a number. The number is 43,560. That’s the number of square feet in an acre. Most food plots are sort of square or rectangle, so the process is still fairly easy. The formula for acres is “length in feet x width in feet divided by 43,560”. So, if your plot is 900′ long and 30′ wide, you have 0.62 acres (900 x 30 = 27,000 27,000/43,560 = 0.62). Approximates are fine here so, if your plot is round or oval, using averages will usually get you close enough, though there are other formulas to get you a little more dialed in. For instance, if it’s oval, take the sum of length x width and multiply it by 0.8 to get the area. To get the area of a circle multiply 3.14 x radius squared. That sounds super complicated but it’s really not. The radius of a circle is one-half its width. To square that, multiply it by itself. Multiply the result by 3.14 to determine the area.
What’s the best way to take measurements? Flower beds and gardens are usually small enough that a tape measure can be used. Lawns and food plots are larger, so stepping or pacing may be better. For instance, my steps average about 3′ in length. Since I’m a forester, I commonly use “paces” (2 steps). I know my pace average 5.5′. So, for me, 12 steps is about 36′ and 12 paces is about 66′. Better yet, a basic hand-held GPS unit will measure the area no matter what the shape is and it doesn’t require you to do any math. On my Garmin unit, the areas are called “tracks”. Once you do a little set-up, all you do is walk around the area and the GPS unit calculates area for you. You should, however, be able to step it off and make a quick calculation if you don’t have a GPS handy. Since virtually everyone has a calculator with them 24/7 now (phone), it shouldn’t be difficult.
Whether you’re applying lime, fertilizer, pesticide, or seed, knowing the area (square feet or acres) is critical. I’m amazed at the number of people that just guess and by a sack of this, or two sacks of that. I used to do that myself but was never satisfied with the results. Between my clients and my own, I’m involved in planting several acres of food plots each year. Once I decided to make the effort to do a little measuring, the yield on these plots improved dramatically. I also keep a record of the square feet in my yard, which helped me apply the correct amount of grass seed and now fertilize or weed-and-feed. I keep important measurements and formulas I use often stored on my phone so I’ll have them with me if I need them out in the field (or yard). I’m including a box at the end that shows some examples and you could simply screenshot it and save it to your phone.
I’m sorry if I bored you with the math but I want to move forward in future posts and cover tips on things like soil testing, liming, fertilizing, seeding, and herbicides, where knowing the size of the area you’re working with is extremely important. I’ll never say my way is “the only way” but it’s working for me. Until next post, take care and God bless!