This genius solution to the solo-planting problem comes courtesy of South Carolina market gardener and retired fishing-boat captain Woody Collins, whose exacting rows of onions, lettuces, and broccoli offer a rigid rebuke to drunken-sailor stereotypes. Collins’ secret weapon? An old surf-casting reel. Scour your local junk stores and yard sales for one, then gather a couple of stakes and some duct tape (plus, perhaps, a small bungee cord), and you’ll be ready to set those veggies straight.
1. Stock your reel with twine.
If your secondhand surf-casting reel (most are a few inches in diameter) still boasts plenty of fishing line, skip to the next step. Otherwise, load the reel with thin, durable polypropylene garden twine: Adhere the end of the twine to the reel’s spool with duct tape (as shown, above right), then turn the reel’s handle to pull on a length about twice as long as the rows you plan to mark. Too much is always better than not enough.
2. Marry the reel to its “rod.”
Instead of a fishing pole, you’ll want to attach the reel to a round wooden stake that’s roughly 3 feet tall and ¾” to 1½” in diameter, with a sharp, pointed bottom. Position the reel’s flat metal flanges against the stake, so that the twine or fishing line will roll from the top of the reel, about a foot above the ground once the stake is driven into the soil. Secure the reel to the stake with duct tape or a tiny bungee cord (as shown, above left). Drive the stake into the ground at a slight angle.
3. Cast your first line.
Pull a small length of the line from your reel and tie it near the top of a second stake that’s approximately 1½ feet tall. Grasp this shorter stake and walk away from the tall stake. When you reach the end of your desired row, drive the short stake into the ground.
4. Mark and repeat.
Following the twine or fishing line, employ a stick to mark a groove in the soil underneath for later planting, or go ahead and plant your seeds or seedlings. Now pull up the tall stake, and simply reel in the short one. Move to the next row (taking care not to walk on the fresh one you’ve just marked), and repeat the process until you’ve created so many straight rows that you’ve earned a stiff drink.