I’m going to tell you a secret, one that is really quite abominable consider I call myself a gardener – I actually hate sowing seeds outside. Not the fact of growing things, but the physical act of being hunched over the beds in baking heat (or freezing cold) making furrows, attempting to place tiny seeds at correct spacing, making sure they are covered to the correct depth….blah blah blah. It’s all just so tedious and meticulous. In the words of Jerry Greenfield, of Ben & Jerry’s, “if its not fun, why do it.”
This is why if a plant can be started from seed and later transplanted, I almost always start them inside. I have no problem starting seeds indoors, while seated on a comfortable cushion on a chair at my kitchen table. But not all seeds can be later transplanted. Some, like carrots, need to be direct sown. Which is a problem, because I love harvesting carrots, and I love eating carrots, so obviously I must do the sowing portion, too. In ideal world, I would succession sow every 2 weeks and have a regular supply of carrots. But because I hate sowing carrot seeds, I manage to get only one planting in, before I remember that I actually hate sowing carrot seeds.
Enter- seed tapes! The theory behind these are seeds that are correctly spaced on a biodegradable paper. You simply unroll the tape onto the soil, cover to the correct depth, and water as normal. The seeds don’t require thinning, are in straight rows, and they won’t easily wash away when you water. You can buy seed tapes from several suppliers, such as these here, in different types of veggies, herbs and flowers. But, I decided to make my own! This is my process:
DIY Seed Tapes
- Gather your supplies. You’ll need seeds, toilet paper (single ply), a paint brush, ruler, pencil, flour and water. I’m using carrot seeds, but any tiny seed would be practical: lettuce, onion, arugula, etc.
- Pour seeds on a plate for easy access.
- Make your glue. You’ll only need a little bit, so start with a teaspoon each of flour and water. Mix together to form a paintable paste, adding more water (or flour) as necessary. Mix well to break up any lumps.
- Roll out your paper to the desired length. My raised beds are 4′ wide, but I usually plant in half sections, so I made my strips 2′ long. I also cut my paper in half lengthwise.
- Consult your seed package or favorite gardening book to determine correct spacing (hint, if you use Baker Creek Seeds, they don’t list spacing; I go to Botanical Interest to see their recommendations). Using your ruler and pencil, make an X or other mark to denote where the seed will be placed. For carrots, most sowing guidelines are 1″, then to thin to 3″. I’m awful at remembering to thin, and often end up with twisted carrots. I did one strip 1″, to see how it works, but most of them where at 2″.
- Using the paint brush, brush on a dab of the paste on your spacing marks. You can apply a few at a time.
- Using the back of the paintbrush with just the slightest bit of paste, pick up one of the seeds, and place the seed down into the paste dab on the paper.
- Allow the paper to dry overnight, then gently roll up and store in a dry spot until planting time. Don’t forget to label with the variety!
I found many different ways to do this project while consulting Pinterest, some used strips of newspaper, paper towel squares, or made their own recycled paper; try and see what works best for you. All of them, however, used white Elmer’s glue instead of paste. There could be a reason why, maybe paste won’t work, but I was concerned about the biodegradability of the glue.
I honestly have no idea how these will grow. This is my first time doing this. If they do well, I can see much more regular plantings of carrots, lettuce and radishes. I could even get fancy and do alternating carrot-radish on one tape to maximize my garden space and tape use. I plan on planting a tape, then planting a row of direct seeded for comparison. I’ll report back on how it goes!
3/3/16 UPDATE: These are growing great! You can read about that here: https://forgottenskills.wordpress.com/2016/03/03/planting-seed-tapes-how-they-grow/