Thursday, April 16, 2009

What, you don't stick your seeds to toilet paper, too?

Allow me to introduce you to a most delightful invention, the seed tape:

Okay, in all honesty, this is more of a seed "sheet" than seed tape, but the principle is the same. There is a real seed tape near the top of the photo, which is simply seeds in one row, rather than in lots of rows. Depends on how you want to plant, I s'pose.

Anyway, here's the idea: you take some kind of paperish product--something that will degrade very quickly--and you stick seeds to it. Then you put that in your garden, cover it with soil to an appropriate depth, water, and be done with it. As you see above, I've chosen to use toilet paper (unbleached recycled stuff), which will obviously degrade very quickly indeed. You probably can use regular paper, but I'd worry about if it's been bleached (which in all likelihood it has). Newspaper would probably work a treat, too. I stuck the seeds down using a thick mixture of flour & water. I've heard tell that cornstarch works well, too, and I even saw recommendations for Elmer's glue. Now, I doubt there'd be any problems with using actual glue, but something about putting that stuff in my garden put me off. So I went with flour.

Anyway, I stole one of my kid's watercolor paintbrushes and dabbed the flour-water mixture at appropriate intervals for the seeds I was planting. In this case, 1" intervals, as I was seeding carrots. I then dropped 1-2 seeds per splotch, continued till the whole sheet was covered, and set it aside to dry. If you want tapes instead of sheets, just cut them apart once dry. Anyway, when completely dry (and I do me completely--just imagine what would happen if the sheets stuck to each other! Disaster!), I rolled them up and set them aside until ready to plant.

Okay, so why did I do this? Well, partially because I have a perverse desire to have the only perfectly spaced carrots in the city. But mostly because, well, if you've ever seeded carrots yourself, you'll probably understand the appeal of the tape method. No hunching over a garden bed, achingly spacing eensy-teensy seeds 1" apart from each other for row after row after row after row after.... No one really makes it that far, either. Most folks get, like, maybe two rows into this hellish process before they just say F*CK IT and start sprinkling seeds down the rows. This leads to the obvious problems of overseeding in some patches, underseeding in others, lots and lots of thinning, stunted carrots, wasted space, broken back, dogs & cats living together... anarchy. Nope, anarchy must be averted--order will be imposed. I sat at my kitchen table, listening to a movie playing in the other room, no hunched back, and worked for a few hours on and off finishing my sheets. Planting them took like two minutes. Tops.

I don't think this process is worthwhile if you have larger seeds--like beet or bean seeds--or if you're planting small squares, a la Square Foot Gardening. But if you're planting lots and lots of fiddling teeny seeds in 1" spacing over 16 square feet? Well, f*ck that. I'll make a tape, thanks.

EDIT: Oh yeah, do notice that 1" spacing really is too close for fully-grown carrots. That's why you wait for them to start growing well, and then you thin out all the baby carrots, which are a yummy, yummy delight! So, no major veggicide (read: thinning; although if you seed two seeds per splotch you will have to do a little bit of veggicide), you get baby carrots, and the baby carrots you pull help loosen up the soil to let the remaining carrots penetrate more easily, preventing stunted carrots. Man, there is just no downside here...


  1. That is a great idea! Especially since I am doubling the amount of carrots I am planting this year.

  2. I particularly like this idea, because I always feel like I'm committing some sort of forced veggie suicide when I pull out the "extra" plants.

  3. Even if the seed tape took the same amount of time that I spend each year on thinning carrots, it would still be a benefit because I can do the seed tape before the season begins, when I have some extra time. Thinning carrots always comes at the exact time that I should be doing the first major weeding of the garden. And to top it off, like you said, you are sitting comfortably at a table indoors, and not crouching over the ground, swatting mosquitoes and blackflies with the sun bearing down on you. Thank you for that post!

  4. Hi everyone! Yup, I pretty much agree with all comments. One thing I should point out is that doing seed tapes *does* get tedious, and you start wondering why you're doing this--it's not a heavenly process. You just have to keep reminding yourself that the other option is to attempt doing basically the same process, only hunched over in a garden, with less close-up access to your seeding, etc. etc....

  5. Neat! The version I'd heard used paper towels - wet the whole towel strip and don't use any "glue" and cover with a second strip - the two wet strips pressed together are supposed to hold everything in place. Haven't tried it, tho...

  6. Emily--I've seen those types, too. The recycling center here has some neat kiddo programs, and one of the things they do is make new paper from old paper. One version of this includes putting seeds into the new paper while making it, which can then be planted whole.

    Actually, the "wet it down and put the seeds on, then cover" method would probably be a lot faster than what I did. Hmm... thoughts for next year, eh?

  7. This is really a fantastic idea!

  8. Brilliant! Thank you for this tip. I may try it yet with my carrots this year.

    Just found your blog. Wondering why I haven't found it before now.

  9. Hi Kate!

    Eh, my blog's pretty new, so I'm not surprised. One word of caution on the seed tapes--cover the seeds *lightly*. I used some cheap topsoil from a wet bag on mine, and I think I killed some of them when they couldn't break through the ground. =( I guess in fairness this is a tip for any style of planting--not just seed tapes.

    At any rate, good luck with the seeding, and welcome!