Using Seed Tapes, Seed Mats and Seed Disks

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Homemade seed mats

Twenty-plus years ago, several seed companies started making and selling seed tapes - ribbons of biodegradable paper upon which vegetable seeds had been mounted. Back then I was struggling to grow beets, and my first and only try with seed tapes failed. I moved on, ultimately did learn to grow beets, but looking back, it is entirely possible that the seed tape was not the problem. Time to give them another try.

Planting seed tapes or mats is easy on the back because the arranging of seeds is already done, or if you are making your own you can do it indoors. Seed tapes stabilize the seedsí positions in the soil, keeping them in place even when they are hammered by heavy rains. And, if you cover seed tapes with weed-free potting soil, the seeds can germinate with no aggravation from weeds.

Several seed companies in the US and the UK sell a variety of seeded papers that are incredibly easy to plant, or you can make your own.

Homemade seed disks

Seed disks are round, like a flower pot, so you plant them by simply covering the disk with soil - at least theoretically. When working with widely available herb seed disks (often called seed mats in the UK), I found that the disks contained two to three times as many seeds as one would actually need to plant a container. This is not a problem if you write the identity of the seeds on the paper and then cut the seed mats into smaller pieces. In this way, a single disk of basil, intended to plant one pot, can be used to plant three.

Seed tapes are long and skinny, and intended to do a superior job of spacing seeds uniformly in the row. This they accomplish quite well, though some experienced gardeners have said that the seeds on most seed tapes are too close together. This may be true for some crops, like radishes, but not for small, slow-sprouting carrot seeds. I would rather thin carrots than pull weeds from gaps in the row.

Planted seed tape

Homemade Seed Mats for Square Foot Gardens

People with small, intensive gardens can grow picture-perfect plantings by using homemade seed mats. Seed mats do such a great job with spacing that they can eliminate radish thinning altogether, and they make it easy to grow different colors of lettuce side by side. Using either single-ply toilet tissue or a paper napkin, you glue seeds to the paper at the spacing you want, allow to dry, and then cover the mats with soil or weed-free potting soil. I use a simple slurry of flour and water as glue, dabbed onto the paper with a toothpick, which holds small seeds as long as the papers are handled gently. Some people use water-soluble craft glue.

Working with seed tapes and seed mats makes you pay more attention to planting details than you otherwise would, which may be yet another reason why gardeners are so pleased with the uniform stands of seedlings they get using this method. For new gardeners, there is the substantial advantage of being able to separate veggies from weeds because the crop seedlings emerge in a definite pattern.

Spinach grown from homemade seed tape

Finally, though I have yet to try all of these crops on tape, so to speak, an exhaustive search of the netís resources say that these are the top crops for using seed tapes or seed mats, in alphabetical order: Arugula (rocket), basil, beet (beetroot), carrot, kale, leek, lettuce, parsley, radish, and spinach. If you have tried this nifty method with these or other crops, please share your experiences by adding a comment below.

By Barbara Pleasant

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Comments

 
"Great idea Thinking doing this with leeks or similar in shortish drainpipes (horizontal ones!) Under cover to give head start up here in Scotland"
Annie Taylor on Saturday 11 April 2015
"I take a bag of Composted manure, or soil and fluff it thoroughly. Pour a small amount of this in a bucket. I then mix in a few seeds and repeat this until all my soil and seeds That I want to plant at that time are used up. Then put a lid on the bucket and roll it tho mix the seeds. Open the lid remove a scoop of soil and sprinkle it where you want plants to grow.They are well distributed this way, takes little work, the seeds are buried, and if the soil was moistened, are slightly watered. sprinkle lightly and you're done. "
David Haynes on Saturday 11 April 2015
"This is my 1st year of growing your own Ever! I wanted to make my baptism into GYO as easy as possible and bought some seed tapes (raddish, carrot and leek). I found them super simple to use and within 3-5 days my raddish's sprouted into little seedlings !! Having never grown anything before, I am counting this as a big success :-)"
Tony, Kent UK on Friday 17 April 2015
"It never dawned on me to make my own seed tape. I have used store bought and yes I find the spacing very close. I also have trouble with twisting when placing the tape. Even worse when you do not have an extra pair of hands and there is a breeze. So I am going to attempt to make my own seed tape but not tape, sheets. I prefer square foot gardening and several sheets of seeded paper towel placed together would fill a bed. The weight and construction of the paper towel should solve the placement issues as well. Thanks for the heads up on making your own seed tapes. I will update my efforts after the beets have germinated and let everyone know how I succeeded. "
DougCa on Friday 24 April 2015
"Doug, try pinning the ends of the tapes down with bamboo skewers (very very large toothpicks). "
Barbara Pleasant on Sunday 26 April 2015
"Do you think the moist flour/water paste affects the sprouting time?"
compostgal on Monday 27 April 2015
"I've wondered about that, too, and think maybe the brief exposure to moisture in the flour/water paste helps to prime the seeds: softens the seed coat, maybe wakes up the embryo."
Barbara Pleasant on Tuesday 28 April 2015
"I have a 14'x4' raised bed (Wash DC area) and in April tried seed tape for two 4' rows each of lettuce mix and spinach...and nothing came up but a few stragglers that haven't matured into anything. What happened?"
Stephanie on Sunday 14 June 2015
"Spinach has germination issues (see blog on that topic) but the lettuce should have put on a better show. It needs plenty of water and it has been a dry spring. Now that it's hot you can see how a warm-natured plant does in the bed, like tomatoes or beans. If they do well, you will know it is not your soil. "
Barbara Pleasant on Monday 15 June 2015
"Have used the self made tapes and also soil mix with seed then spreading in slight trench both work but what I tried last year was amazing. It's called seeding square - a bright green square about a foot square with designated colour coded holes and wand. I run a string along my long row and make imprint of the square and desired holes. Then plant the whole 3-4 row wide by how long my string row was. So sweet! Most weed free garden ever as I knew where weeds were and was able to just use end of a broomstick for first round or 2 to clear mini weeds. Check out seedingsquare.com It's from Canada but they ship international"
Meryle Lehn on Wednesday 17 February 2016
"Been doing this for awhile. I also grow turnips, lettuce, mustard and parsnips this way, as well as the plants mentioned in the article. "
Sandra Palmer on Thursday 3 March 2016
"Is there any way to make the seed tapes in the fall and store them for spring planting or do you have to plant them soon after making them?"
Dorine on Thursday 5 May 2016
"Dorine, as long as you work quickly so the "glue" dries fast, you can make seed tapes and mats in winter for use the following spring. When dry, you can label them and then fold them up for storage in airtight containers. "
Barbara Pleasant on Thursday 12 May 2016

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