Seed tape is just a fancy term for seeds (usually very small seeds) attached to paper to make planting easier. You lay the seed tape in the soil, cover it with a bit more soil, and boom, you’re done. Super gratifying. You can buy seed tape from most seed suppliers, but it’s $$, and seed suppliers have very limited varieties of seed tape. If you make your own seed tape, it means you aren’t limited by what the seed houses carry – you can have any seed you desire!
This project is pretty simple, and one the kids can help with 😉 Seed tape is usually reserved for very small (easily lost/hard to see), direct sow seeds. It’s definitely not necessary for larger direct sow seeds, like peas.
What do you need to make seed tape?
To get started you’ll need:
- seeds! your choice 😉
- “paper” – newspaper (avoid colored ink), toilet paper, paper towels, or tissue paper
- ruler – to measure spacing
- marker – to mark seed spacing
- small plate (for seeds)
- small bowl – to mix paste
- flour and water (2 to 1 ratio) – consistency of thick pancake batter
- envelope(s) (labeled) to keep seeds until planting time
- damp cloth for cleaning up any drips
Let’s start with the paper. Even though newspaper is about the simplest (and usually free!) to obtain, it’s not my favorite for this project (but it does work). In my experience, newspaper tends to get “brittle”, making the seeds want to pop off, even with adequate paste; and it doesn’t press into the soil as nicely as other materials. My favorite paper (though admittedly, it’s a sensitive topic right now) is toilet paper. Toilet paper will break down much faster than the newspaper (after all, that’s what it’s designed to do 😉 ). Use what you have and are comfortable with.
Cut the paper into strips about 1-1 1/2” wide. I like to cut the strips to fit the length of the bed I’m going to plant in, but if you don’t know what the size of your planting area will be, I’d start with 12-18” strips. You can always tear them to size at planting time.
Seed tape works best for tiny seeds that can be easily lost in the soil, and for crops like root vegetables that can’t be transplanted. It’s also wonderful for keeping your plant spacing spot-on. There are always a few seeds that don’t germinate, so you might want to plant knowing you’re planning on thinning the seedlings later. About 2x the recommended rate would be plenty (unless you’re dealing with very old seed).
Use a ruler to make marks that following the spacing recommended on your seed packet.
In a small bowl, mix a bit of flour and water in a small bowl to make a paste. It should be about the consistency of a thick pancake batter. A little paste goes a long way. One teaspoon of flour mixed with about 1/2” teaspoon of water is about right.
Using a toothpick, put a small drop of paste on each of your marks. Use enough paste for the size seed you’re using. If you have something small like carrot or lettuce seed, a small drop is usually enough. For something larger, like beet seed, you probably want a drop of paste about the size of a small pea.
Put one seed on each drop of paste. I like to use a toothpick with a tiny bit of paste on the end to pick up the seed, and place it on the paste drop.
Place the seed on the paper, and while the paste is still damp, fold the paper in half over the seed to seal it in.
Label your seed tape!
Allow them to dry completely. Store your labeled homemade seed tape for up to 1 year in a cool, dry place.
When the time comes to plant your seed tape, one thing to remember – seed tape will need some extra water, because you aren’t only keeping the seeds most, but the seed tape, as well.
Good luck, and have fun! And if you’d like to share pictures of how your seed tape turns out, I’d love to see it.
until next time, keep the green side up,
My passion for good food is no secret.
Neither is the fact that I plant a large garden each year; which provides most of that good food.
Whenever anyone visits my garden, the one thing they always remark on are the tomato plants. The plants can easily reach 5 ft. tall, and are loaded with healthy fruit. This always leads to questions about how I grow tomato plants that look like that. Most of the time people assume that because we live on a farm and Mr. Awesome is in agriculture, that we have access to some special “fertilizer” that “regular people” can’t get. Yes, I have been asked that, and uhm…no. It’s all in the preparation. Really. Today I’m sharing my 5 tips for growing your healthiest tomato plants ever!
1. Prepare the soil – add compost
Before you go to your local nursery and breath in that warm, moist, earthy-smelling air, – you know the air that makes you get all plant crazy – take a little time to get your vegetable bed in order. This part isn’t glamorous, but this is where your plants are going to live. If you skimp here, your plants will pay the price later in the season.
Dig deeply where you want to plant your tomato; at least 14 inches wide, and 18 inches deep. Incorporate compost (NOT potting soil) with the existing soil. Blend it together with the existing soil until it’s a uniform consistency.
- If this is a new vegetable bed, add enough compost to make a blend of 50% compost to 50% existing soil.
- If you have very heavy or clay soil, this may need to be a 75/25 mix.
- If you want to add a little slow-release fertilizer, this is the time. Mix it in well with the soil you just prepared. You want the nutrients to be available in the root zone you just created, but you don’t want the fertilizer in direct contact with the roots.
2. Select strong healthy plants
Now it’s okay to go to the nursery and breath in all those heady plant smells! *sigh*
This part may seem like a no-brainer, but every year I see folks at the nursery select yellowed, and wilted plants because they’re bigger (read taller), over the green, sturdy plants that are smaller. Go for the healthy green and sturdy plants. The vitality of a good plant will have it outgrowing a weaker, larger plant, within a few weeks. And that healthier plant will outproduce a weaker plant all summer long!
3. It’s all in how you plant it
Gently slide your plant out of its little plastic pot. If the plant is in a peat container, gently peel away the peat (you can throw that peat into the planting hole). If the roots are completely wound around inside the pot (root bound), and you see more roots than soil, return the plant for another.
This plant looks perfect. Beautiful white roots, with plenty of soil visible and no wrapping around inside the pot. Gently pull apart the roots at the base, so that they will spread out when planted.
This next part is hard. We’re gonna take that beautiful new plant you we brought home, and start yanking a bunch of the stems and leaves off. It seems counterintuitive – plus it’s just hard (for me at least) to destroy any part of a health plant – but I promise, it will be worth it.
See all those little leaves and stems along the bottom few inches of the plant? Just pinch them off. It’s okay. Honest.
Tomatoes will throw out new roots all along the stem of the plant. Bigger, healthier root system = bigger, healthier plants.*
Place your plant into the hole you’ve prepared for it. Gently spread out the roots, and hold the plant upright as you slowly backfill the planting hole with soil.
The stem that you stripped of leaves should be below soil level, and just the top few inches of leaves will be visible.
*You can’t do this with most plants. If you plant them deeper than the soil level of the container they were in, they will rot and die. Tomatoes are special 😉
4. Direct the water where it needs to go
When it’s watering time, it’s easy for the water to run of the top of the soil and not get to where it’s needed most; the root system. Take a few minutes after you’ve planted your beautiful little tomato, and create a moat around your plant. This creates a dam for the water, and will help direct it down into the root zone.
Now water your new plant. Make sure to give it a good soaking.
5. Protect and support your plant
Finally, give your plant the support and protection it needs. If you are in an area where the temperatures dip down at night, a water wall can help keep the plant warm and cozy during the chilly nights. Just remember to not leave the water walls on during high daytime temperatures, or you will damage (or kill) the plant you were protecting.
Give your plant enough support. Select a sturdy plant support. A good quality tomato cage or support will last not only this season, but many more.
These wonderful plant supports have ben with me for the last five years, and are about to begin year six in the garden!
Just in case you need a little reassurance, this photo was taken only a month after planting. You can see the tomatoes (the plants closest) are plenty big!
Follow these simple tips, and enjoy the healthiest, most productive tomato plants ever!
p.s. please recycle your plastic plant containers after planting. Most facilities now accept nursery pots 😉
keep the green side up,
early summer garden – in raised beds
This year we will be celebrating 50 years of Earth Day! This seems like the perfect excuse to chat a little about backyard gardens! I’m the first to admit, there is always more to learn about gardening, and like most people, I’m out here planting stuff that I think will be yummy to eat 🙂 While I have some training, most of what I’ve learned about gardening came through years of experience; trials, successes, and failures.
Honestly, it’s a miracle I enjoy gardening at all, considering my early years of gardening were relegated to digging out rocks, and pulling weeds in my parents garden. As a kid, I never got to do the “fun” parts of gardening, like planting things, picking things, and watering things! And while I loved my parents, don’t make the same mistake they made with me, get your kids out in the garden with you – and let them do the “fun” stuff! Let them dig trenches, plant the seeds, water the plants, and pick & eat food right there in the garden. Here are 5 things you can do in your garden, right now, to get ready for the growing season.
raised bed in garden
1. THINK ABOUT YOUR CROP SELECTION, REALISTICALLY
Seed catalogs have been arriving in my mailbox since January – you might have a few as well (and if you don’t, they’re easy to request). These catalogs offer a much larger selection of seeds (and often, seedlings) than what a garden or big-box store will carry. They are also more likely to include heirloom varieties. Choose things that are well suited to grow in your area. I get the majority of my seeds from Territorial Seed Company. Why? Because they have test gardens in my area of the Pacific Northwest. That means I know that the things they grow, will most likely grow well for me. Keep in mind as you make your selections, of the mature plant size. It’s easy to get excited with all those plants and seeds, and then overcrowd your garden plot. This will lead to reduced yields, and disease. Resist the urge! 🙂
- plants that sprawl include: pumpkins, squash, melons, (indeterminate) cucumbers…
- plants that get big include: zucchini, (indeterminate) tomatoes (especially cherry)…
Lettuces – Flashy Trout’s Back, Red Sails, Bullet, Outredgeous, and Hyper Red Rumple
2. LEARN ABOUT YOUR GROWING CONDITIONS
Having a successful garden requires you to understand your growing conditions. A little bit of observation and research now, will lead to a healthy and successful garden later. Make sure you know if your garden plot gets full sun, partial sun, or is shaded. Then make sure to choose plants that will thrive in those areas. If your garden plot gets shade for much of the day, you may never see a ripe tomato, which would be sad, but that same plot could be perfect for lettuce, spinach, chard, and other crops. You also need to know the average first and last frost dates, for your area. Your local state extension office may be able to offer more detailed information. Know these dates before you make your plant selections. Choosing a tomato that takes 100 to mature when your growing season is 90 days, will lead to disappointment.
- full sun = 8+ hours of sunshine – tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, melons…
- partial sun/shade = 4-6 hours of sunshine – root veggies like potatoes, carrots, parsnips, beets…
- shade = 4 hours of less of sunshine – lettuce, chard, spinach, kale…
deer are garden pests
3. BE AWARE OF PESTS IN YOUR AREA
This covers a wide range of critters, bugs, and possibly a nosey neighbor 😉 Learn about the major pests: deer, rabbits, squirrels, birds, etc. and develop a plan to deal with them before they do damage to your precious plants. My biggest pests are deer. They eat everything, and have a special affinity for hot peppers, tomatoes and watermelons (just before they ripen 🙁 ). This required me to build an eight foot fence, and I also use water scarecrows to help keep the deer away.
Sungold Cherry Tomato
4. IF YOU DON’T WANT TO EAT IT, DON’T BOTHER GROWING IT!
This will be unique to your particular family, and there is no right or wrong. If you never eat tomatoes, don’t plant them. Love salad blends from the grocer? Plant a lettuce mix! Plan to make your garden a place you will enjoy, full of food you will actually eat. Involve your family in this process, and if you have kids, honor their input. An exception: if your pea-hating child wants to grow peas, let them! It could be an excellent way to help them get over their dislike of trying new foods. One year I let my daughter plant Fennel, because she thought it was pretty. I’m still trying to get rid of that plant, but she loved it, and that made it worth it. 😉
mushroom compost that I mix with my garden soil and homemade compost
5. MAKE A PLAN FOR MAINTAINING YOUR GARDEN
Maintaining a healthy garden does require quite a bit of work between the fun of sowing seeds, and the yummy conclusion of harvest time. Plan now to get any necessary compost, watering hoses, garden tools, water walls, cages, trellises, etc. so that you have them when you need them. Little seedlings can go from healthy to dead in a matter of hours if the soil moisture isn’t maintained. If you have to be away for an extended time, get a water timer to make sure those precious seedlings stay moist. A great source of information for me here in the PNW are my lovely Sunset books; The Sunset Western Garden Book, and Sunset Western Garden Book of Edibles. Simple and comprehensive, a truly lovely combination.
Remember that every season is unique and has its own set of challenges. Every crop failure, or success, is a lesson learned in what we need to do. And when you eat the produce from your own garden, you will know that all the hours spent in the garden, are completely worth it.
Do you have a garden?
Do you have a favorite vegetable that you just have to have? Please tell me about it, I love trying new foods 🙂
keep the green side up,
*disclaimer – I’m not affiliated with the business or products I recommend in any way, I just think they are awesome, and wanted to share with you. 😉