By Sam Burbach, Education & Programming Coordinator – 03/20/2020

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Some of the earliest seeds that we can plant directly into the garden are also some of the smallest. I’m thinking of carrots, radish, beets, lettuce, and spinach. As soon as the ground becomes workable, you can begin sowing these seeds directly into your garden.

A normal practice for sowing seeds is to overseed your row and then thin to the proper spacing once the seedlings grow a couple of inches tall. With tiny seeds that is much easier than trying to sow individual seeds at correct spacings, like we might do with larger seeds such as beans or peas. But that does add the extra step of thinning out seedlings and means we’re essentially throwing away seeds.

Something we can use to make direct sowing easier is seed tape or a seed mat. Seed tape and seed mats have seeds properly spaced out on a biodegradable material so that you can simply lay the tape/mat down in the garden and bury to the appropriate depth. Seed tapes are used for planting rows, and seed mats are used for covering a small area, such as for square foot gardening.

You can purchase seed tape and seed mats from many different seed companies, but it is also easy enough to make your own! This is a great activity to do in the chilly and/or rainy early days of spring so planting time will go that much quicker when we are able to get outside and work in the ground! The best part is that you probably have everything you need at home to make seed tape or seed mats already, unless you haven’t done your seed shopping just yet.

Making seed tapes/mats is great for all gardeners, of all ages and abilities. It’s perfect for gardeners who simply just want to save time and seeds, it’s perfect for gardeners who may want or need to limit the amount of time they spend working on the ground, and it’s perfect for kids who tend to have a hard time sowing individual seeds. The first time I made seed tape it was as a kids’ activity to help little fingers plant little seeds, and the tape material was actually made from… toilet paper! Now given the current situation, toilet paper is a little too valuable so we’re going to modify and use newspaper, but toilet paper makes great seed tapes as well!

Here’s how you can try it at home!

Here’s what you’ll need:
  • Seeds – this is meant for tiny seeds rather than large seeds like beans or peas
  • Newspaper or sale ads (non glossy), toilet paper, or paper napkins
  • Flour
  • Water
  • Toothpick
  • Tape measure or ruler
  • Pen, pencil, marker, etc.
Begin by preparing your tape or mat. 
For a seed tape, cut 1-inch wide strips of newspaper, or tear off a piece of toilet paper as long as you wish your tape to be, and then fold in half length-wise. 
For a seed mat, unfold a paper napkin and lay flat, or cut a piece of newspaper to the size you want your seed mat to be.
Prepare your paste. Place a spoonful of flour in a small bowl and slowly add in water and stir until a liquid paste forms
Lay your tape measure or ruler out next to your tape or mat. Look at the back of your seed packet to see the proper spacing and mark out the spacing on your tape or mat, and label it with what seeds you’ll be using.
Pour some seeds onto a flat surface. Take your toothpick and dip it in the paste. Once a small bead of paste is on the toothpick, touch it to a seed to pick up the seed and then dab it on the tape or mat at each of the markings to place the seed with the paste. 
Let your tape or mat lay flat to dry.
Once the paste has dried, carefully roll up tape/fold up mat, and place in an airtight container or bag to keep dry until ready to plant. Place extra seeds in a container to reference when it is time to plant. 

A Few Notes:

  • If using toilet paper, place a few extra dots of paste along the long edge and then fold the other half of the toilet paper on top to encase the seeds.
  • My carrot seeds are a couple years old so I placed a few seeds in each spot to accommodate for lower germination rate. I might have to do some thinning if germination rates are high. 

 

Planting Your Seed Tape or Mats:

For a downloadable version of the planting instructions, click here.

Downloadable Instructions:

For a downloadable version of the full instructions, click here.
For a downloadable infographic, click here.

Additional Resources:

University of Illinois Extension: https://web.extension.illinois.edu/vegguide/