Gardening’s Latest Trend: Seed Tapes — To Buy or To DIY?


“hi mertie mae,
I see a lot of seed companies have seed tapes this year. What exact are these, do they work, and do you recommend them?

wayne”

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Hi Wayne,

Thanks for your questions. You, like many others that received seed catalogs this year, are wondering what all the fuss is when it comes to seed tapes.

Seed tapes, and similar products like seed disks and seed carpets, are a gardening tool that have been around for hundreds of years. They are especially popular in Europe (where people do a lot more gardening than us here stateside).  There are 3 basic reasons why people use them:

1. Dexterity issues.  For older (and even younger) gardeners, it is difficult to sometimes put an individual tiny seed in a particular spot. With seed tapes, the detail work is taken out because you just lay down the tape. It works great for children too.

2. The seed is in the ground. If you have a gully washer rain storm or birds come along, your seed will stay in the ground.

3. Perfect spacing. Every time.

SeedTapes

Sounds great, right?

Well, you must know me a bit from reading my blog because you ask for my recommendation, so here it is:

If you are smart, don’t buy the seed tapes from a mail order company.

Don’t get me wrong — I’m not anti-seed tape.  I think seed tape is great if you are a person that can make use of it; however, going along with the latest seed catalog gimmick is NOT the way to go!

First, let me explain why.

1.  Currently, the seed tapes are only offered for varieties that are produced by Bejo Seeds.  Bejo is a subsidiary of Bejo Zaden Seeds, a Dutch seed producer.  We here at Mertie’s like Bejo — they have a lot of great varieties, including White Satin and Yellowstone Carrots that Mertie, Patch, and Rhubarb enjoy eating (yes, our cat loves carrots!). But if you are a person that grows a non-Bejo variety and you want seed tapes, what do you do? Do you switch varieties?

2. It is a lot more expensive to buy seeds in a tape than to by them loosely. An individual seed tape is 15′ long and has, on average, 45-90 seeds in that 15′ (45 seeds = 4″ spacing, 90 seeds = 2″ spacing). Most seed packets the same price or less often contain 200-2000 seeds, depending on the crop or the seed company you buy them from.

3.  4 years ago I had the opportunity to try commercially-produced seed tapes as a trial.  I had carrots, beets, lettuce, and radish.  With the radishes, the germination was not better than the row of the same un-taped seed next to it — and in fact, was in some cases worse because each seed was in a particular spot (to eliminate thinning), so if it didn’t germinate… well, you have a open hole in your row. Also, the little rodents that liked to wander in my garden seemed to have an easier time finding the lettuce seed because it was all in a row. They dug a hole at each spot where there was a seed was.  The beets were the only thing that did truly well, and I suspect it was because a beet seed sends up multiple shoots.  Although my research didn’t have a gully washing rainstorm involved, I find it hard to believe that the tape could hold the seed in the ground when it supposedly begins to degrade as soon as it gets wet. Those two comments seem to be complete opposites.

 

At this point, you are probably thinking, “how in the world is Mertie Mae okay with seed tapes, because she seems to be quite negative about them”.  As I have often stated in this blog, I am cheap, stubborn, and have enough brains in my head to make use of them a economical, do-it-yourself kind of girl, and as such, let me tell you how folks have been doing seed tapes since forever:

They make their own.  Efficiently and cost effective.

Depending on how you garden, there are two different ways you can do this: conventionally or organically.  Either method can be used for just about any seed, although tapes for larger seeds (corn, beans, peas) will need to handled with care after gluing so as to not knock off the bulkier seed.

 

Conventional method

You will need:

–newspaper (black and white only!!! no color!!!)

–washable white glue (Elmer’s, school glue, etc.)

–seed of your choice (can be anything)

–scissors

–tweezers for small seeds, if needed

1.  Cut the newspaper into strips that are 1/2-1 inch thick strips. (After you do this a bit, you will know what seeds work best with what thickness).

2.  Read the planting instructions for your particular seed.  Pay close attention to the seed spacing in the row.

3.  Place a dot of glue along the strips at the spacing you want your seeds.  If you want to have the ability to thin your seeds,  place the dots at the measurement indicated for planting the seeds in the ground. If you do not want to thin, place the dots at the spacing of what your plants would be thinned to.

EXAMPLE:  A carrot seed packet says, “plant seed 1/2″ apart. When the seedlings are 2″ tall, thin to 1″ apart. When the seedlings are 6″ tall, thin to 2″ apart.”

DIY Seed tape with lots of thinning: space glue drops 1/2″ apart.

DIY Seed tape with some thinning: space glue drops 1″ apart.

DIY Seed tape with no thinning: space glue drops 2″ apart.

4. Put a single seed on top of each glue drop.

5. Allow glue to dry for 24 hours.

6. When planting, make sure your row is wide enough to allow for the tape to be laid down flat. Plant at the depth indicated on the packet for the seed. Water well, as there needs to be enough water for the newspaper to absorb and for the seed to imbibe.

 

Organic method

You will need:

–organic toilet paper or paper towel

–organic white flour

–water

–seed of your choice (can be anything)

–a small tip paintbrush or q-tip

–scissors

–tweezers for small seeds, if needed

1. Roll the toilet paper out to the desired length of our strip and cut down the middle to make 2 long strips. Make multiple long strips if using paper towels.

2.  Mix the flour and water together to make a 1:1 mixture to use as paste.

3.  Place a dot of paste along the strips of toilet paper at the spacing you want your seeds.  If you want to have the ability to thin your seeds,  place the dots at the measurement indicated for planting the seeds in the ground. If you do not want to thin, place the dots at the spacing of what your plants would be thinned to.

EXAMPLE:  A carrot seed packet says, “plant seed 1/2″ apart. When the seedlings are 2″ tall, thin to 1″ apart. When the seedlings are 6″ tall, thin to 2″ apart.”

DIY Seed tape with lots of thinning: space glue drops 1/2″ apart.

DIY Seed tape with some thinning: space glue drops 1″ apart.

DIY Seed tape with no thinning: space glue drops 2″ apart.

4. Put a single seed on top of each paste drop.

5. Allow paste to dry for 24 hours.

6. When planting, make sure your row is wide enough to allow for the tape to be laid down flat. Plant at the depth indicated on the packet for the seed. Water well, as there needs to be enough water for the toilet paper to absorb and for the seed to imbibe.

(PLEASE NOTE: either method can be used to make seed disks for pots or seed carpets for raised beds or square foot gardening with minor adjustments to the size and shape of your newspaper or toilet paper/paper towels.)

And one last interesting fact:

In looking through all my catalogs to get background information for this article, I had a couple catalogs/one main company that had a slightly different description of their seed tapes that was a bit… puzzling.  If you look at Park Seed, Burpee’s, or most of the catalogs selling seed tape, you will see that they are listed as being “biodegradable”. However, the Jung Seed write-up about seed tapes (and those of their subsidiary companies R.H. Shumway’s and Vermont Bean), they are “completely biodegradable and organic”. Organic??? Really…?  After speaking with Laura, a Jung Customer Service Representative, I found out that their version of organic is that the paper is but the seed is not.  Hmmm…  This further prompted me to contact Bejo Seed.  Their representative Mary informed me that the tape is the same that they use for customers that are ordering organic seeds; however, the process of putting the non-organic seed within the organic tape paper automatically makes the tape paper NOT organic and the Jung company is misrepresenting their product.  Many apologies followed, as Bejo has the highest standards and wants their customers, and the customers of their customers, to be pleased.

Yet another example of why it is important to read descriptions carefully and always ask questions.  As always, leave it to us here at Mertie Mae’s Horticulture Talk to get you the real story behind things!

Thank you for your question, and I hope this information helps you out!

 

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© Mertie Mae Botanics LLC and Horticulture Talk!, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Mertie Mae Botanics LLC and Horticulture Talk! with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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