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 beetroot, and my first and only try with seed tapes failed. I moved on, ultimately did learn to grow beetroot, 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 stabilise the seeds 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.
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.
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 colours 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.
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: Basil, beetroot, carrot, kale, leek, lettuce, parsley, radish, rocket, 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