Thursday, July 12, 2012

Use Homemade Seed Tape to Pre-Plan Your Fall Garden

I mentioned a few months ago that we were going to test out making our own seed tape following Garden Betty's instructions. We tried it with a single row of Golden Beets, and it was an astounding success (see here for pics). Not only did it make sowing seed much easier (no accidental volunteer seeds falling into other rows), but I think it actually helped improve our germination rate.

Since we are actually expecting a baby any day now and will not have as much time to devote to the garden the rest of the summer, it dawned on me that I could make seed tape ahead of time for all of our fall garden sowings to make it easy to plant what we want quickly and efficiently (especially when we are highly sleep deprived with a newborn).

After making all this tape, I realized this could be a great overall garden planning tool for anyone because it makes you really think through what you are going to plant and what you can actually fit in your garden and allows you to prepare ahead of time. Some people have no problems with this but we are newer to gardening and still screw things up from time to time.

Why do this when it is so time consuming and you can just direct sow into the garden? Here are a few reasons:

  • It forces you to plan out your space precisely. Helpful for those of us who tend to think they have a way bigger garden then they actually have and who rudely realize this after they have planted too much of something and have run out of space for other things.
  • It makes sowing easier since you only have to scoop out a little trench the right depth, throw the tape on it, and cover it with the soil. We found this a bit more back saving then normal sowing and MUCH quicker. 
  •  It helps you plant things with consistent spacing, and if you are careful, at a consistent depth. This makes your rows look neat and tidy and improves your germination since you didn't accidentally sow one seed 1/2" deep when you should have sown it 1/4" deep. 
  • It aids germination because the paper helps keep seeds moist. This is particularly helpful for seeds that are garden princesses like carrots and parsnips that refuse to germinate if they are not kept comfortably moist in the beginning. 

  • It makes succession planting a breeze because you can tear however much tape you want to plant at one time and save the rest for a later planting. Again, of course you can do this with seeds, but I know we at least never end up doing succession planting because sowing is already time consuming and we don't want to do it twice or we forget to bring the right seeds to the garden. 
  • It allows you to prepare things ahead of time if you know you will be strapped for time at a certain point in the season (like if you are having a baby for example) or if it is winter and you want something garden-related to do.

Convinced? Then just follow the steps below.

Step 1: Planning Phase--Get out all the seeds you want to plant for your summer or fall garden. Figure out what you want to go in which garden bed and then use the row distance measurements provided on the seed packets to figure out how many rows of seed tape you will be able to fit your space. To help me, I drew out a picture of my beds and how much could fit where. (For example, my big bed is 8'x 8' but I have beams in a t-shape that we walk on so in each square I can fit seed tape lengths that are about 3 1/3 ft long.)

Step 2:  Planning Phase cont'd-- On another piece of paper, take the measurements you just figured out and write down how many pieces of seed tape you need to make in each size. Then under each size, write down what kinds of seed tape you plan to make (ex, 1 carrot, 1 pak choi, etc) and how far apart the seeds should be spaced. (For example, in the 3 1/3 ft tape I needed to make 2 lengths of Japanese Red Mustard Greens and the seeds should be spaced 6" apart on the tape.) I also found it helpful to include when I planned to sow this in the garden since this helps you sort the tape later when you go to store it.

Step 3: Get out all your supplies for making seed tape.  Garden Betty's post pretty much covers what you need. The only extras I included were a ruler, a bowl for holding the seed and some tweezers for the really tiny seeds. I also got out my pop-up dry rack (you'll see why later).

Step 4: Pop in your headphones and start making your tape! Again, Garden Betty's instructions pretty much cover the waterfront but essentially, you start by cutting your TP to the correct lengths (based on your list). You can use 1-ply TP or split some 2-ply (which I did--very easy). Label each tape. You may also find it helpful to write down the planting depth information since you may not have the packets with you when you use the tape. Take your ruler and mark off the right intervals for the seed you are gluing (again use your list). You can just eyeball it if you are really good with measurements. Then start gluing and putting on the seeds at those intervals. Garden Betty did hers in a zig-zag but I did all of ours straight across.


Tip: I found the first time I did this that the glue soaks through quickly and can make the tape stick to your surface as you are still making tape. To make drying easier and prevent sticking to the table as I worked, I put my pop up dry rack next to me and fed the tape onto it as I worked. Then I readjusted the finished ones across the rack (taking care to make sure that the gluey parts were not on the poles).  Let dry overnight.

Step 5: Put your dry tape in a bag (preferably waterproof) and store the same way you store seed. If you have used a planting schedule you can mark your bags according to when the seeds should be planted and then divvy them up that way. I have ours separated this way according to our Fall Garden Plan.Then when you are going over to your community garden, you grab the bag for that week and you are good to go!

And that's it! We now have tape for all the seeds we plan to plant in our fall garden. Hopefully we won't be too tired to actually put them in. I would love to hear people's comments if this is helpful to you. Happy gardening!

Also featured on Simple Lives Thursday.


  1. Wow I had no idea! Very cool thanks for the tips!!

  2. No problem. Hubby just started planting with the tape this week and he LOVES it. Turns out before we were using the tape he accidentally sowed 15+ kohlrabi seeds in one spot so he thinks this will help keep us on track a little better.