Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Victory Garden- Part II- How to Make Seed Tape

Welcome back to the second installment of my gardening series! I'm not sure if I really explained before, and who am I to go back and read my own post, but I got the name "Victory Garden" primarily from a World War II phenomenon, both in the US and the UK (Londoners even planted gardens in bomb craters!), and elsewhere in Europe, whereby the government realized that the population was straining under food rationing and that nearly everyone either had, or had access to, a large unproductive lawn or plot of land. Instead of letting the land go fallow, or devoting it to growing things that don't give back, governments encouraged citizens to plant home gardens to produce food to supplement what little there was available. They were urged to do this in order that more food could be sent to sustain and nourish the troops- thereby supporting the war effort. The Victory Garden is also a gardening show on PBS, and there is at least one cookbook by that name. I latched onto this idea, at first because I was bound and determined that I might achieve victory in my gardening (alas, it seems to fail every year), and also because I have always viewed lawns as a useless resource drain. Sure, they look sorta nice, but do they really give back? And do they give back enough to make up for how much everyone spends on them? I submit the answer is no. If I'm going to dump a bunch of money into maintaining various forms of vegetation on my property, it had better give me something to show for it. To quote an article on WWII Victory Gardens I read online "A garden plot feels much more useful, productive, and important than a vacant lot or lawn." I couldn't agree more- nicely put. Hence, I'm laying out a garden that is roughly half the size of my back yard. Originally I had thought that I'd make a single 12x12 plot with a cross of paths in the middle so that I could easily sow seeds and harvest. Then, when faced with the fact that 4x6" boards don't seem to come in a 6' length at the local home project store, DH had the brilliant idea to just make 4 5'x5' beds- separated by about 2' pathways, that he can easily run the mower down. Brilliant! So, there you have a little more of the story. But I'm already off topic.

At the time I decided that I wanted to put in a really big (for me) garden this year, I started to cast about looking for information from fellow gardeners as to what they were growing this year, and what they had done in the past that had brought them success. A friend's mom is a super gardener, and she provided me with not only what she was growing and some tips (like choosing lettuce and spinach which are "slow to bolt", meaning they don't go to seed as fast as other varieties), but also included instructions on how to make your own seed tape.

Seed tape, in case you've never heard of it, is a sort of tissue paper that's easily biodegradable, marked with the variety of seed it contains, and has the appropriate number of seeds pressed between its layers, and spaced at the appropriate intervals for sowing. It enables you to save time having to consult the back of your seed packet for detailed planting instructions, and just dig one long furrow, lay the tape in, and cover- allowing you to skip the poke a hole in the dirt and drop in seeds step, and also gives you lovely straight rows. Pretty smart stuff. Of course, you have to pay significantly extra to the seed companies to buy it, but making it yourself is super simple business.

You will only need your seeds (this method works particularly well with maddeningly small seeds, and with lettuces and salad greens that you need to sow a lot of), a roll or 2 of toilet paper, a pair of scissors, and a spray bottle filled with water.

First, you'll use the scissors to cut the strip of TP in half. I ended up using an entire roll of TP for my seed tape, and that made seed tape for 5 varieties of seeds. I didn't cut it all up at once though, it's sort of a pain to keep neat (I have very helpful cats) so I just cut up 5 or 6 feet of it at a time.

You'll then want to use a gel or permanent pen to write what type of seed you are using. I only wrote this at the starting end, but If I'd have been smarter about this, I'd have written this at intervals along the TP- wet TP tends to tear very easily no matter how careful you are with it. If I'd have included this info every 10 inches or so along the TP the likelihood of each piece of finished seed tape being labeled would have been higher. As it was, I just made sure to keep each variety separate while drying, so getting them mixed up wasn't a problem. Seeds pressed between layers of TP all look very similar though, so use some caution.

Next, lay out the TP flat, and use the spray bottle (set to mist) to lightly spray half of the TP. I sprayed the far side, and then that became the bottom layer. If you spray the whole thing at this point it will tear too easily to fold nicely. Try to not get too much water on the TP either, to minimize unwanted tearing.

Then you'll want to lay out your seeds according to the seed packet. If it says you are to sow 1 seed every 3 inches, then you'll lay out 1 seed every 3 inches along the center-ish of the TP. If it says to sow 2 seeds per hole every inch, then you'll lay out 2 seeds every inch along the center of the TP.

Next you'll gently fold the paper in half over the seeds. Press firmly to seal the open edge, and also between the seeds. I discovered it is better to not press the seeds themselves, as they tend to tear through the bottom layer of the paper. Spray the dry areas very lightly with more water to encourage them to seal.

Last, you'll dry the strips. I tried to get the strips to NOT tear so I'd get the longest lengths of seed tape possible. That way I wouldn't have to piece them into the furrows when I plant them. My first idea was to dry the strips on a sheet pan. The trouble with that is that the pan filled up awful fast, much sooner than I was done making seed tape, and due to the fact that there was no air circulation around the strip, they weren't drying very fast.

Next I tried laying them across my recycle bin, figuring that would get the air circulation they needed. The trouble with that is the strips are relatively heavy, and the weight of the whole middle of the strip pulled on the 2 small parts which attached the strip to the edges. I was very afraid they'd all break.

Finally, I realized that I could dry them, a la the pasta drying method, draped over my broom handle propped between 2 tables. This method was just right (said Goldilocks), and after I cautioned the cats to NOT help me with this in any way, the strips dried quite quickly.

Lastly, I stacked up all of the strips for one kind of seed, rolled them up, put them in a zip top sandwich baggie, and tucked the seed packet in with them. I filed them alphabetically in one of the low sided boxes that canning jars come in so I could easily access them and reference them.

So far, this has worked out brilliantly for me, and I am very excited for planting time to see how they work out in the garden.

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