Friday, April 6, 2018

Direct Seeding

Ah-ha, the weather is finally improving and I getting ready to replant the gardens. This past week I direct seeded potatoes (I used home produced seed potatoes) and 3 kinds of beans. If things go well, I'll get 3 kinds of peas in the next day or two, all by direct seeding. 

Here in this farm I do a fair amount of direct seeding, as apposed to growing seedlings in the greenhouses for transplanting. But I do both, depending upon the crop. Beans, peas, and tuber crops like potatoes and yacon, are directly planted. Sweet potatoes, Okinawan spinach, and cholesterol spinach are different in that I plant fresh cuttings right into the soil. Other crops that I direct seed include cowpeas, pigeon peas, lima beans, fava beans, wing beans, corn, gourds, squash, watermelons, radishes, and pumpkins. Just about all other crops are started with seedlings grown in the mini greenhouses, then transplanted later out into the garden beds. 

When I sit down to think about it, there's lots of different methods lumped under the label "direct seeded". Techniques I use, depending upon the crop and situation, include......

... The finger poke. On a prepared bed I'll lay out the seed where I want the plants to be. Then I'll simply poke the seed into the depth that I want it, flick or pinch the soil to cover the seed. Wallah -- done. Sounds ideal, but it has its drawbacks. It's time consuming to plant a large area this way, plus my finger rapidly gets sore. Planting 50 bean seeds is fine, but more than that I want to use a different approach. Yeah, I'm an old finger poker from way back when. It's a quick way to plant that one pack of pea, bean, or corn seed. 
... Trough. I'll use a rake or hoe to create a shallow trough, say 2" deep for big seeds. It's kind of quick to make a couple of rows of troughs in my standard sized bed. Then I'll space out the seeds, perhaps every three inches for beans. Then I'll finish up by using the tool to pull a bit of soil over the seeds. 
... Broadcast and rake in. I've used this method when seeding oats into soft ground. I'll rake (or lightly till) to loosen the surface, broadcast the oats, then lightly rake to area with short strokes to get some of the seed covered with soil. Then I'll water the area if rain isn't expected. This method can be used for a variety of crops, not just oats. A variation of this is to use a hose on "jet spray" to drive the seed into the soil. It's a one step method to bury the seed and water it at the same time. 

Methods I seldom use, or haven't.......

... Small handheld seeder tools. Some look like weird syringes, others like strange funnels. Some vibrate. Others poof air. Some simply control the number of seeds that can pass through a hole. They help with precision so that the gardener doesn't drop too many seeds in one spot. 
... Seed tape. I seldom use seed tape because of the expense. But it is a method of direct seeding. Some people make homemade seed tapes, but I find it to be too time consuming. But for small gardens, it's a fun way to plant. 
... Seed gel. Another homemade method is to make a cornstarch gel, add seeds, shake well to evenly distribute the seeds in the gel. Then using a squirt bottle, like a mustard or matchup dispenser, just squirt the gel/seed mix into a trough and cover it with a bit of soil. I've never used this method, but I bet it would work well with small seeds.  A variation would be to mix the seeds I with a fine material like vermiculite, then plant using that. 
... Seed balls. A fad right now among some homesteader types is to plant using seed balls. Seeds are mixed with a clayish soil and kneaded into balls. (There are variations of this method, but the idea is to have seeds mixed with something biodegradable that can be molded into a ball the size from ping pong to hardball size.) Then sowing consists of throwing the seed balls about with the intent of the ball breaking up upon landing. I've never used this method. 
... Seeders. Seeders can range from something simple and homemade to something huge, expensive, complex and pulled by a tractor. Homemade ones can be as simple as a shaker can with enlarged holes to correspond to the seed size, or a piece of pcv pipe to drop seeds down. It all depends on the need. The idea is to get the seed into the ground without bending over, and do it quickly. I've seen some old style hand held corn seed planters in antique stores. Homemade but efficient and quick. 
    There's a large selection of mechanical seeders available. Some are hand pushed down a row of prepared soil, such as the Planet Junior. Others are designed to pull behind an ATV. From there the complexity, size, and cost goes up. Large commercial seeders can actually open a furrow in unplowed ground, plant the seed, close the furrow, and apply fertilizer or other chemicals in one pass, of course pulled and powered by a tractor. Or if broadcasting, can cast the seed quite a distance in a set pattern and density. Some operations use hydro seeding, the sowing of seed via irrigation-like apparatus. And for something entirely different, there are situations where seed is broadcast via helicopter or airplane. 

Over the years I've seen some nifty, and sometimes weird, homemade contraptions for direct seeding. The variations seem endless. It turns out that there are a lot of gardeners out there who like to experiment and tinker, especially when it comes to getting the seeds into the ground. 

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