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Easy Gizmos For Seeding
by John Harmon
March 16, 2003

This is my favorite time of the year! The more hours of daylight we get the closer we are to getting out into the garden again. Now that you have all your seeds, (you did order early didn't you?) and stocked up on potting soil and flats, it’s time to get your hands dirty and plant! Planting seeds is always a chore especially small seeds so here's some gizmos to help ease the work.

One seeding gizmo is called a Tiny Tim Seed Dispenser. It works better than I expected. It’s a clear plastic tube with a spout and inside a spring-loaded plunger that has a small groove cut into it. You fill it up with seed and holding it at an angle you can drop seeds one at a time. It didn’t work with begonia seed but that stuff is just like dust. Begonia seed comes in a tiny glass or plastic vial with what looks like a small amount of brownish gray dust that somebody forget to clean out. If you plant begonia seed be very careful not to sneeze after the seed is out of the vial. With any bigger seed the tool works quite well.

In the information that came with the Tiny Tim is the suggestion of adding white powder to fine seed before you fill the dispenser. They don’t mention what kind of white powder. They say it stops seed from sticking to the inside of the plastic tube and makes it easier to see when it hits the dark soil. I wouldn’t suggest baby powder but something organic that’s white like cornstarch should work fine. If you don’t feel like investing in a Tiny Tim the trick of adding white powder will help you to see the seeds better even if you just tap them out of a folded piece of paper.

The big commercial greenhouses use machines called Precision Needle Seeders to plant their flats of bedding plants. These machines have a row of needles that you can adjust to pick up just one seed at a time and drop it in each cell or pot. The way they pick up the seed is with suction. The size of the needle can be changed for each size of seed.

For the home gardener you can build a simple needle seeder. First thing you will need is a turkey baster. Then stop down to your local feed store or equine supply and pick up one of those BIG 60CC plastic horse syringes.

To build your seeder just pull the plunger out of the syringe and cut the barrel off so you only have a few inches of the end that the needle goes on. Fit the rubber ball off the turkey baster on to the cut off end of the syringe and you’re almost ready to go. Each size of seed will require a different size needle. The needle size gets smaller as the numbers get larger. You will want to dull the needles for safety especially after you stick yourself a couple times. A quick rub across some sandpaper or a sharpening stone will dull the needle and make it less hazardous and it will still pick up the seed just fine.

The secret to picking up just one seed at a time is using the right size needle. For poppy seeds I found that a size 18 or 20 hypodermic needle does the trick. Just squeeze the bulb and as you slowly release stick the needle into a cup of seeds. It will suck one seed up on the end of the needle and you can move it to the cell or pot and a gentle re-squeeze drops it perfectly into place. There is no mess, no waste and it’s quick.

If you have a large quantity of flats to plant you can make a wand seeder. It's a time saver if you plant in standard cell packs. It's simply a piece of PVC pipe that's long enough to reach over the width of your flats with a needle fixed where the center of each individual cell is. Use one half or three quarter inch PVC and buy enough plastic 10 CC syringes so you have one for each cell across the width of the flat. For instance a standard 10-06 has 6 cells across so you would need six. Cut the end off that the needle goes on so there is about a quarter inch of the barrel left. Locate the right position on your PVC pipe and drill six holes just the right size for the barrel to fit into with the needle end facing out in a straight line. Glue the barrels into the pipe with epoxy. Put a cap on one end of the pipe and get PVC fitting to glue on to the other end that expands the size to just slightly smaller than the end of the suction hose on your vacuum cleaner.

You want to be able to easily shut off the suction so get a PVC ball valve to fit. A short length of PVC pipe glued into the ball end and your ready to go. Stick the end of your vacuum hose over the short length of pipe, duct tape it into place and your ready to seed.

Attach the right size needle for the seeds you are sowing and turn on the vacuum. Dump your seeds into a "V" shaped container like a section made from the corner of a cardboard box with the ends closed. Dip the needles into the seeds with the vacuum on and hold the wand over the soil filled cells in the right position to drop the seeds in the middle of each cell. Simply shut the valve and the seeds will drop into place. By turning the valve on and off with one hand and directing the wand with the other you can precisely plant many flats very quickly with no wasted seed or thinning later.

Once you've picked out the gizmo that will work best for you and this weather straightens out you will be planting easier and faster.

John Harmon owns and operates Tropicals North. Write to John at The Real Dirt, c\o 211 Wood St., Whitehorse, YT., Y1A 2E4 or e-mail

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