Sunday, May 24, 2015

Make Your Own Seed Mats (for Tiny Seeds)




This year I am excited to be trying a new technique (or me) for carrot planting... I am going to make my own seeding mats!

Have you ever planted carrots and either been overwhelmed by all the seeds that burst through in one spot, making it difficult to thin them without pulling up too many, or just feeling how wasteful it is to be aborting all those potential wonderful carrots?

PLANTING CARROT SEEDS IS THE HARDEST PART OF GROWING CARROTS

Carrot seeds are teeny-tiny.  It is difficult to see them when you plant and because they are so light you will sometimes find them flying about willy-nilly.  Here are some methods you can use to lessen these frustrations:
  1. Buy "pelleted seeds"-- these are various tiny seeds with a clay coating that make them easier to see and work with.  The coating needs to be kept moist during the planting process and eventually falls away.  They are fairly pricey ($6+ for 100 seeds).  Order HERE.
  2. Buy Seed Mats or strips.  These are generally tiny seeds stuck to a sheet or 'tape' / strip of  light fibre paper (newsprint quality) that breaks down as the seeds are watered and as they germinate and grow.  The idea is that the seeds are arranged in the intervals that you would use if they had already been thinned.  This saves time and money.  
  3. Make your own Seed Mats or Strips!  Save money and time when you are getting pretty close to a carrot with every couple of seeds you plant**!  Recipe below.
WHEN TO PLANT CARROTS

Carrots generally like a cooler start, so it is good to plant at the optimal Spring planting time in your area (April-May generally).  However, most plants will respond if planted during the later part of the Spring, and carrots for our area can be planted at three week intervals until July, as well as sown in August for a winter crop (until freezing).  I'm LATE getting started with my garden this year because we spent a delightful week+ with our granddaughters.  It's a sacrifice I'm willing to make!

PREPPING THE SOIL

Dig the soil deep.  Carrots like a loose, well-drained bed.  My organic farmer son suggests that a sandy soil works well for carrots.  He grows monster carrots.  I'm going to use something a little more like Mel's Blend (the Square Foot Garden Guy) because I'm using round containers to plant this fussy, beautiful Rainbow blend.  

Don't walk on your carrot beds-- they need to be kept loosy-goosy-- which is why container gardening (or square foot or raised beds) work so well for growing carrots.  I'm going to use a blend of an organic black top soil that is from an "ancient" un-farmed bog area somewhere on the Island where I live (hope it wasn't a septic field-- sort of smells like it) along with some of our own compost and maybe I will mix in some precious (read: expensive and hard to locate) vermiculite.  

If you are a novice carrot gardener, you can find some soil blends here.  If you are using a container, you could always opt for the ready-made-up container blends for veggie growing.  If possible, opt for organic and non-GMO (read: NOT Miracle Gro).

MAKING THE SEED MATS
  1. Using some rough paper (undyed, untreated as much as possible) you can clip it to the shape of the container you are going to use, or into strips or squares that you will fit your square foot garden.
  2. I put my raw tissue paper (it had been used to pack some dishes I bought and seems pretty natural) on a pizza sheet for easy transport and designed it to fit my large planter container.
  3. Make up the "glue" by cooking together (stirring or whisking constantly to keep smooth) 1/3 C. of Corn Starch to 1 C. Cold Water.  When finished it will resemble lemon pie filling.
  4. Set the "glue" aside to cool.
  5. When it is cool, spoon the goop into a baggy where you have clipped out  a corner (or use an icing bag) and deposit pea-shaped globs at the intervals on your sheet indicated by your seed packet (example: my packet reads that small plants will need to be spaced about 1 1/2 - 4" apart so I will do my globs accordingly.)
  6. Drop 2-3 seeds in each glob and let dry.
PLANTING THE MAT
  1. Before planting, even out the soil with a rake or hand, and tamp down gently.  Water well.  Lay down the paper mat, seeds facing upwards, and mist or lightly shower until the paper and seeds are completely wet.  Cover (lightly) the paper mat with vermiculite, light potting soil or moss.
  2. As the carrots begin to germinate (taking 2-3 weeks) and grow, you will likely want to water them up to several times a day to keep the paper wet at all times.  The carrots will eventually push through whatever paper is left and begin their rooty-tooty descent downwards as their lovely ferny tops grow upwards.
  3. If you decide to produce your own seed (which will only happen with fertile seed, not with more hybrids), just let a carrot continue to live underground with unmolested tops.  In time-- with the right carrot-- it will produce a flower head that resembles the Queen Anne's Lace that you may have growing as a weed in your yard.  Then you can go ahead and save your own seed for next season's planting!

**Getting a carrot for every seed you plant is, of course, conditional on: (1)the germination rate of the seed you are using-- example, my Rainbow Blend is listed as having a rate of 60% (or more than half of all seeds planted) for seeds that are under  3 years old, (2)keeping the seed bed moist during germination, (3)the weather conditions, (4)your soil conditions, (5)whether those "pesky wabbits" are lurking about awaiting your crop.  Don't worry though, because carrots generally produce enough if they germinate and you look after them sufficiently during the course of the season.  The mats will cut down on the initial having to 'thin' out redundant seedlings and make for a nice orderly seed bed.
Aren't these pretty??

A TASTE OF OTHER CARROT BLOG POSTS:

Eating A Rainbow of Carrots
Crazy Carrot Cake Oatmeal Porridge recipe
Pan Fried Roast Carrot Sticks
Chickpea and Carrot Curry

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