The Garden Digs

Why You Need a Seeder and How to Use It

Why You Need a Seeder and How to Use It

This post was written by Shelby of Farminence

For years, I’ve sown seeds by hand. It’s back breaking labor, and one of the hardest parts about gardening. Seeds are cheap though, and it’s hard to beat the selection of crops when you buy seeds. So, I’ve always chalked it up as just one of those things that I have to deal with. I’d seen seeders before, but I put off getting one. The price tag, which is usually around $100, prevented me from buying one. I mean, what’s the point of buying seeds to save money if I was going to spend a ton of money on an expensive seeder?

This year, I finally caved and got a seeder. When I was putting my garden out, I was 7 months pregnant. I couldn’t bend over and seed out ½ acre worth of seeds. It just wasn’t going to happen without a seeder. I didn’t realize that it was going to be such a game-changer for me!

What Does a Seeder Do?

A seeder is the perfect tool for planting your garden. A good seeder will cut a row into the soil for you, sow and space out seeds and then cover them back up. Essentially, a seeder will do all of those tasks that can wreak havoc on your knees and lower back when you’re planting.

All you have to do is fill it up with seeds, push it around where you want to plant and then sit back and admire all of the hard work you did. It may seem like a splurge, especially if you don’t put that many seeds out in your garden. But, as a seasoned gardener that spent over 20 years sowing seeds by hand, I’m here to bring you into the light. Stop killing your back and start enjoying putting seeds out with a seeder.

Once you have a seeder, you’ll be tempted to put your entire garden out in seeds. It’s easier than putting plants into the ground.

If you struggle with spacing seeds out, or, get lazy and don’t space them out exactly like the instructions say, then a seeder will be a life-saver for you. Seeders space the seeds out perfectly for your crops. No more going back and thinning seedlings out. You’ll spend less on seeds since the seeds you put out will be spaced correctly to begin with, reducing the amount of wasted plants that need to be thinned.

A seeder can significantly reduce the amount of time you spend planting. Sowing seeds by hand takes hours. Creating rows, inserting seeds and then covering rows back over involves hours of bending and stooping. A seeder takes care of all of these in one pass. Seeders have a small plow-like piece that cuts a trough into the soil. The seeds are deposited and then a piece at the back of the seeder levels the soil back out, covering over the seeds. You’ll take care of the complete seed sowing process in one step.

Using a Seeder

Using a seeder is really simple. It combines multiple steps involved with sowing seeds into one simple task. It may seem like a complicated tool to use at first, but don’t let it intimidate you. With a few short steps, you’ll be seeding your garden out in no time flat. The seeder that I’ll show you to use is the Earthway Precision Garden Seeder, but other seeders work in a similar way.

Identifying the Parts of a Seeder

The Earthway Precision seeder has a few parts that you’ll need to be familiar with in order to get the most out of it. It has two wheels, making it narrow enough to fit in small rows or spaces. The front wheel is cleated and larger than the rear wheel. The front wheel also has a kick stand to help it stand up when you’re not using it. When you’re using the seeder, simply flip the kick stand up and out of the way.

When you look at the seeder, you’ll notice a black box. This is the seed hopper. The seed hopper is where the seeds will go when you’re ready to use it. The hopper is attached to a pulley, which is attached to the front wheel. This pulley will rotate the seed plate and move seeds into the small compartment on the side of the hopper so that they can be deposited.

Under the seeder there is a small triangular piece of metal that resembles a small plow. This piece of metal will dig a furrow in the soil, creating a row for the seed to drop into. Directly behind the miniature plow (called the ground breaker) is a chain. The chain will drag along the ground, covering up seeds that were dropped into the furrow.

Above the rear wheel is the handle. The handle has an attachment that is a T-shaped piece of metal. This attachment can be pulled down and moved to the side. This is a row marker. Use it to evenly space your rows out while you’re seeding.

The Earthway Precision seeder comes with several seed plates: beans, beets, carrots, corn, peas and radishes. There are other seed plate options available for different sized seeds and different spacings. You can also purchase a fertilizer attachment that will spread fertilizer right from your seeder.

The seed plates are circular, plastic plates that can attach to the inside of the seed hopper. Each seed plate has small cups and holes that will accommodate the seeds listed on the plate. The cups on the seed plate will grab seeds and carry them up into the small seed chute on the side of the hopper. The cups are spaced out to ensure that seeds are evenly spaced and deposited into the furrow.

Using the Seeder

Before you can use your seeder, you need to make sure that the ground in your garden has been prepared. If you can, till it up with a tiller to break the ground up. The ground breaker on your seeder won’t go through tough or crusted ground well. It works best with tilled up soil. Also, make sure that the ground isn’t muddy. You can use the seeder in muddy soil, but it’s much easier to maneuver if the ground isn’t saturated.

Stand your seeder up using the kickstand. It make take a minute or two if your ground isn’t perfectly level. Choose the correct seed plate for the seeds that you’re going to plant. You’ll notice that each seed plate has three indentions in the inner circle. Line these up with the notches on the white wheel inside of the seed hopper. Once the seed plate is lined up on the white wheel, turn the plate to the side to lock it in place.

Flip the kickstand up and push the seeder for a few feet without seeds in it to make sure that the plate is locked into place. Adjust it if needed.

Fill the hopper up with seeds. After you’ve filled the hopper with seeds, pick the seeder up and move it to the beginning of the first row. If you push the seeder to the row, you’ll drop seeds on the ground. There isn’t a way to prevent this, so be careful not to sow seeds where you don’t want them!

If you want to use the row spacer, drop it down before you start pushing the seeder. The row spacer will drag the ground and create a line for the adjacent row while you sow the current row of seeds. To start sowing seeds, simply push the seeder in a straight line.

Tips for Seeder Success

Don’t use your seeder in the mud. The cleated front wheel will get caked up with mud and make a huge mess. The ground breaker will also have a hard time creating a furrow for the seeds. The chain that covers up the soil isn’t strong enough to move mud over the seeds, so your seeds probably won’t get covered up.

Don’t use your seeder in the rain, even if it’s only sprinkling. The seed hopper doesn’t have a cover over the top of it. Rain can get down into the seed hopper, making the seeds wet. Wet seeds are sticky seeds. Seeds that are wet won’t get picked up by the cups in the seed plates and may get caught up in the seed chute. Small seeds may stick together when they’re wet, causing too many seeds to get sown at once.

Make sure that you’re using the right seed plate for your seeds. If your seeds are smaller than the seed plate’s recommended seeds, then you’ll put too many seeds into one space. Also, avoid using the seeder for tiny or odd seeds. For example, if you’re planting parsnip seeds, which are small but paper-thin, don’t be tempted to use the lettuce plate for your parsnip seeds. The seeds will get caught up in the seed plate and won’t get deposited properly.

Keep your seeder clean. If your seeder is dirty, clean it up before you use it. Don’t try to put seeds into a recently cleaned (and wet) seeder. Keep the seed plates and hopper free of debris to prevent damage to your seeder. If you take care of it, your seeder can last you decades.

Plant Nutrients: Macronutrients

Plant Nutrients: Macronutrients

Let’s get real here and talk about plant nutrition. You’re probably somewhat familiar with human nutrition, but plant nutrition may seem like a foreign language. Throw in words like potassium, sulfur, and carbon dioxide, and it can seem like you in a chemistry class rather than discussing a vegetable garden. In this post, I want to break down some of the most important nutrients for your plants. Understanding how they are used will help you to grow vigorous, healthy plants.

What are Macronutrients?

This entire post is dedicated to macronutrients. The word itself can be broken down into two parts: ‘macro-‘ meaning large, and nutrients. Nutrients are chemicals that plants need in order to survive. In people, some common nutrients include carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals. In plants, we’re going to talk about nutrients like nitrogen, boron, and calcium.

So, what exactly is a macronutrient?

A macronutrient is a nutrient that a plant needs in large quantities. Don’t get confused and think that macronutrients are large nutrients. They’re small in size; it’s the amount needed by the plant that is large.

We can break macronutrients into two main groups: primary and secondary. Primary macronutrients are nutrients that the plant needs huge amounts of. Secondary macronutrients are still needed in large quantities, but not as much as the primary macronutrients. Both groups of macronutrients are important and crucial for plant growth and development.

The other type of nutrient is a micronutrient. These are nutrients that plants need, but they only need in small quantities. Read more about micronutrients in this post.

The Six Macronutrients

There are six macronutrients: nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, sulfur, and calcium. The first three, nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, are primary macronutrients. These nutrients are needed in the largest amounts and are critical for your plant’s health. Without these three nutrients, plants will die quickly.

Nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium are also the three nutrients that are found in almost all fertilizers. If you’ve grabbed a bag of fertilizer and noticed the three numbers on the bag, you’ve seen what’s called the NPK value. These three numbers represent the percentage of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium in the fertilizer. The first number tells you how much nitrogen is present, the second number tells you how much phosphorus is present and the last number indicates how much potassium is present.

For example, let’s say that you pick up a bag of 10-0-4 fertilizer. The fertilizer contains 10% nitrogen, 0% phosphorus and 4% potassium.

Keep in mind that while nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium are crucial for plant health, they aren’t the only nutrients that your plants will need in large amounts. The secondary macronutrients are also key to keeping your plants in tip-top shape. The secondary macronutrients include magnesium, sulfur and calcium. When your plant doesn’t get enough of a secondary macronutrient, it will show some tell-tale signs to let you know that it needs a little bit of help.

What Macronutrients Do

Each macronutrient has certain roles that it plays in plant health.

Nitrogen

Plants use a form of nitrogen that is called nitrate. It’s extremely important in plant health since it helps to create strong leaves and foliage. It also helps to produce chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is the pigment that absorbs sunlight, providing a source of energy for the plant to make food.

Phosphorus

Phosphorus is used in the growth and development of flowers and roots. A strong root system is key to plant health since water and nutrients are absorbed primarily through the roots. Without phosphorus, plants cannot develop flowers properly and fruit will not set. It’s also been shown to increase the robustness of your plants by helping them cope with environmental stress and cold winters.

Potassium

Potassium helps to strengthen the plant overall. During early growth, potassium is used to boost plant growth. It also plays a role in helping the plant to retain water and increases drought resistance. Plants with adequate levels of potassium are less susceptible to disease and parasites. Potassium is used to open and close stomata. Stomata are small pores on the undersides of leaves where carbon dioxide is absorbed.

Magnesium

Magnesium is also involved in providing the green coloring in leaves. Magnesium is a building block for chlorophyll, the green pigment in leaves that absorbs sunlight. Without magnesium, plants could not produce this sunlight-absorbing pigment and would not be able to produce their own food.

Sulfur

Sulfur plays several roles in plant health. It can help the plant be more resistant to diseases. It is also involved in plant growth through the production of amino acids, proteins, enzymes, and vitamins. Sulfur is actively involved in the process of seed formation.

Calcium

Calcium is crucial for developing strong plants. Calcium helps create cell walls around plant cells. Plants don’t have bones to hold them up, so they rely on rigid cell walls to help keep them upright. Strong cell walls also help to protect the plant from disease. Calcium is also required for plant metabolism. Interestingly, plants also use calcium to help them absorb nitrogen from the soil. Without calcium, plants may not be able to take in enough nitrogen.

Signs of a Problem

A healthy plant will have deeply colored foliage, upright stems, and will put on blooms or fruit as expected. Plants that are lacking in macronutrients will usually show you signs that there is something going on. If you know what to look for, you can apply the proper fertilizer or adjust the soil to ensure that the plant can get the nutrients it needs.

There are two issues that can crop up with macronutrients: deficiencies and toxicities. A deficiency is caused by a lack of a nutrient, while a toxicity is caused by too much of a nutrient.

Nitrogen

Nitrogen, along with potassium, is considered a very limiting nutrient. Without these two nutrients, plant growth is severely limited or nonexistent. Plants that have nitrogen deficiencies are often smaller, have leaf chlorosis, and a significant reduction in crop production.

Leaf chlorosis is one of the most common signs of a nitrogen deficiency. The older leaves (leaves towards the bottom of stems) will yellow in color. Eventually, if the problem isn’t fixed, the entire plant’s foliage can turn yellow.

Too much nitrogen can burn the roots and tissues of the plant.

Phosphorus

A plant that is lacking in phosphorus may not develop many flowers and fruit may not set properly. When the plant is severely lacking phosphorus, it will develop dark purple coloring in older leaves. Older leaves that turn dark purple are an indication that the plant is dealing with a critical deficiency.

Although too much phosphorus isn’t desired, it’s not likely to kill your plant. It will interfere with the absorption of other essential nutrients though, like iron, manganese, and zinc.

Potassium

Potassium is critical for plant growth and is often referred to as the ‘quality’ nutrient. Potassium can affect the plant’s size, shape, color, and crop taste. Potassium deficiency can show up in a few different ways. Plant growth, root development, and seed or fruit development is reduced in plants with potassium deficiency.

The first signs of plant deficiency usually show up in older leaves. The leaves may look brown and scorched on the edges. It can also cause the leaves to yellow in between the veins. Occasionally, when you flip the leaves over, purple spots can be seen.

Plants aren’t likely to absorb too much potassium, but it is possible. When it occurs, it can interfere with the absorption of magnesium, manganese, zinc, and iron.

Magnesium

Magnesium deficiency shows up in older leaves first. It causes the tissue between the leaf veins to turn yellow. However, it does so in a way that distinguishes it from other types of interveinal chlorosis. A magnesium deficiency will cause the leaf to yellow starting at the tip and working back towards the stem. It can also cause brown scorching on the leaf edges. Plants that are in full sunlight will often have worse symptoms.

Magnesium toxicity is very rare and doesn’t show visible signs.

Sulfur

Sulfur deficiency is another nutrient deficiency that causes leaves to turn yellow. With a sulfur deficiency, the entire leaf will turn yellow, including the leaf veins. Younger leaves are the first to yellow. You may also notice some curling of the leaves.

Sulfur toxicities cause plants to have smaller leaves and stunted growth. It can also cause some leaves to turn yellow and have scorched edges.

Calcium

Calcium is an immobile nutrient in plants, meaning that it can’t be moved around the plant if needed. One of the most common signs of calcium deficiency is blossom end rot. Blossom end rot is seen in vegetable plants like tomatoes, squash, or peppers. It can be seen in any fruit that develops after a bloom. The fruit will develop a wet, brown spot on the blossom end of the fruit.

Other signs of calcium deficiency include browning and yellowing of leaf tips on younger leaves. If you are transplanting a plant, you may notice a poor root system. The roots may be slimy and dark brown or black.

Proper plant nutrition is key to overall plant health. It’s a good idea to consider the type of plant that you’re growing before choosing a fertilizer. Also, look out for signs of deficiencies or toxicities and remedy them as soon as possible to prevent further disruption.

Written by Shelby of Farminence 

Plant Nutrition: Micronutrients

Plant Nutrition: Micronutrients

Understanding plant nutrition can be the difference between vigorous, productive plants and plants that struggle. You may be familiar with the macronutrients like nitrogen or potassium. These are the most commonly discussed nutrients since they are needed in the largest amounts. However, they aren’t the only essential nutrients that your plants need. Your plants will also need micronutrients in order to thrive.

What are Micronutrients?

If we break the word micronutrient down, we can get a better idea of what micronutrients are. ‘Micro-‘ means small. Nutrients are chemicals that plants need in order to survive. Nutrients are essential to proper health and are involved in many of the biological processes. When we put the two parts together, it’s easy to see that micronutrients are essential nutrients that are needed in small quantities.

Don’t get confused and think that micronutrients are small nutrients. All nutrients are chemicals and are very small in size. It’s the amount of the nutrient that the plant needs that is small. Macronutrients are needed in large quantities and micronutrients are needed in small quantities. Although your plants won’t need much of them, micronutrients are still essential and shouldn’t be overlooked.

The Seven Micronutrients

There are seven micronutrients, and they all have specific roles that they play in the plant. Micronutrients can also be referred to as trace minerals. When you’re looking at fertilizers or soil amendments, you’ll want to make sure that you’re getting a well-rounded fertilizer that contains the essential micronutrients as well.

If you were to measure the overall dry weight of your plant, micronutrients would make up less than 1% of the total weight of your plant. Many of the micronutrients are reused in the plant, reducing the amount of the nutrients needed.

Amending your soil with high-quality organic amendments can help ensure that your plants always have access to the micronutrients that they need. Compost and manure will contain many, if not all, of the micronutrients your plants need. You can also use micronutrient blends or foliar sprays to deliver micronutrients to your plants.

The seven micronutrients are iron, manganese, chlorine, boron, zinc, copper and molybdenum.

What Micronutrients Do

The seven micronutrients each have key roles that they play in the plant.

Iron

Iron is a key component in many enzymes that are involved with plant processes. The enzymes that require iron are involved in processes such as nitrogen reduction and fixation, energy transfer, and lignin formation. Lignin is extremely important in plants. It helps to transport liquids and wastes through the plant. Lignin also helps strengthen the plant cell walls, which allows the plant to remain upright.

In legumes, like beans, iron helps to carry oxygen in the root system.

Manganese

Manganese is highly involved in many plant processes, despite the fact that it’s only needed in small amounts. Manganese activates many metabolic reactions, plays a direct role in photosynthesis, speeds up germination and plant maturity, increases the availability of phosphorus and calcium, and helps to produce chlorophyll.

Chlorine

Chlorine plays a role in some major processes in the plant. Chlorine is used to regulate the opening and closing of stomata in the plant. Stomata are pores located on the undersides of leaves that release moisture. Proper stomata function is critical for a plant’s success during dry periods. During photosynthesis, plants break down water molecules. Chlorine is needed to help enzymes break down water molecules during photosynthesis. It’s also used to help the plant adapt to changing water availability and transport nutrients throughout the plant.

Boron

Boron is involved in the proper seed set for plants. When plants are growing in stressful conditions, like drought or when the plant is dealing with disease or pests, boron can help the plant to set seeds. Boron is also a key component in cell walls. Plants don’t have a skeleton to help keep them upright. They rely on rigid cell walls to help hold them up. Boron helps to make the cell walls strong.

Zinc

Of all the micronutrients, zinc is the most limiting. It’s only needed in small amounts but it can have a big impact on plant health. Zinc is required for plants to make proteins and hormones. Both of these can limit how productive and vigorous the plant is. It’s also used in the creation of plant-growth substances and enzymes. Many of the enzymes that require zinc are used in metabolic reactions that take place during early plant growth.

Copper

Copper is involved with several processes in the plant. It’s needed to make chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is the green pigment in leaves that the plant uses to absorb sunlight that is used to make food. Copper also helps to activate enzymes that are involved in many growth processes. Copper is linked to a plant’s ability to produce vitamin A and proteins.

Copper isn’t mobile in the plant, so it’s easy for new growth to develop signs of copper deficiency. Other metals present in the soil, like iron, aluminum, or manganese, can inhibit the plant’s ability to absorb copper properly.

Molybdenum

Molybdenum is a nutrient that is required for the synthesis and use of the enzyme nitrate reductase. Nitrate reductase is responsible for turning nitrate into nitrite. Not all forms of nitrogen that are found in the soil are ones that the plant can use. Molybdenum helps the plant to break unusable nitrogen forms into ones the plant can use.

Signs of a Micronutrient Problem

Iron

Other metals in the soil can interfere with proper iron absorption. Copper, manganese, and molybdenum can compete with iron to be absorbed through roots. When a plant lacks iron, it often shows a distinct type of chlorosis. The leaves will turn pale green. The leaf veins will remain green and the tissue between the veins will turn yellow. This is usually seen on younger leaves and newer growth. If a plant is showing signs of iron deficiency, the best way to treat it is with a foliar spray.

It’s rare for plants to develop an iron toxicity, but it can occur. When plants have too much iron, they will develop bronzed leaves or tiny, brown leaf spots.

Manganese

Plants deficient in manganese will develop yellowing in between leaf veins (called interveinal chlorosis). This can occur on either new growth or older growth, but is most commonly seen first in younger growth. Interveinal chlorosis is followed by brownish-black specks on the leaves. The plant will eventually drop the affected leaves. A deficiency of manganese over time can cause slow growth and failure to mature properly.

A high soil pH can limit the plant’s ability to absorb manganese from the soil. Other nutrients, like calcium, magnesium and iron can compete with manganese uptake and can lead to deficiencies.

Plants with manganese toxicity will develop leaf chlorosis. The overall growth rate will slow down and plants will become less vigorous.

Chlorine

Chlorine deficiency causes leaves to wilt and turn yellow. The affected leaves may develop small, yellow flecks. The leaves will eventually turn bronze. If you were to dig the plant up, you’d see stunted root growth and thickened root tips.

Chlorine toxicity will cause the tips of leaves or leaf margins to appear burned or scorched. The leaves may turn yellow, bronze, and split. Overall growth rate is reduced.

Boron

The line between deficiency and toxicity with boron is narrower than with other nutrients, so it’s important to apply boron properly. Plants are more likely to have boron deficiencies when the plants are in a drought and the roots don’t take in as many nutrients.

Boron deficiency can create symptoms all over the plant. The tips of roots and stems will die. If you dig the roots up, you may notice that the root tips are swollen or discolored. Plants deficient in boron are more susceptible to fungal disease, causing internal rotting. Different plants will show different symptoms on the leaves, including drying, wilting, yellowing, spotting or even purple streaking.

Boron toxicity is usually seen in the leaves. The tip of the leaf will turn yellow and start to die. The yellowing and leaf death will move from the tip towards the stem.

Zinc

Zinc deficiency can lead to smaller leaf size. Younger leaves can have wrinkled leaf margins. You may also notice a shortening between nodes due to reduced growth. As the soil’s pH increases, zinc is harder for plants to absorb.

Zinc in excessive amounts can be extremely toxic and will quickly kill plants. Too much zinc can interfere with iron absorption, which can lead to iron deficiency.

Copper

Younger leaves will often become dark green and twisted when a plant lacks copper. Leaves may die back or start to develop rotting spots. Plants can develop a condition called copper hunger. Copper hunger creates leaves that are wilted and turn a deep blue-green. If the problem isn’t fixed, the leaves will then turn yellow and curl.

In excess, copper is extremely dangerous for plants. When too much copper is present, signs of iron chlorosis, reduced branching, stunted growth, and thick, dark roots are present.

The type of soil you’re growing in can affect your plant’s likelihood to develop a copper deficiency. Organic soils are the most likely to lack copper. Soils that are composed largely of clay are less likely to be deficient in copper.

Molybdenum

Usually, molybdenum deficiency shows up as an overall yellowing and stunted plant. Leaves can have scorched margins or appear cupped or rolled. Thankfully, molybdenum deficiencies are rare. Unlike most other nutrients, as the soil’s pH increases, molybdenum is more easily absorbed.

Written by Shelby from Farminence