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 a half-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 Is a Seeder?
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.
How Do Seeders Work?
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 contain a small plow-like piece that carves a trough into the soil to deposit the seeds in. Then, a piece at the back of the seeder levels the soil back out, covering over the seeds. You’ll complete the entire 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
Wheels and Kickstand
A seeder 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 kickstand to help it stand up when you’re not using it. When you’re using the seeder, simply flip the kickstand up and out of the way.
When you look at the seeder, you’ll notice a black box. This box 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.
Ground Breaker and Chain
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.
Handle and Row Marker
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 Your 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.
Follow these steps:
- Stand your seeder up using the kickstand: Stabilizing the seeder with the kickstand may take a minute or two if your ground isn’t perfectly level.
- Choose the correct seed plate: Select the right 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.
- Lock the plate 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!
- Space rows and sow the seeds: 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
Here are some tips for using your seeder successfully:
- 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 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.
When's the Best Time to Seed?
Now that you know how seeders work, it's helpful to know when to use one. The best time to seed depends on what you are growing. Some seeds require warmer ground and could be damaged during an unexpected frost. Other seed types are hardy and do well in the cool weather of autumn. Planting instructions should be listed on your seed packets, or you can reach out to your seed provider for more information.
How Often Do You Need to Use a Seeder?
You won't need to use a seeder for every plant, as some seeds require hand seeding. You should only need to use a seeder once for each plot. Still, since different plants call for different seeding times, you will need to use your plant seeder several times throughout the season — depending on how many plant types you are growing.
Hand Seeders vs. Walk-Behind Seeders
A hand seeder is a small planting tool that simplifies hand seeding and disperses the seed quickly. A walk-behind seeder is much larger with several more parts as described above.
The benefits of hand seeders include that they are lightweight and simple to use. They are best suited to indoor sowing and small gardens and ideal if you are trying to save money on equipment. Although walk-behind seeders require more exertion and have a more involved process, they save you time and are more precise. Their ideal application is in larger gardens or small farms and those looking to save time during seeding season.