from sky to seed

Toilet Tape (or How to Plant Perfect Lettuce Rows)

There are prettier versions around, but here’s what my homemade lettuce seed tape ended up looking like.

I learned the idiotic way how not to plant lettuce, which is to mash your feet through fresh dirt and hippy-dippy-free sow from my sprinkling little fingers. What results is a very short row of lettuce all mashed together, bangs too thick, the heads so desperate to out-compete one another that they form tall and narrow bodies and never fully flesh out into any recognizable form.

Whatever, I thought.

Still tastes good.

And that’s true.

But this time around, I’d really like to do it right.

Because lettuce seeds are so teeny tiny, it’s pretty tough to methodically free-sow them in the dirt. They blow away from your fingertips carried by the force of their own free-fall; they are invisible once they land.

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If you’re willing to fork over a few extra bucks, you can buy lettuce seed in a convenient form called seed tape: long strips of paper with perfectly spaced individual lettuce seeds. The advantage isn’t just even and straight spacing, but the fact that you can lay down an entire strip of lettuce without losing seed to wind and wasting the extras. The tape is biodegradable, so it just disappears and leaves the plant. But the problem with prepackaged seed tape is that those precious heirloom seeds from Baker Creek don’t come that way, which means you have to make it on your own.

This is a project I’ve sort of been dreading all year because it sounds so tedious. But yesterday the temperatures plummeted and it snowed all day, I drank too much coffee and the only thing that calmed the crazy inner someone in my brain that always rears under too much isolation and cabin fever was slow, methodical work.

Here’s my instructional on how to make seed tape, in picture form:

1. Gather Materials: seeds, water, flour, toilet paper, scissors, a paintbrush, tweezers, rag

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You’ll also need a big indoor workspace free of clutter and foot traffic. Because I have a very nosy and opportunistic dog, that meant our dining room table. It’s about seven feet long, which is convenient for this job, because that’s approximately how long I’d like my lettuce rows to be. If I wanted to double-up, I could just lay down more seed tape, a fact that didn’t occur to me until just now. So if your workspace is short, don’t fret.

2. Prepare Tape

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For maximum efficiency, I just rolled out the toilet paper so that it was as long as my workspace, then cut it into four long strips. Looks pretty, doesn’t it? #toiletpaperbeauty

3. Make Paste

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You need something to “glue” the seeds down to hold them in place. I guess there are a couple different ways to do this, but the most popular method seems to be a simple flour and water paste. Just mix the two in a small container until the paste is thick but spreadable.

4. Dab Paste on Paper and Set Seed

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This is self explanatory, right? Use the paintbrush to dab the center of the paper with “glue,” then immediately set one or two seeds, depending on your optimism, onto the glue. You don’t need to put more on top. It’ll set. I guess there are special seed dispensers you can buy, but the tweezers worked just fine for me.

5. Let Dry

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It took me ten or fifteen minutes to complete each strip, and I finished eight last night. By the time I finished making the tape, the first strip was dry and ready for storage. It really doesn’t take long.

6. Store

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If you look on pinterest, some people are really, really good at wrapping their homemade seed tape in extraordinarily beautiful packages. I am not one of those people. I initially tried to wrap the tape around an extra toilet paper roll but it came too loose and made me nervous and I just didn’t like the way it looked. In the end, I used a pen to wrap the tape, then stored the rolls in ziplock bags and labeled ’em.

It’s not really my style to attempt pretty penmanship to projects like this. I know there are girls out there, girls I’ll never be, who have mastered all sorts of calligraphy and extended that practice to chalkboard signs. They know how to draw little additions like stars and curly designs and hearts. I’ve even known girls who turn this practice into a business, making signs for weddings and wine tasting venues. I’m envious but I don’t have the patience.

I only have enough patience for the practice of making seed tape. And only eight rolls at a time. But that’s enough for me.

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