On helping along the little seeds

I’ve told you what a bear our clay soil can be. It’s especially tough on small seeds, like carrots and onions and almost any herb. Surprisingly, though, most seeds are pretty tough: there’s a lot of energy needed to break out of the tough shell and sprout, and even more needed to break through this clay soil of ours. I try to help by keeping the soil moist, or by planting things in shaded conditions to prevent the bed from baking in the sun, but it’s still hard work.

I’ve mentioned before that we bought the farm from the original owners. Actually, we got it from the son of the original owners, and he was 89 at the time and had lived here since he was three. This was a thrifty family: nothing was thrown away (that I could tell, anyway; we filled a 20 yard dumpster with such “treasures”). Well, we’re thrifty too but I do draw the line at packrattery. However, there is one item I saved from the dumpster: a whole bunch of burlap potato sacks. These were 50# bags for seed potatoes, most dating, from evidence of their tags, to the early 1970s. And I have found many garden-related uses for the things.

Cut a bag open and lay it atop a newly-seeded bed of carrots and parsnips, as shown here: keep the bag moist and voila! almost every seed has a chance to sprout. Granted, not everyone has old burlap sacks lying around (or do they?). I think this trick would work with old sheets or towels, too; you just need to take a peek pretty frequently to make sure you’re not squishing the sprouts.

9 responses to “On helping along the little seeds

  1. : ) you wont believe …but I was looking for some sacs like these everywhere few days back! I wanted the jr. weekendfarmer to have a potato sac race with his friends. No ONE had them! I even went on Craigslist : ) We ended up using the corn/horse feed sacs (the white non-organic kinds). Worked out fine….but I was amazed at how unavailable they were. This weekend – I saw some new ones at the Agway. Time changes…Will make a post of it on my blog. (btw, we got SHEEP!)

  2. I don’t know if you’re into starting seeds indoors, I think you did some if I remember right, but I started ours indoors and planted them and the carrots are happy so far. I put in a lot of coir fiber from Sri Lanka which may have made a difference. I used a whole bale which, after it expands, can help fill in about 5 or 6 square feet.

    Do you think the bags will work better than grass clippings? Keeping clay moist, in the top layers, is definitely a gardening challenge here too.

  3. What a HOOT! After vainly seeking bags, I purchased some burlap just for this reason. I figure I’ll get many seasons of use from it so it was worth the purchase price. Of course, we’ve had a 4 days of rain and showers since then, so I haven’t had a chance to plant my carrot seeds, but soon I hope!

    Ali in Maine

  4. Packrattery. Great word!

  5. Carrots goin’ in Any Minute Now.
    Thanks for the advice. Old towels; we got.

  6. And if you’ve got hoops or some kind of makeshift frame, that burlap will make great shadecloth to protect the young seedlings.

  7. As a commercial carpenter, we often use huge rolls of burlap to cure our concrete slabs or walls. I just brought home a large roll and have been using it in the garden as mulch in pathways basically but will remember the sprouting thing. I wish now I had gotten 2 or 3 rolls. Construction sites often give away stuff like this to keep from throwing it in the dumpster. We tried vainly to give our burlap away but I was the only one who decided to get any. It comes in 4′ wide rolls. Contruction sites are also great places to get free rebar. There is always rebar left over on every job.

  8. I saw your sheep WF! My daughter still calls them baa-baas. But a potato sack race: how retro. Ours are so old you’d probably hop right through them. How funny though.

    Jennifer, I think the burlap is good only for a little while in keeping the soil moist. It’s great in that it lets enough light in for those seeds that require light to germinate (not all do). I don’t think it would work as well as grass clippings. And grass clippings aren’t an absolute either, which is why I keep piling them on. Wow though I would need a truckload of those bales though to get my garden going…! Perhaps not a cure for me. Oh and I absolutely HATE starting seeds indoors and do it only with a heavy heart. I LOVE sticking seeds in the ground as it doesn’t require anything else of me, except maybe the burlap in an open bed like these carrots and parsnips above…

    Ali, hah! Great minds… It really works well with parsnips who take just about forever to sprout. Parsley too. I love that you guys have hops. I wanted to get some this year but it didn’t make the list. Just as well because I bit off a lot this year.

    Anne, it’s a constant battle, me against the packrat husband. Granted, he does it for work BUT…

    CC: I do envy your long season. It’s one reason I got the greenhouse, kind of to even the playing field!

    Kelly (Hi.), good idea. Our sun doesn’t bake things too horribly as we’re on that lovely 42nd parallel, but you are right, that’d work quite well for tender lovelies like lettuce. I give up on lettuce though from June through Sept. Ah well.

    Ann, one of my favorite tools is a dibber I made out of a chunk of #5. Great idea to raid, er, ask at construction sites: it’s always quite amazing how much stuff they can’t use. I’ve had to stop myself often at my own jobsites (it’s that no-packrat rule I’ve imposed). But yeah, I think burlap is pretty good at a lot of things garden-related.

  9. Down here they use burlap to bag oysters. Sometimes you can get old ones from the oyster man. Or you get them if you buy bags of oyster. But…that’s a bunch of oysters, so you better have a party before they go bad! We’ve got some, but don’t really have the hard ground problem here. Of course, you could probably fit our garden in your living room too. We’re working on that. ;o)

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