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Spacing: Paper Towel Seed Mats


Roll of thin, white-only (no inks) paper towels about 1 foot square

(Peel two-ply paper apart and use just one layer so it's really thin)

Seeds and/or Seedlings | Glue | Markers | Masking tape | Your garden plan

Compost | Sprinkling can or hose with a mister

It's often hard for young children to space seeds and seedlings properly when they are so excited to be out in the garden. So it's a good idea to help them organize their thinking by giving them each a paper towel to use as a planting guide.

By the time you sow seeds, you should have a garden plan on paper. Among other considerations, you will want to have tall plants in back and short plants in front. But even with a solid garden design, when kids get their hands on seeds and seedlings, you can have chaos if you don't have a way for them to stay organized and on task on planting day.

That's why you might want to use a homemade "seed mat." It should make planting easier and prevent the need for very much thinning of excess sprouts.

If you have a fairly large garden, you might want to do this project on the floor, in a hallway or multipurpose room.

Each 12" square paper towel represents a square foot of garden space. This activity is a good way to teach kids about fractions, since they will be working with divisions of each square-foot paper towel to plan for the right amount of space in which to plant their seeds.

So if you are sowing sunflower seeds that need to be 6" apart, and you want to cover four feet by three feet of garden space with sunflowers, pull out three rows of four paper towel squares each, for a total of 12 square feet.

Each student can use a marker to write his or her name and the name of the plant or plants that will be growing on each paper towel square or section.

Consult the seed packet to see how many inches away from other plants each one should be planted.

Remember that each paper towel is 12" square. So:

§  If the seeds have to be planted six inches apart from one another, the student should fold the paper towel in half. Then mark the center of one half as the spot where one seed can be planted. Mark the center of the other half as the spot where the second seed can be planted.

§  If the seeds can be four inches apart, the student should fold the towel into fourths. Mark the center of each section as the place for the seed to go.

§  If the seeds can be planted as close together as three inches apart, then on a 12" paper towel the student can fold it into thirds both ways, forming nine sections, like a tic-tac-toe board.

§  If, however, the seed is going to produce a large plant that has to be planted a foot apart from other plants, the student should put the seed right in the middle of the paper towel.

§  And if the seed will produce a REALLY big plant that spread out a lot, such as a squash plant, the student might have to have a total of four paper towels laid in a large square, taped together with paper masking tape, except not having any tape in the center of the four squares, since that's where the seed will go. The student can mark the center point as the spot where the seed goes, and glue it in place.

The students should mark with a marker where on the paper towel each seed is going to go.

Since it is fairly common that one or more seeds doesn't germinate (GERM ih nate, which means sprout and grow), ask the gardeners to place an extra seed or two in each section of the towel.

Then, if they all come up, the student can just go back with a pair of scissors, and cut away the extra, unwanted plants. This is called "thinning." You have to do it if you want the plant to have the right amount of air and sunlight to grow properly.

Once they have their seeds in place, the students should glue the seeds onto the paper towel. Make sure the paper is fairly thin; if it is two-ply, carefully pull one layer away before you glue.

You can also make a paste of flour or cornstarch and water, put it in an empty squeeze bottle such as an empty ketchup bottle, and squeeze the paste where the seeds can go, then stick them into the paste.

Let dry. You can stack these and store them for quite a while until it's time to plant, or plant that same day.

If the students are planting seedlings instead of seeds, they can take scissors out to the garden and cut a hole in the paper towel large enough for the plant and its roots to go through. The same method will work for onion starts and seed potato chunks. (Note: this method won't work for planting corn, zucchini or other seeds which you might choose to plant in hills or mounds. The soil has to be flat.)

            To plant, go square by square or section by section, following your garden plan. Simply place the squares where you want them. If it's windy, sprinkle water over the squares immediately so that they don't blow away.

Then carefully sprinkle a thin layer of about a half-inch of pulverized (very fine) compost, evenly, over the paper towels until you cannot see them any more.

            A good way to do that is to take a handful of compost and rub your hands together briskly over the seed mats 'til enough compost falls down and covers the paper towels.

            Carefully moisten by sprinkling. Keep moist with daily or twice-daily watering until you think all sprouts are up.

            The paper towel will decompose into the soil. And you will have a professionally-spaced garden!

By Susan Darst • Planning 15 • © 2010

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