Mar 012008

Seed starting tools

This may come in handy for some, a display of all of the tools I have for indoor seed starting. This is for starting about 2,500 veggie seedlings. I have homebuilt, fluorescent-lit plant racks, and use mostly 38- and 72-cell plug sheets. Most of these tools are used always, some not as much: 1. The Seedmaster, a gadget for trickling out small seed as you rotate the wheel (the yellowSeed starting tools map pieces are click-in filters for different seed sizes); 2. assorted white plastic plant labels; 3. a dibbler or dibber or whatever, for poking little holes in soil; 4. a fine-point black waterproof marker (I like Sharpies) for labeling; 5. the mini-transplanter is essentially a tiny, stainless steel shoehorn for easy liberation of plugs from their cells; 6. a moisture meter, simply stick it in the soil; 7. plant snips for thinning seedlings; 8. Mini-Sim seeder: fill and shake out; 9. suction seeder with three tip sizes: squeeze the bulb, put the tip on a seed, release to hold, squeeze again to drop… ($25…what was I thinking?!); 10. digital timer for keeping track of repetitive tasks like bottom-watering trays one by one; 11. plant light meter, reads in footcandles, with settings for indoor and out; 12. digital indoor/outdoor min/max thermometer/hygrometer, mainly for keeping track of temperature; 13. magnifying glass with light, for examining seedlings (and GREEN MOSS) up close; 14. soil scoop for filling plug sheets and pots with seedling mix; 15. spray bottle with good quality spray head (more water per pull; I’ve used a wand mister like I have in the greenhouse, but the hose kept getting in the way, I may try one again for the seedling room this year); 16. small fibrepak flats, convenient for holding tools and seed packets on the potting table (left lying, the packets can so easily get wet…); 17. small bulldog clips, useful for all kinds of things, like organizing groups of seed packets. And the winners are…all of them, EXCEPT for: #9, which I found to be useless for my purposes; #8 which is great, but mostly for heavier hand seeding in the field, like for flowers; and #6, 11 & 13, which are more educational toys than essential tools, but still cool!

  • Zac Helmberger

    I purchased item 1, the Seedmaster at West Coast Seeds near Vancouver, BC. I brought it to my car in the parking lot and tried it out. The amount of pressure required to make the clicker wheel “click” was immediately painful to my thumb. I can’t imagine using it for more than a few seconds before violently throwing it to the ground and crushing it to bits, so I immediately returned it.
    Again, another tool with much potential ruined by poor design or manufacture (not sure which). Maybe the one I bought happened to be a defective one or I just need to work for a while to loosen it up.
    Another possibility is to mount a “Pocket Rocket” womens’ vibrator to the handle and use that to help singulate the seeds. Then you wouldn’t have to destroy your thumb with the clicker.

    • Mike (tfb)

      I have two Seedmasters, not sure why I got the second one, but I’m glad I did. You’re right about it needing to be worked in. It’s incredibly stiff so that you think the product is useless when you buy it, but after a little bit of turning the wheel, it loosens up. So far (into a second, maybe third, season) it needs a light but still sufficiently resistant amount a pressure. I can turn it with only as much pressure as it takes to get the slightest bit of a friction grip on the ridges of the wheel.

      I haven’t tried to pry one open to see how it loosens up, but I image (hope) it’s not wear on the gear(s). It hasn’t been getting steadily looser, it just freed up to a comfortable point and stayed there.

      It’s a very manual tool, obviously, so you have to get used to it, hold it at an appropriate angle for each different type of seed.

      I usually don’t use the yellow seed gates, I just periodically tip all the seed back, re-shake the seed into a rough distribution down the length of the tool, and then go back to the wheel. (Loosening up some seed that tends to stick together, like tomatoes, is also useful.) The little ridges near the tip work well to slow down and separate individual seeds. I sometimes use one of the gates for brassica seeds, because they’re round and tend to roll together more easily.

      The amount of vibration provided by the wheel seems appropriate. When you get used to it, one or two clicks is usually enough to drop one seed, so you can get a good rhythm going: click-move-click-move… On a good day, I can pretty consistently place two seeds slightly apart in a tiny 200-cell plug tray cell.

      I also like the way sits stably when placed on a flat surface, thanks to the flat handle. You can set it down fully loaded whenever you need to.

      So, I’ve found it to be pretty cool. Very basic and “primitive” compared to some more sophisticated technology I’m sure, but I like it. Half a dozen other people helping out, with no seeding experience, have used it as well, and although I haven’t asked them about it, I’ve had no complaints and they seem to have no problem using it straightaway.

      What was a real waste for me was #9, the suction seeder. Maybe it’s intended for supertiny, practically microscopic flower seed, but the time it takes to individually suck up individual veggie seems crazy. I even tried it on some very small herb seed, and the Seedmaster was way quicker and easier. It’s way faster to even use your fingers than this, unless you have really huge fingers…

      • joey

        Thanks for this,
        I was considering a suction seeder for sowing flats but wasn’t sure if it was worth it. Now I know!

  • Zac Helmberger

    Thanks Mike!
    I guess it has to work somehow or they would not be in business anymore. I got #9 seeder too and was less than enthusiastic about it. It works pretty good with celery and lettuce, tho. I’ll have to try more seeds to get a better feel for it. But I think you’re right about tiny seeds. It’s pry the only way to go for things like oregano and tobacco related and such.
    I’m looking for some good tweezers. simple plastic tweezers that don’t require a lot of force to close them. Or maybe even reverse tweezers?! The kind you hafta squeeze to drop the seed.
    I’ve got a $eed Ace from
    It’s an Earthway on steroids. It has an adjustable battery powered vacuum pump that connects to a fancy rotary union with nozzles on it to pick up seeds, and drop em in the furrow and cover them up.
    It can singulate small seeds like lettuce and such. I’m not sure how long it would take to pay for itself in a market garden situation. I just got myself into such a situation so I’ll keep y’all posted!

  • Tessa at Blunders with shoots, blossoms ‘n roots


    Great blog- lots of really nice information. I’m wondering if you could direct me to where I might purchase the mini-transplanting tool (item #5). I thought I had a link for it in my favorites and now I can’t seem to find it. I’m in the US- Thanks and happy harvesting!

  • Zac Helmberger

    It’s called a “widger” and you can get it at:
    Surprisingly useful!

  • Tessa at Blunders with shoots, blossoms ‘n roots

    Oh, that’s right!  A Widger. I’ve actually devised something similar, but it’s not quite right, and it’s not metal :). I like to use chopsticks to- especially for picking up really small seeds when sowing in the mini soil blocks. I just tap them on a white plate and have a small lid with water on it and my sharpened chopstick and it goes much quicker! Thanks for the link- I think it’s the same one I had :)

  • Dean

    Wow very nice garden tools… we have a small farm in the province and if you are asked me what I miss most with my rural life that is gardening. I used to plant vegetables for our home consumption and it is so therapeutic to do that.

  • HalfTime

    Helpful post. Good info on start-up tools to accompany your home or living quarters.