Hand sowing is a broadcast seeding method that can be useful for small areas (or even larger areas where no other seeding methods seem practical). This is a low-tech, cost-effective method: simply put the seed into a bucket under one arm and start slinging with the other. The seedbed should be uniformly firm and free of living vegetation.
How do I calibrate for seeding rate?
When hand seeding, it can be difficult to gauge how much seed is being spread over an area. Here are some helpful tips to ensure more even coverage:
Steps to Hand Sow Seed
Step 1: Mix Seed with a Carrier
Use a weed free carrier to “bulk up” the seed volume. Common carriers include pelletized or ag lime, dried distiller’s grain (usually available at local feed stores), kitty litter, sawdust, or rice hulls. Avoid sand, pulverized corn and corn chops as they typically have too many weed seeds. A 1:1 ratio by volume will suffice. The amount of carrier can be doubled if there is any doubt. To mix, simply pour the carrier and seed onto a flat, smooth surface or tarp and mix with a shovel or rake. If it’s a small amount of seed, it can be mixed in a five gallon bucket or large tub.
Step 2: Get Calibrated
Visually divide the seed plus carrier mix into quarters and divide the area to seed into quarters; this allows the person seeding to get calibrated on the first quarter so he or she doesn’t run out of seed before the whole area is seeded. Keep in mind, it’s best to take a conservative approach initially and use the remaining seed by planting it in the opposite direction (this is called cross-hatching).
Step 3: Check Your Progress
There are several ways to visually determine the distance travelled and the amount of seed that has been spread:
a) Put out flags. This can be done ahead of each pass to determine the width of pass or distance to be travelled ahead of time, or you can place flags as you go, so that you know where you’ve been
b) Planting after a snow is an easy way to visually keep track of where the seed has been spread. It is not necessary but can be helpful. The important thing is that it is done while the snow is soft, before a hard crust has formed on the top.
c) Use landmarks like fence posts or trees along the edge of the planting.
Words of Caution:
- Too much thatch on the top of the soil means that the seeds will not get good soil contact. See the Seedbed Preparation: Guiding Principles article or watch the video Preparing Your Seedbed.
- Broadcast planting is best followed by dragging (or raking if it is a small area) to ensure the seeds get good soil contact.
- Some seeds can tend to clump together. Using a carrier will help break them up.