Most people start vegetable and flower seed in anything they come across – nursery packs, cottage cheese containers, egg cartons. But you’ll have more success starting seed in old-fashioned wood flats – and they’re better-looking to boot.

Wood flat for sowing

Small 7- by 10-inch wood flats help make sprouting seed easy.

Photo Credit: Robert Smaus

A long time ago, nurseries used wood to start their seed. But wood proved difficult to clean, and disease became a problem. Eventually cheap, disposable plastic replaced the wood. But home gardeners don’t have this problem because they don’t use wood flats as often, so it’s a good option for you to try. For starters, wood flats make it easier to germinate seed, because the wood regulates temperature and moisture (just like a terra-cotta pot). They don’t get too hot sitting in the sun or get cold overnight. And since wood sucks up excess moisture, the soil doesn’t get too wet.

The old wooden flats nurseries would use were quite large, but you can make one that’s just the right size for your home garden. Here’s how:
  1. Buy a three-foot length of redwood (1 inch thick x 4 inches wide) and some thin benderboard measuring 1/8-inch-thick x 4-inches-wide. (Note: Benderboard comes in 8-foot lengths). Both products are used to edge lawns.
  2. Cut two 7-inch pieces of 1 x 4 to make the ends of your wood flat, then nail two 10-inch-long pieces of benderboard to the bottom, leaving the slightest gap between the bottom boards to help speed drainage.

    Nail two more 10-inch sections of benderboard to the sides, one section per side. You now have a chunky little flat. (Cut a leftover piece of benderboard so it fits inside the flat lengthwise, and use it later to make little furrows for the seed.)
  3. When you’re ready to plant, fill the flat to within a ½ inch from the top with a good potting soil, then hold the extra benderboard on its edge and gently push it into the soil. Make this furrow the recommended depth for the kind of seed you’re sowing (usually printed on the back of the seed packet).
  4. Add the seed, then scrape a little soil into the furrow to lightly cover it. Press down gently with your hand so the seed comes in contact with the soil.
  5. Immediately water your seed after planting and keep it moist until it sprouts. Make sure you find a nozzle that makes a gentle, fine spray. Too much force will rearrange your seed and soil.

Sowing one’s own seed is fun for beginners and almost a necessity for proficient gardeners. I find that this small construction project helps makes the process much more rewarding, as well as tidy.