If you grow a large garden, two types of garden seed planters can make your planting work easier and help save precious seed: walk-behind seed planters and stab planters.
A walk-behind seed planter is a precision machine that places individual seeds at a specific spacing along a row. As the planter moves along the row, it opens the soil to a specific depth, places and covers the seed, and then presses the soil into contact with the seed. These walk-behind planters generally have a wheel in front that drives the seed-metering cylinder or plate mechanism; an often hollow, wedge-like structure (called the “shoe”) that opens the soil and helps convey the seed to the soil; a closing device — chains, discs, etc. — that pulls the soil back over the seed; and a press wheel at the rear that ensures good seed-soil contact, which is needed for efficient germination.
When it comes to sowing a quarter acre or more of corn or fodder peas, a heavy-duty, walk-behind plate planter fills the bill. When sowing smaller seed in the vegetable garden you can choose from a couple of light-duty and inexpensive planters.
The stab planter is quite a bit simpler than the walk-behind unit. It consists of an opener (seed delivery tube) and some kind of seed-metering capability (sometimes as simple as the operator dropping the individual seeds into the tube). Closing and pressing are generally taken care of by the operator’s foot. Simple as it sounds, much of the corn country in the United States was planted with such low-tech devices shortly after the sod was first broken.
Working with hand planters can be joyous or frustrating, depending on your soil type, soil conditions, garden size and your physical condition. Lighter-duty planters tend to work better in lighter soils or heavy soils under ideal conditions — perfect moisture content, completely mellow, friable. If your soil gums up on the planter’s parts or is so tight that the openers can’t do their job, it may be best to put off planting for another day.
Current Garden Seed Planter Options
EarthWay’s 1001-B Precision Garden Seeder (about $130) is one of the best walk-behind planters available today for beginning gardeners. This planter has been on the market (in numerous iterations) for decades; I’ve worn out one and am well into my second. The EarthWay is made from lightweight aluminum and plastic components that have proven durable in my hands.
I have taken the liberty of reinforcing the handle structure as rivets have loosened up over the years, but overall, the planter is simple to adjust, simple to use, and can be purchased with seed-metering plates that will work for just about anything you would direct-sow in rows in the garden. Sometimes I want to change the spacing, which I do by taping over some of the holes on the plates. These days, you can also order blank plates from the company to create your own custom sizes and spacing. Although I’ve planted acres over the years with the EarthWay, I would suggest this planter for gardens up to about a quarter acre in size. Another seeder in this beginner or small garden category is the Precision Products Garden Seeder, about $100.
For gardeners with more ground to plant, I am particularly fond of the Cole Planet Jr. push seeder (about $600). This plate-type seed planter is constructed of steel, cast iron and wood (the seed box is plastic) and is based on a venerable, old unit-planter design that’s sufficiently stout to mount onto a tractor’s toolbar for multiple-row, medium-scale planting. This planter isn’t ideal for smaller gardens — you have to load its hopper with more than a packet of seed for best results. If you have an eighth of an acre of corn to plant along with mangels, beans and many other crops, though, this tool has the heft to get it all done today and come back for more tomorrow — and you’ll be able to hand it down to your gardening grandchildren. I’ve used the Cole Planet Jr. extensively to sow corn, fodder beets, okra and a number of other crops. The machine is sized nicely for my 6-foot-4-inch frame, and its weight offers great momentum after you get it rolling.
As you would expect from a professional-grade tool, this planter tracks well, and its row marker doesn’t skip. Plates are a little cumbersome to change, but not sufficiently to ever make me consider leaving this tool in the barn. Another seeder in this category is Jang’s Model JP-1 (about $500), which is available from Woodward Crossings.
The folks at Hoss Tools have just released a new Hoss Seeder attachment ($159) for their American-made wheel hoes ($159). The Hoss Seeder also fits the Planet Jr. wheel hoe.
By the way, if you don’t yet own a wheel hoe, this excellent weeding and cultivating tool will probably save more work in a large garden than a seeder would. If you can invest in only one this year, I think you would get more benefit from the wheel hoe, and then you can add a seeder later. The Hoss Seeder attaches to the wheel hoe using the same mounting holes as the cultivator tines, and the seeder includes a rear press wheel that also drives the seed-metering plate. The machine comes with a number of pre-drilled plates; blank plates are also available.
Stab-Style Garden Seed Planters
For planting potatoes, corn, beans, peas, pumpkins and other large seeds — and even for setting out your transplants — a stab-style planter will save some wear and tear on your knees and back, save seed, and also reduce the need for thinning. I’ve used a semiautomatic antique model to plant hill corn.
The device consists of a hinged tube made out of wood and metal, with a seed box on one side and a perforated slider that takes two to three seeds from the box and drops them down the tube and into the ground. You basically grab the two handles, pull them apart, stab the planter into worked ground, push the handles together and pull the planter out of the ground. A light brush and step with your foot seals the deal. A new version of this Old-Fashioned Corn Planter (about $100) is available from Lehman’s.
The Stand ’n Plant Standard Seeder is a newer stab planter design. I’ve used this device over the years to plant individual seeds and small plants, such as onions. You have to meter the seed or onion plants by hand, but you only have to walk down the row (no bending over) to get them into the ground.
This stab planter is also capable of planting in beds mulched with black plastic, with infinite variations in row and seed spacing. The Stand ’n Plant Planter — see Image Gallery — can be used to plant potatoes, large bulbs, transplants and even bedding plants.
Kansas farmer Hank Will grows a large garden and manages several corn and forage patches for his hogs with the help of hand planters. When he's not planting or butchering, he keeps busy wrangling words as Editor-in-Chief of MOTHER EARTH NEWS' sister magazine GRIT.