Broadcast sowing is a traditional way of planting many types of crops. It’s simpler, faster, and easier than traditional row sowing and works best for plants that do not require singular spacing or that are more easily thinned later. Most grains, grasses, and shallow-rooted annuals are broadcast spread.
Benefits of Broadcast Sowing
Besides being an easier way to sow seeds, broadcast sowing also enables the gardener to spread very fine or small seeds over a relatively large area. Individually planting large numbers of tiny-seeded plants–carrots and lettuce, for example–is tedious at best, even with specialized tools.
Another great advantage is its ease of use for planting cover crops, grains, grasses and similar plants that don’t require row gardening or are meant to cover an area.
What Plants Work Best for Broadcast Sowing
Nearly all plants can do well when broadcast. The outcome of this method will depend upon the crop in question and the type of gardening being done. Here is a quick list of common plants and the garden types they are best broadcast within:
Beets – in square foot, container or raised bed gardening where sprouts can be easily thinned.
Carrots – in square foot, container, or raised bed gardening where the sprouts can be easily thinned.
Grains – in all situations, as grains thrive when grown as a grass, covering an area.
Herbs – most types of herbs, such as chives, parsley, and cilantro are good choices for broadcast sowing no matter the garden type.
Lettuce – in square foot, container, or raised bed gardening as well as in traditional row gardening where rows are easily broadcast towards (or created via broadcast, see below). Headed (non-loose leaf) will require thinning.
Cover Crops – All types of cover crops (i.e. grasses, clovers) for protecting soil are best when broadcast sown.
Drawbacks of Broadcast Sowing
The drawbacks apply mainly to gardeners who wish to carefully cultivate and manage a garden area. Unless you create rows after the broadcast, this method of sowing means you do not have the traditional areas for tools and working the garden that you would in rows. For some gardening situations, this is not tenable.
Steps for Broadcast Seed Sowing
Begin by preparing the seed bed. The bed should be turned and raked to a fine tilth, just as in most seed gardening. Usually, all but the final raking should be done in the fall before planting so that winter and spring thaws and melts will loosen the soil naturally. Rake in even lines to create miniature furrows from the rake’s splines.
Scatter seeds thinly and evenly over the area, aiming them into the furrows created by the rake. Very fine seeds, such as lettuce, may be mixed with a like amount of sand to keep them from sticking together and make for a more even spread.
Rake the seeds into the furrows by raking at right angles to the original furrow lines created. Traditionally, the furrows are created in a north-south direction and the rake-in is done east-west, following the sun. When done, you should be left with a checkerboard pattern on the soil. Some seeds will not have been covered. These are sacrificial and part of the broadcast sowing process, so don’t attempt to individually press them in.
Finally, using a fine rose on a watering can or mist sprayer, water lightly so the ground is wet, but not soaked. Water lightly and regularly (every other day usually) until sprouts appear.
To create furrows or rows after broadcasting, wait until strong sprouts have appeared, and thinning (if any) has been done – thinning should be done to create natural rows if rows are your goal. Use a plow or hoe to create furrows. This will potentially displace or kill some plants, but will create the traditional rows most associated with gardening.
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