33) A sink mat and a “shift fall tray” as seed sowing aids

In this tip:

  • Introduction
  • A)# Sink mat (short description)
  • B)# Shift fall tray (short description)
  • C)# Test: Sowing on silica sand
  • D)# Making extra holes in the sink mat
  • E)# Sowing stick
  • F)# Shift fall tray, the materials
  • G)# Making the tray
  • H)# Making the plastic plate
  • I)# Making the fall tube
  • J)# Assembling
  • K)# Shift fall tray, other designs
  • L)# Remarks


Very often seeds are sown directly into the garden soil. For some plants like summer carrots you have to sow in a row. For leek you sow in a small group or in a row. Leek plants are planted out later.

For this kind of sowing, many seeds are put on the soil. Not too far apart, otherwise you have too few plants. Not too close, for then you have to thin out many plants later.

The sowing goes well when you use a sink mat. Lay the mat on the soil, catch each seed between thumb and index and drop it in a hole in the mat. This way of sowing goes slowly, because each seed must be taken from the seed bag or tray.

When you use the “shift fall tray” sowing is much faster. When sowing seeds that are hard to handle, like carrot seeds, you also better use the “shift fall tray”.

The “shift fall tray” has been made by myself. It resembles the “seed shift tray” as described at tip 3. The “shift fall tray” has only one hole in the bottom. Below this hole there is a tube to lead the falling seed towards the hole in the sink mat.

In this tip, I describe how to make or adapt such a sink mat and “shift fall tray”.  At  tip 34      and at   tip 37   there is a description of sowing leek or summer carrots using a “shift fall tray” and a mat.


A)# Sink mat (short description)

On this photo a rectangular rubber sink mat, that is used in a sink. Size is about 12 x 10 inch. You can buy it in a shop for household articles. A mat of a certain brand costs about  €6,50. You can buy a mat for a lower price.  When the mat is similar to the one at the photo, you can use it.


B)# Shift fall tray (short description)

Here a photo of a shift fall tray. It’s a white plastic tray with a low edge. In the bottom there is a hole. Below this hole there is a plastic tube.


C)# Test: Sowing on silica sand

To show the results of sowing, I filled a big plastic tray with a thin layer of silica sand. Then seeds of leek or summer carrots have been put into the holes of a sink mat.

Plastic tray with a layer of silica sand.

Mat on silver sand. In the middle area of this mat, extra holes have been “added”. At the mat that you buy in a shop, some holes are missing. See photo at the start of this tip.

Strew leek seeds in a white plastic tray. Catch each seed between your fingers and drop it in a hole of the mat.

Or take each leek seed using tweezers and drop it in a hole of the mat.

Or use a plastic “drop tube”……..

…….and put the tube on a hole in the mat. Take a leek seed between fingers or use tweezers and drop the seed into the tube.

Or use the shift fall tray. Strew leek seeds in the tray. Each time put the tube of the tray on (above) a hole in the mat. Then use a finger to shift one leek seed into the hole.


With carrot seeds you can do same ways of sowing, exept catching the seeds between thumb and index. That is (hardly) impossible. Or sowing takes a very long time.


Sowing result on silica sand.

On these photos you can see that seeds are in a rather straight line. There are black leek seeds and greyish seeds of summer carrots.


D)# Making extra holes in the sink mat

In this sink mat there are 14 rows with 12 holes each. In the middle area, holes are “missing”. Diameter of each hole is about 9 mm (1/4 inch). Pitch between holes is 2 cm (0.8 inch).

You can make extra holes using an iron “hollow punch” tool.  At one side of this tool there is a sharp round edge. At the other side you can hit on it using a hammer.

But you can also use a sharp knife to make extra (square) holes.

Put the mat upside down and mark the positions where to make extra holes. On the photo marked with “X”.

Use a “hollow punch” of the correct size and a hammer. A set of “hollow punches” can be bought in a D.I.Y. shop. In Holland a set of 9 hollow punches with various diameters cost €10.00.

Lay the mat on a piece of wood. Put the sharp side of the punch on the mat and hit with a hammer.

On this photo you see some (6) extra holes that have been made using a punch.


Or make extra holes using a knife.

Put the mat on a piece of wood. Use a sharp knife to cut a square hole in the mat.

This photo shows 1 square hole, cut with a knife. The piece of rubber that has been cut out is still on the mat.


E)# Sowing stick

Before sowing you can make sowing holes in the soil. You can use a sowing stick. Make this stick as follows:

  • Use a wooden spoon.

  • Saw off a piece of stem, length about 10 centimeters (4 inch)

  • Check if the end of the stick fits well in a mat hole.

  • When needed, make the stick thinner.
  • You can do as follows:
    • clamp the other end of the stick in a drilling machine,
    • put sand paper around the loose end of the stick,
    • let the stick turn in the sand paper.
  • Repeat this procedure until the end of the stick fits well in the mat hole.

  • Put rubber band over the (thinner) end of the stick.


F)# Shift fall tray, the materials

A plastic tray, for example this one. It is a plastic trough as used for pigeons. Price is about €1.00.

You can also use a small plastic tray that is used to pack for example tuna fish. See further in this post.

A small polypropene plastic water tube, shown on the righthand part of the photo above. That tube is used to put in small flowers. You can buy them at some flower shops. When they have them, you can get them for free or for a low price.

There are 2 (or more) types of water tubes. Both types are suitable. They have a widening at the top. A rubber cap with a small hole fits to it. During normal use, the stem of a flower is put through this hole into the water tube. The photo shows 2 types, the left one with a cap on it.

Dirk, a Dutch gardner wrote a reaction at Sjeftuintips. Dirk advised to use an empty silicone nozzle (as used at sealant tubes) as a fall tube.


Below a description using the small green tube. Further in this post a description using the large white tube.

A plastic lunch box or similar box. Use one side of the box to saw a small plastic plate out.

You can also use the top part of the “pigeon plastic trough” to saw the small plastic plate from.

Small bolts, nuts and rings. The ones on the photo are 0.08 inch diameter (2 mm). You can buy them in a D.I.Y. shop.


G)# Making the tray

Below a very short description with many photos how to make the tray.

Draw line.


Sawn out. Remove plastic blisters with a knife or scissors.


H)# Making the plastic plate

Cut or saw out a plastic plate.


Make a big hole in the plastic plate.

Using fret-saw;

Use a circle template to determine the size of the hole. The water tube must fit in the hole, but not fall through. Draw a circle on the plastic plate.

Drill a small hole.

Put a fret-saw through small hole. Then fix the saw into the frame.

Saw the round piece of plastic from the plate. Remove the saw.


Using a drill

Use wood drill and piece of wood.

Put plastic plate on wood and slowly, carefully drill the hole into the plate.



Check if water tube fits into hole. When hole is too small or not circular, use a round file…….

…. or use the legs of scissors. Push the scissors in the hole and turn clockwise or counter clockwise to round or enlarge the hole.

The tube fits well in the hole in the plate.

Remove the tube again.

Draw a rectangular figure on plastic plate. Width is somewhat smaller than the width of the tray. Heighth is about 1.5 inch.

Saw out the plate. Fit it on the lower side of the tray.

Drill 2 holes in the plate.

Drill 2 holes in the bottom of the tray. Put in 2 bolts.

Drill a small hole in the tray, in the centre of the big hole.

Remove the bolts. Turn the tray.

Lay the tray on wood. Use a sharp drill to enlarge the center hole in the bottom. Use a drill of 5 or 6 mm (1/4 inch). Remove plastic blisters.


I)# Making the fall tube

On this photo you see that sawing the tube causes a frayed end. Falling seeds can stick to the plastic blisters. Blisters are not easy to remove. Better use a sharp knife to shorten the tube.

For a good sowing result, the end of the tube must be bigger than a hole in the mat. When the tube is smaller than the hole in the mat, the tube touches the moist garden soil. The tube will be clogged during sowing.

So tube must be shortened to make a bigger diameter of the tube end.

Use a sharp knife and cut…..

…..and put the end of the tube on a hole in the mat. Determine if the diameter of the tube is somewhat bigger than the hole. When needed, repeat cutting and fitting. The tube on the photo has a good diameter.


J)# Assembling

Parts of the shift fall tray.

Assemble the parts.

When you look through the tube end, you can check if the hole in the tray is about in the middle of the tube.

Finished product.

During sowing you hold the tray between thumb and fingers of one or both hands. With a finger of one hand you shift each seed towards and into the hole in the tray.


K)# Shift fall tray, other designs

On this photo there are various trays. The left one has been described above. The middle one has a long tube. The right one has been made from a salad package.


K1) Tube

The diameter of these water tubes is about the same. So each tube fits in the big hole of a plastic plate. If not, adapt the size of the big hole in the plate.

You can use an empty silicone nozzle (as used at sealant tubes) as a fall tube, as Dirk advised. The diameter of this nozzle is the same as the diameter of a water tube.

On this photo a shift fall tray with silicone nozzle. When using this tray, leek seeds fall well in the holes of a sink mat, as shown on the photo.

I have put a rubber band at the lower part of the nozzle (to fix the depth of the nozzle in the mat holes). Now this tool is super for sowing.


K2) Tray

You can make a tray using an empty package, for example a salad package. Below some photos and a short description.

Use a round plastic plate.

Assembled product.

Top view.


Another design:

This tray has been made of the plastic lid of a Nutella jar and a water tube.


L)# Remarks

  • Is such a tray, or something like this, for sale?  I haven’t found yet.
  • The shift fall tray does not work so well when sowing round seeds like cabbage or radish. When you tilt the tray, all seeds roll to one side and form a group. To solve this problem I suppose to use a small piece of felt with adhesive backing. Stick it to the bottom of the tray and seeds will not roll so easy anymore. I’m going to test that later. Or keep the tray slanting and trap a round seed onder the finger nail and shove it to the hole.
  • When seeds stick to the tray it can be caused by static charging of the plastic. See photo below.

On this photo the tray is in upright position. Carrot seeds stick.

You can eliminate the sticking by immersion the tray + tube in diluted soap water. Take the whole out of the soap water, let drip out and dry. After drying there is a thin layer of soap on the plastic material and this prevents static charging.

Attention: do not rinse with water after immersing in soap water. When rinsingwith water, soap layer is removed and static charging can occur again.

  • You can stick the tube to the tray using silicone sealant instead of using nuts and bolts. So there are no iron screw heads in the tray. Bas, a Dutch gardner suggested this.

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