Why I Still Use a Jab Planter

Author: Ray Herndon

front view of man using the Jab Planter

A few years ago, I decided to expand my garden patch exponentially by adding a half acre of dent corn under a contract to harvest and sell the seed. This was a little crazy because I planned to do nearly all the work manually; it’s the kind of foolishness that can happen when a dreamer well over 50 imagines he still has the energy of a teenager.

Facing such hard labor, certain realities dawned upon me. I decided to find an inexpensive way to plant more efficiently at that scale than by my old method of digging furrows with a hoe and dropping the seeds by hand. Being on a shoestring budget, I considered the various mechanical planter options...

The available planter options:

The variety of choices for these implements is confusing. After wasting many hours scouring the Internet, I found this excellent comparison of planting devices appropriate to the scale of my project at the Garden Seeder Buying Guide I settled on the second to lowest cost solution.

Jab Planter advantages:

Using a Jab Planter enabled me to plant around 3000 row feet in a couple afternoons. I was able to plant each seed at a uniform depth, and put down a small amount of side dressing of fertilizer nearby.

Automatic jab planter

The fertilizing feature was important. Corn is a heavy feeder. I am an organic farm producer, but I did not have a well-established field with multiple years worth of incorporated nutrient-rich compost, so I needed OMRI certified organic granular fertilizer. It is much more expensive than the petrochemical fertilizers sold at big box stores. I’m a cheapskate, and wanted to avoid waste. Fortunately the Jab Planter enabled me to be very precise in placing just the right amount of fertilizer into the ground right next to each seed.

There are "single hopper" Jab Planters without the fertilizer applicator. They do cost a few dollars less, but that fertilizer feature saved me from going over all of those rows another time to apply expensive fertilizer, and prevented a lot of waste, so I heartily recommend the "dual hopper" version.

Jab Planters look puny compared to the heavy equipment my neighbors pull behind tractors to plant large fields. I was skeptical about the plastic housing and light metal components. Then I learned that 74% of the world’s 570 million farms are in Asia, and a high percentage of them use simple jab planters like this to sow grain. Who am I to argue with the experience of over 400 million farmers? Plus, their methods are more relevant to my 2 acre garden than the large-scale solutions offered by big agribusiness.

The Automatic Jab Planter has held up beautifully after several seasons. I did manage to crack the plastic on one side of a handle, but only by trying to jab through a rock. It did not take an engineering degree to figure out how to fix that.

Jab Planter tips:

Operating the jab planter is simple. Here are a few tips I, based on my experience so far:

How to set up a jab planter
  1. Check to make sure you have the appropriate sized seed roller, depth, and fertilizer control before you go out as per the instructions. I set mine up on a table or workbench, with the foot on a 4x4 block, and the beaks over a shallow pan to catch seed. Select the roller with indents the size of your average seed, and try it with a handful of seeds. Pump the planter about 20 times, then count the seeds that came out. It should be near 20. If not, try a different roller. It is essential to have the right roller in place before going into the field.
  2. I prefer to hold the jab planter with the beaks that poke into the soil facing my feet and the planter's rectangular foot out front. This is opposite to the way it’s normally pictured, but this way I can look down and glimpse the seeds dropping out as I go along.
  3. Problems that may arise are easily fixed. If you hit a rock, move a few inches to go around it. If plant debris or turf gets into the beak and jams it open, just clean it out. If you are rough and make the wire rod connecting the beak mechanism to the roller mechanism to come undone, stop and stick it back on. None of these things happen often, but they can be fixed without any tools and little delay.
  4. Place a supply of seed and fertilizer at the end of a row. I needed to refill after a few hundred row feet. It is nice to refill well before running out in the middle of a long row.

Summary: my jab planter experience

Last year, I upgraded to a wheeled, walk-behind Hoss seeder. It is a great tool, but I will continue to use the Automatic Jab Planter as well. The wheeled seeder is better for even spacing within the row, and accommodates smaller seeds than the Jab Planter. But the Jab Planter is better at other tasks. For example, I used the Jab Planter to plant pole beans a couple inches from young corn plants, using the corn as a natural trellis along the edge of the field. The Jab Planter is also more forgiving on uneven ground, and can plant in irregular patterns such as hills, intermittent spacing, or circles. Plus the fertilizer feature is especially good for corn.

The Automatic Jab Planter is great for planting 200+ row feet more efficiently than can be done by hand. It costs less than half the price of walk behind wheeled seeders, puts down side dressings of fertilizer, and can plant in various patterns. It has made it much easier for me to plant enough seeds to harvest about 1500 lbs of seed corn in the first year. I expect to use this tool for a long time.