Seed (pre)sprouting

This year we’ve been growing most things from seed, and we came across a method that increases the success rate (by up to 70% we’ve read). It’s called pre-sprouting or pre-germination. Pre-sprouting reduces the amount of time waiting and minimizes the chance of losing seedlings early on. Another pro is that you don’t waste time and space on duds as you can spot them before putting them into soil.

Anyone who’s ever scattered a whole packet of seeds has probably encountered the problems of duds and fragile fragile seedling dying off for a variety of reasons. Following these steps increases your chances of getting mature plants for nearly every single seed you sow.

To get started you need:

  • A ziplock bag (or a container with lid, or even just two equal sized plates face to face)
  • A couple of paper towels
  • Water
  • and of course Seeds

1. To pre-sprout simply:

  1. Dampen your paper towel
  2. Place your seeds on the damp paper towel
  3. Cover with another damp paper towel
  4. Seal the whole thing inside a ziplock bag (or whatever your are using for a container)
  5. Place in a warm spot (An airing cupboard, or top shelf in your kitchen should do. You want the seeds to be comfortably warm without blasting them with heat.)

Start checking on them after one day. If the seeds are fresh, some will germinate in less than a day! If you notice the towel becoming dry before the roots start to pop out add a small amount of water or mist to keep them moist.

The fastest seeds to germinate include radishes, everything in the cabbage family– bok choi, broccoli, kale, cauliflower, and many greens such as lettuce. The slowest ones include eggplant, fennel, leeks, and celery, which can take 5 or more days. Most others including tomatoes, beets, chard, squash, and onions will take around 3 days.

Bonus tip: For hard shelled seeds (like lemon for example) peeling off the outermost layer before following the above steps can improve germination success.

2. Transplant

As soon as you see roots appear you can introduce them into transplant pots. Be careful not to damage the delicate root system. Depending on how small the seeds are you may need to use tweezers but most seeds can be handled with a steady hand. Bury the seeds according to their size. Very small seeds should only be 1/4 inch down while larger ones such as squash should be at least an inch. While raising your seedlings give them as much sun as you can. A southern facing window is a good choice (northern facing if in the southern hemisphere). Keep the soil evenly moist, bear in mind that these plants are fragile and careless watering can cripple them just like a heavy rainstorm can. Use a fine spray bottle if possible for the little ones.

3. Plant out

Once your seedling have reached a reasonable size, and the weather outside is suitable for planting out, go ahead and plant them in their final planting spot.

And that’s it! They now have a good start in life and you can put your energy into worrying about how to stop the slugs from getting at them instead of wondering if they are going to grow at all. 😉

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