Whether due to a short growing season, or just a desire to get a head start on getting seedlings to plant in your garden instead of planting seeds directly, many gardeners are beginning to pre-sprout seeds before even planting in smaller pots. Sprouting seeds in a growth medium, such as paper towels, coffee filters, etc can test the viability of seeds that may be suspect in viability (such as older seeds, or those gathered in a seed swap).
Sprouting seeds early also allows you to start a large number of seeds in a very small place. By placing seeds inside a moist paper material and placing inside a baggie, seeds will begin to sprout and grow their first root which can be then transplanted either into your garden or into smaller pots to grow full seedlings.
What you’ll need
Aside from your seeds, you’ll need a growth medium (paper towels, newspaper, or coffee filters), plastic sandwich baggies, water, a straw (optional), and a nice warm/sunny place like a south facing window with a ledge.
Cutting your growth medium to the size of the baggie. You’ll need 2 sheets of paper, or one larger sheet that you’ll fold down over the top so that your seeds are covered top and bottom.
Moisten your paper so that it is damp, but not soaked. Then, place your seeds 1-2″ apart on the paper, and then cover with the second moist paper layer. Press down lightly so that seeds are touching the paper on all sides and are wrapped in a small cocoon of paper.
Slide your seeds into the baggie making sure to keep the paper towels flat so that your seeds don’t move. They should stay 1-2″ apart so that there is room for proper growth.
(Optional) Seal the bag 90% and slide a straw into the remaining opening and blow up the bag slowly as to not disturb the seeds. Once you have a small balloon of air. This method allows space for water to evaporate from the paper, condense on the top side of the bag, and slowly drip back to the seeds.
If you choose not to blow up the baggie, leave the baggie open on one end to ensure air can enter the bag. As water can evaporate out of the bag, you may need to moisten the paper towels if they begin to dry.
Place your seed bags in a warm (no higher than 70F) area like a southern facing window shelf. Be careful not to put your seed bags on a warmer surface (such as a radiator) which may cook the seeds instead of allowing them to sprout.
In a few days, you should begin to see the first roots, called a radicle begin to sprout from the seed. When this radicle reaches an inch or two, you can move the seed into a pot.
When moving your seed into it’s new home, be sure to not touch the radicle directly, as this is a sensitive area for the plant and any damage could result in the seed dying before it is able to grow. Use tweezers and only touch the seed hull being careful not to harm the radicle.
You can then move your seed into your next growth medium, preferably something that you can plant right in the ground like a homemade seed starting pot. Using a potting mix is often more healthy due to the nutrients in the mix and a lack of negative factors that are usually found in regular soil.
Water only around your new seedlings and begin to grow until your plant reaches a planting maturity. This happens when the first set of leaves on the seedling have fallen and a second set have grown.