Growing from seed 101

May 2, 2016

Each spring, I plant my little vegetable garden in the yard. And each year I debate; do I buy plants or grow them from seed? Live plants are more likely to survive, but seeds are so much cheaper.

Well, I’m an impulse shopper, so every time I see heirloom non-GMO seeds in the store, I pick up a few packets. With so many seeds sitting around from this year and last, I decided to try most of my plants from seed this spring, and only buy tomatoes live, as I never have much luck growing them from seed.

I usually start off by germinating my seeds inside, then transfer them to egg cartons filled with potting soil to grow a little more, then I’ll move them to their intended locations outside. Plenty of times I’ve gotten over ambitious and germinated my seeds too early, so I purposely waited until the end of April to get them started this year.

This started several years ago, when I decided to try growing from seed for the first time. I made an offhand comment to my mother that I wasn’t sure how to germinate the seeds.

And my brother, my kind, loving, hilarious brother spun around and snapped, “you don’t know how to germinate seeds? Didn’t you go to first grade?!”

But despite his comments, he showed me how, and now I know how simple it is and I do it each year.

To germinate your seeds inside, you’ll need:

  • zippered plastic sandwich bags
  • paper towels
  • seeds
  • permanent market

Mark each sandwich bag with the name of the seed you’ll put in so you know what’s what. Take 1 full size paper towel or tseed-bagswo of the select-a-size ones and fold it in half. Wet it and then wring it out over the sink so that it’s wet throughout but not dripping. Place it on a counter or table and place a handful of seeds, neatly in rows with space in between, making sure you’re only using half the paper towel. Now fold it over to cover the seeds and tuck the edges up a little. Gently place it in the bag and seal it (this causes a greenhouse kind of effect). Once you’re done with everything you want to sprout, gently place the bags in a dark place (like a cabinet or drawer) where they won’t be disturbed. In a minimum of 4 days you’ll see growth. Green beans sprout large and quick, while others will take several more days.

Once your sprouts are a decent size, gently extricate them from the paper towel and plant them in a flower pot, egg carton or small starter pots. These are delicate, so make sure they get enough water and sunlight. Especially if they’re in very little soil, they will dry up quickly, so look at them each day. Soon enough you’ll see more growth with larger leaves sprouting. Once you have a nicely established little plant, you can start placing them outside for short periods of time to harden them against the outside weather. Really though, a short time – a few spoonfuls of dirt don’t hold much water and hours in the hot sun will dry these brand new plants to a crisp. Have I done this? Yes of course, I killed a whole tray last year by forgetting them out for the afternoon.

Once they’re nicely established, get them in the ground and water them well. With luck, your plants will take and you’ll have a beautiful garden for the minimal cost of a few seed packets.

Thin, fine cucumber sprouts on the left and thick, hearty green bean sprouts on the right; 4 days.

This is a quick and dirty outline of how to get your seeds started inside. What are your favorite tricks?

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