Starting Your Plants From Seeds
A seed is a growth factory all in itself; it does not need any chemical help from you. A seed’s outer coating contains hormones that signal the plant to grow when conditions are right: the environment you supply. To activate, seeds need moisture, heat, and air. Light is an inhibitor to most seed sprouting.
Many seeds have a hard outer shell that can be softened by overnight soaking in room temperature clean water. At this point, seeds may be sprouted in many ways.
PAPER TOWEL METHOD:
- Moisten paper towels with clean water. Place the soaked seeds between folds.
- Place towels on a drainage screen on a plate.
- Cover with a dark piece of fabric.
- Keep warm – 70-90 degrees is best.
- Water daily, allowing excess water to drain onto the plate.
- When white rootlet (radicle) is visible, pick up carefully with tweezers and plant with radicle pointing down.
Advantages: you can see exactly when the radicle is formed, and transplant accordingly; sprout can go into Rockwool for hydroponics application or into soil plugs or small pots.
Disadvantage: forgetful growers often neglect the watering of the paper towels, drying out the root hairs, or allow standing water to accumulate in the plate, rotting the seed.
DIRECT SOWING INTO MEDIA (JIFFY PLUGS, SOIL PLUGS, ROCKWOOL, OR SOIL:
This is the method most often used since it is quick.
- Place the seeds an appropriate distance from the surface. 2 times as deep as the length of the seed is perfect.
- Do not start seeds in a nutrient-rich potting mix, since the organic nutrients are too strong for a seedling. Growth will be stunted and germination sporadic. Rockwool plugs, peat plugs, or a seed-starting only mix is the best way to go.
- Water when needed, and do not add light until a plantlet is visible.
- Rockwool needs to be pHed to a 5.5 reading. Other methods provide a buffer so that pH at this point is not so critical. However, only the Rockwool method can be used in most hydroponics. Rockwool should never be used to transplant into soil. Composted forest product plugs will work in a bubble bucket system.
Advantages: no rootlet damage, since there is no critical timing as in the paper towel method.
Disadvantages: seeds may heave out, especially in Rockwool, the viability of the seeds is unknown; overwatering or underwatering is likely if a grower is lazy. Green algae growth can become a haven for fungus gnats.
Too little water and the process will slow and stop, resulting in death. The tiny root hairs emerging from the radicle can dry and die in a matter of minutes.
Too much water and oxygen is reduced, causing suffocation and rot.
When the plantlet has two true leaves, beyond the “seed leaves” (cotyledons) begin to feed with a ¼ strength vegetative food. Keep medium moist but not soggy.
Keep on during germination, and remove as soon as the seedlings are standing upright with their cotyledons open. Provide GENTLE air movement to prevent damping off, a fungal disease that causes stems to rot at the soil line and fall over. It is fatal, and avoidable with sufficient air movement.
Storing seed: vacuum packing is the best. Otherwise, pack in baby food jars or small ziplock bags with a desiccant product.
Keep in a cool, dark place. Most seeds are viable for around two years.