Spring and fall are great for going to garden centers. Nothing is more beautiful than seeing row upon row of all those beautiful vegetable plants just waiting for your garden. But let’s face it. They can be quite expensive when you have a medium to large sized garden. The good news is – you can save a lot of money starting your vegetables from seed. It may seem scary to do but learning how to grow vegetables from seed is quite easy.
There are many suggestions about how to get started, but one of the absolute best ways that I have found is to pre-start your seeds in preparation of planting them. To do this, all you need is some paper towels (or some stronger material for using over and over), a shallow container and some seeds. Let’s get started.
Start with a Grid
I have seen many ways to set up your seed pre-starting, But, in my mind, the most efficient and best way to pre-start is to set up a grid with letters and numbers on a sheet of porous material. Draw a grid on material (sponge sheet or paper towel) with a sharpie and label the top row and the first left row. After drawing this one inch grid several times on paper towels, I decided to use something more permanent. I found some sponge sheets I had purchased to wash my car and decided this would be the perfect long-term material to use. I could wash out the sheet with soap and water as needed to clean it and reuse over and over.
I cut the sponge sheet to fit in a baking sheet for a semi-permanent seed pre-starter. See the example below. You can see that I made a little mistake and started the “1” on the leftmost row. Oh well, I just modified the grid to reflect the mistake.
The nice thing about the grid numbered/lettered is that it is easy to pre-start a lot of different seeds at one time and keep track of what is what. Believe me, a lot of seeds can look alike and if you don’t label them, you will lose track of what is what. For seeds that I wanted to plant more of, I could use several blocks and still easily identify what is what.
As you can see, this method of pre-starting works for any type of seed.
Moisten the Grid
Next, moisten the grid – not dripping wet, but very moist. Put the grid in you pan. Place your seeds on the blocks of the grid and identify them on the chart. (I have included a PDF of a chart than you can print and use.) Put the pan some place warm – you don’t have to worry about light. Seeds don’t need light to germinate.
Check Seeds the Next Day
This method is so fast that you won’t believe it. Check back the next day and you will see that some of the seeds have already sprouted. Those that have sprouted are ready to be placed in soil. Now, this may seem silly – but the first time I planted the sprouted seeds, I got mixed up and planted them upside down. The poor little plants had to struggle to turn around and grow up. So some of them did not make it. In a nutshell, the white tip sticking out is the root – plant it down.
Continue to Check Daily and Plant Seeds that Have Sprouted
Seeds will sprout amazingly fast – so continue to check them daily. Everything in the cabbage family sprouts fast, often within twenty-four hours. That includes broccoli, cabbage, kale, cauliflower, etc. Herbs – especially the basils are very fast to germinate as well. Pepper, eggplant, fennel and celery take longer, sometimes five days or longer. Other veggies such as tomatoes, squash and beets take about three days.
The beauty of this method of germinating is that you know ahead of time which seeds are viable. If the seeds are fresh and viable, they will sprout. If they do not sprout, then you have not wasted time planting a seed that will not sprout.
Once they have sprouted, plant them in moistened potting soil. I generally plant several in a three-inch pot as they begin to grow. Since seedling are so fragile, I like to water them from the bottom as they grow. No matter how carefully you water from the top, the tiny seedlings will topple over if watered from the top.
The easiest way to do this is plant all your sprouts and seedlings in 3-inch pots and place them in one of those trays from the garden centers. Then, place that tray down in another tray that does not have any drainage holes. Pour water into the bottom tray and let the 3-inch pots soak up the water for about an hour. When the 3-inch pots are wet, take the tray out of the water and let the pots drain. You can even add fertilizer to the water as the seedlings grow.
Benefits of Pre-Sprouting Your Seeds
There are some great benefits to starting your vegetable seeds this way. Once you try it, I doubt you will want to go back to any other method of germinating.
- You will have a great success rate. Starting the “old-fashioned” way can lead to a lower rate of germination. This is because it is easy for the soil to dry out and stop the germination process. You will find that with healthy seeds, you will have virtually 100% success with your seeds. And you will know they have germinated when you plant them in the soil.
- You can test seeds to see if they are viable. Ever have an old seed packet and wonder if they will germinate. Within a very few days, you will know whether the seeds are going to grow. It is a good way to test your own seeds that you have collected as well. Nothing feels better than watching your gathered seeds as they begin to sprout.
- Germination is much faster so you can start your garden faster. What usually takes days and days to germinate, can be ready to plant in just a few days. You will be amazed once you try this method of germinating.
Ananda at A Piece of the Rainbow was a great inspiration to me as I began germinating seeds this way. She provides great information on this method of germinating. Without a doubt, when you grow vegetables from seed, you will find that you save a ton of money and get great joy from doing it “from scratch.” Let me hear about your successes!