Guest Columnist #67 - Coyote: Seed Sprouting

Coyote's Handy Dandy Method of Seed Sprouting

INSTRUCTIONS: put 1/2 to 1 cup store bought (read STERILE) potting soil into a zip-loc sandwich bag, add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of vermiculite and/or peat moss add 1/2 teaspoon or less of seed and mix well. Add enough water to moisten the sprouting medium, then seal the bag and put it a windowsill on the east or west side of the house. Open it every few days to let in some fresh air and check for sprouts. Some plants sprout in a few days, others may take weeks or even months -
    Once the sprouts appear, fish them out, carefully with the tip of a serrated knife and put them in small pots filled with a growing medium. This can be done when the sprout is just out of the seed and still looks like a grub or an inchworm, or it can be done when the leaf end starts turning green. Just try to get it done before the root gets long and thready and starts branching out.
    When the plant roots fill the small pot, then set them into large, "permanent" pots or out into the garden.

    This method has many, many advantages. By using sterile potting soil, you know exactly what those sprouts are. So if you're trying out some new kind of plant that you're not familiar with (like my stevia plants this year) you won't be tricked by volunteers of some other species that were hiding in the soil. Store bought potting soil is expensive though, and sprouting in baggies is much cheaper than planting the seeds in pots. That one little bag full of dirt can sprout hundreds of seeds in successive batches.
    It takes up a lot less room. You won't have all those pots sitting around taking up space even before the seeds have sprouted. You don’t have to take up space with a pot until you actually have a plant.
    It is also frugal with your seed supply. Even sprouting in flats wastes some of the plants, and planting directly into pots or the garden requires thinning. This year's stevia seed was $2.50 for 10 seeds and some of the heirloom tomato seeds were $2.75 for 35 seeds. Other kinds of seed are equally expensive or are rare, and no one is in the mood for thinning and discarding perfectly good seedlings. By sprouting in a baggie, each sprout can go into a pot and be allowed to grow.

    Lastly, for common vegetable seeds that are cheap and could easily be seeded directly into the ground later in the spring, sprouting indoors can help the plant survive the seedling stage. There are a number of perils that can befall tiny seedlings, and sprouting them out inside and setting them out when they are larger can help with the survival rate. Its an option that may or may not be worth the effort.
    So far Coyote has successfully used this method on tomatoes, basil, chives, cucumbers, peas, beans, strawberries, stevia, sunflowers, dandelions, chicory, St johns wort, echinacca, pennyroyal, tobacco, morning glories, and hollyhocks. Some of the plants it has NOT worked well for are sage, borage, tansy spearmint, catnip and yarrow.
    Another trick Coyote has tried is to sterilize good, loamy garden soil by microwaving it. It seemed to work on bacteria and pests, but some unwelcome seeds still survived. The resulting medium seemed to be unwholesome and the seeds sprouted poorly, in it. A little tinkering may yield better results, but so far the store bought potting soil has worked best for sprouting. If you allow that your time is worth at least minimum wage, then the store bought kind is cheaper anyway.
    The baggies need to be put in a windowsill that will have moderate temperatures for the seeds. Many seeds only sprout at temperatures ranging from 60 to 70 degrees. Hot sun coming through the glass in the daytime can overheat and even kill the seeds. On cold nights, seeds or seedlings can suffer cold damage from being too close to the glass. A table or shelf in front of the window, to keep the sprouts a few inches away from the glass, or a window sill on a sheltered side of the house, out of direct sun would be best.

COYOTE'S JOURNAL is published by the Crystal Rain Agency, p.o.b. 792, Franklin GA 30217. COYOTE'S JOURNAL is a networking paper and is available in hard copy to the public for $1.00 plus SASE. (Cash or money order, United States currency and stamps).
(please note this is from 2001)