Sprouting Seeds in Soil

During 2018, we hosted seed-germinating workshops at tradeshows all over Oregon. It was a lot of fun, and people were eager to ask questions and get their hands dirty! Here’s the gist of what we taught.

  1. Choose your seed varieties with care.

Consider what traits the mature plant will yield. Do you live in a damp area? Might want to consider a mold-resistant strain. Do you want a particular flavor? A particular chemical makeup? Experimenting with unknowns can be fun, but if you plan to put a lot of work into your garden and want specific results, look into the genetics of your seed options beforehand.

  1. Choose a soil that will provide a good home for a tiny seedling.

The most important thing is that your planting medium is light and airy, as roots need room to breathe and grow. Our two favorite options are an inert blend (like Cloud 9) if you plan to do a liquid-feeding program or a lightly amended blend (such as Zen Blend) if you would like your seedling to have readily available food in the soil. These are the most foolproof options. It is possible to sprout seeds of heavy feeders, such as lettuce, in a heavily amended soil (like Gaia’s Gift), but the high levels of nitrogen can fry some seedlings, so exercise care.

  1. Before planting, soak your seeds overnight in water or liquid kelp.

This tricks your seeds into thinking that they’re getting spring rain and it’s time to sprout. Kelp is especially nice, because it contains plant-growth hormones that help kickstart your seedling. Some seeds sprout so easily in kelp that you may see root hairs appearing after just one night!

  1. Put the baby in its nursery.

Place the container in the warm area you’ve prepared for it, preferably with a dome over the top. If you don’t have a dome or are only sprouting a couple seeds, you can also just cover the container(s) with a layer of plastic wrap, which will help trap moisture and warmth where it is most needed.

Alternatively, you can let the seeds sprout outside, if this is their preference! Snap peas handle outdoor sprouting just fine.

7. Check your soil every day to see if it needs water.

If it feels damp, wait! Overwatering can lead to rot and other problems. We like to use a liquid kelp solution for watering seedlings, not only for the plant growth hormones, but also because liquid kelp contains a lot of vitamin B12, which will help the plant to overcome transplant shock when you up-pot it.

  1. Set up an area for your seed to sprout and grow in.

For most plants, this spot should be warm but without too much exposure to direct sunlight. You can use a heating pad or grow lights if you don’t have any windowsills that are just right. The plants in this picture didn’t have a close enough light source, so they started bolting soon after they sprouted.

It will also be handy to prepare a spray bottle full of water or a liquid feed solution, properly mixed in a ratio that is appropriate for baby plants. Spraying your seedling is the best way to water because it is a gentle method that won’t disturb the tiny roots as they develop.

  1. To plant, fill your growing container with the soil of your choice.

Don’t pack it too tightly, or the roots will struggle to grow. Make a small indent with the tip of your pinky or a q-tip to place your seed into—a general rule of thumb is to plant a seed twice as deep as the seed’s width. Lightly cover the seed with soil, then spray with water or your favorite liquid-feed solution until the soil is thoroughly moist. You don’t want it sopping wet, but the whole top layer should be damp.

  1. Sit back and watch!

This is the exciting part. Within a week, you should see shoots emerge from the soil. For the next few weeks, continue to water whenever the soils dries out. Eventually, a few developed leaves will be present on the plant. If you can also see roots at the bottom of the container, it’s time to transplant the seedling to a bigger pot. And now, the real work begins!

Written by Kale (Kayla) Rau and Carl (Carly) Culin