Monday, April 20, 2009

Sprouting Seeds for Speedy Summer Plants

This spring I've decided to try something new with the seeds I'm sowing in my garden.

Typically, I'll wait until after May 8 (last average frost day in Boise) to direct seed those warm-season plants like heirloom beans, winter squash and cucumbers right into the soil.

But this year I'm attempting to get a head start by starting these plants inside. I do know beans, squash and cucumbers prefer to be direct seeded in the garden. Yet I figured I can always plant more seeds outside in May. Why not experiment now?

First, I presprouted the seeds by placing them in wet napkins. Each plant variety was in its own napkin. Then I placed the napkins in a sealed plastic bowl or container. Tip: keep track of what you're sprouting by making a list.

To avoid diseases, I prewashed my container with hot soapy water. (If I was particularly concerned, I could have also wiped it with 70 percent rubbing alcohol or rinsed it in diluted bleach water.) Each day, I opened the napkins to check on the seeds' progress. This allowed a little air circulation, which was helpful for germination.

After several days, some seeds had sprouted. The fastest (from left to right) were burpless cucumbers, 'Dragon's Tongue' beans and 'Musquee de Provence' squash. Once the seeds had sizeable roots, they were planted with seed starter mix into 4" plantable pots to reduce transplant shock down the road.

I selected peat-free pots after learning recently that it takes 220 years to replace the peat stripped away in just one year from rare bog habitats. Read more on why peat harvesting is tough on the environment.

About a week later, the beans and squash had already started to grow into strong little plants, as you'll see below.

By the time it's taken me to write this post, these little critters have grown even stronger. I swear. Other new plants have also started to emerge. So, they're off to a good start.

Next steps: In about 5 days, I'll start hardening off the larger plants in a sheltered part of my yard for about a week. Each day, I'll gradually lengthen the time the seedlings are kept outside. Then it's off to the garden plot.

Will they all survive? Or will some grow too large before it's time to transplant? Very good questions. Tune in to see what happens... Meanwhile, how do you get your warm-weather plants off to a speedy start?


  1. Hi Teresa! Very interesting post! They say an experiment can't be a failure, any result, even a bad one, IS a result. I am in a similar position with beans. I just wanted to show my boys how they sprout... Well, I never had a heart to discard them. Now, I have several plants that are not supposed to go to the ground till June! Good luck to you!

  2. Good luck. It IS great to experiment!

  3. Hello! I've enjoyed browsing on your blog today. I've always been the same way with seed starting, I'll start some indoors and then also direct sow later (you know, just in case I royally screw things up by planting my starts outside too early *sheepish grin*)

  4. Thanks for your comments. Nat, I'm guilty of starting things a little early too. Kim and Victoria, you're right -- it is good to experiment. Tatyana, I'm glad I only have to keep these plants alive inside for another week or so. (Not June...) Happy gardening!

  5. Thanks for the information about peat and about starting the seeds in wet towels! Neat! I have been using those "cow pots" instead of peat pots recently and they work fine. Kind of expensive, but certainly not as expensive as destroying the environment!

  6. It's fun to experiment with different ways of growing seeds, and compare their development. Harvesting will be the most fun of all.

  7. Thanks Ginger and Northern Shade for your comments. Glad you stopped by...

    Ginger, it is disturbing that peat pots are so damaging for the environment. Was surprised to learn that myself recently. Always looking for peat-free seed starting products, so if you hear of any, please let me know.

    Northern Shade, I completely agree. Harvesting is definitely the most enjoyable, but picking out what to grow is pretty fun too. Even if it IS hard to decide ... ;)