Soaking Seeds Before You Sow

How To Soak Seeds Before Planting And The Reasons For Soaking Seeds

By Heather Rhoades

Soaking seeds before planting is an old-time gardener’s trick that many new gardeners are not aware of. When you soak seeds before planting, you can significantly decrease the amount of time it takes for a seed to germinate. Let’s look at the reasons for soaking seeds and how to soak seeds.

Reasons for Soaking Seeds

What happens to seeds when you soak them? Why should you soak your seeds?

The short answer is because your seeds were designed to be abused. Mother Nature is not kind to a little seed. In the wild, a seed can expect to encounter harsh heat and cold, very wet or dry conditions and may even need to survive the acid-filled digestive tract of an animal. In short, seeds have developed over millions of years with defenses to survive awful conditions. But in your modern day garden, a seed is relatively pampered. Soaking seeds before planting helps you to break down the seed’s natural defenses against what it expects from Mother Nature, which then allows it to germinate faster.

Another reason is that while Mother Nature actively assaults seeds, she also gave those seeds an internal gauge to help them know when they should grow. For most seeds, moisture levels play a big role in alerting a seed to optimal grow times. By soaking the seeds, you can quickly boost the moisture content around the seeds, which signals to the seed that it is now safe to grow.

And lastly, for some types of seeds, they actually contain germination inhibitors that are designed to prevent a seed from germinating inside the fruit. These inhibitors must be leached away before a seed can germinate. In nature with natural rainfall, this process can take some time. But when you soak your seeds, this process is sped up.

How to Soak Seed Before Planting

Seed soaking, at a basic level needs two things: seeds and water.

Some methods for seed soaking may substitute the water for slightly acidic solutions, such as weak tea or coffee or even acidic chemicals. These acidic solutions are meant to imitate loosely the stomach acid of an animal. But these solutions are not necessary in most cases. For most seeds, water will work just fine.

Take a small bowl and fill it with water from your tap, as hot as your tap will allow. Some seeds can tolerate boiling water, but as the tolerance for heat can vary greatly from species to species, hot tap water is safest for seed soaking.

Once your bowl is filled with hot water, place your seeds inside the bowl, then allow the seeds to stay in the water as it cools down. Common questions at this point include “How long should seeds be soaked?” and “Can you over soak seeds?” Yes, you can over soak seeds. Too much soaking in water and a seed will drown. It is recommended that you only soak most seeds for 12 to 24 hours and no more than 48 hours. The seeds of some species of plants can survive longer soakings, but you should only do this if the specific instructions for this species recommend so.

There are things you can do to improve how well your seeds react to soaking. Large seeds or seeds with particularly hard coats can benefit from scarification before soaking. Scarification means to damage the seed coat in some way so that the water is better able to penetrate the seed. Scarification can be done through several methods. These include rubbing the seed on fine grain sand paper, nicking the seed coat with a knife and even gently tapping the seed with a hammer to help crack the seed coat.

After soaking your seeds, they can be planted as directed. The benefit of soaking seeds before planting is that your germination time will be reduced, which means you can have happy, growing plants faster.


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What we have learned about starting seeds

Depending on where you live, you have either started or getting ready to start seeds for this year’s garden. There is a lot of information available on how to start seeds indoors.  A quick Google search comes up with over 600,000 references on how to start seeds indoors.  So you can get the basics through a quick search.  Today’s blog will be about what we have learned.  What has worked and provided success for our seed starting.
Here are some things we have learned over the years about stating seeds indoors.
1. Resist starting too early  –  Use the “last frost” date as a guide.  A quick check of the Farmer’s Almanac (Canada, US) will present the last frost date for your part of the world. In our case,  around May 20th would be the ”last frost date”.  Using May 20th as our guide, we check journal entries for previous years and determine a planting date.  The planting date is when the seedlings go in the ground or other seeds are direct sown.  For seedlings, it is important to account for “hardening off” in your calculations (7-10 days).   More important than frost date is the soil temperature.  For most of the last 5 years the soil temperature becomes suitable for transplanting May 24th to June 1st.

Plant List from Garden Planer (Enlarge)
Plant List from Garden Planer (Enlarge)

If you use the Garden Planer print out the planting guide for the garden you designed. A Gantt chart showing starting dates, planting dates and harvest dates is produced to guide you through the garden season.

You can download a Seed Starting Planner from The Organic Gardener website to help in your planning.

Example: Roma Tomatoes:  Start 6-8 weeks before last frost date May 20th.  (March 25th – April 8th)  Planting date of June 1st less 8-10 days hardening off, puts us at May 23rd to May 25th.  So anytime between March 25th to April 8th works for us based on the Farmers Almanac, our set out dates of past years, and our recorded soil temperatures the last five years. 2. Keeping good records gives confidence in your planting!

3. Starting containers – Almost any container can be used to start seeds. Be sure they are clean by washing in soap and water and rinsing in a mild bleach solution. Provide some drainage to the bottom and place in waterproof trays.  This allows for bottom watering.

4.Bottom watering will increase your success in starting seeds.  We have always used biodegradable peat pots for containers and black plastic trays designed for seed starting.  If you want to make your own, here are 7 DIY Seed Pots you can make.

5. Quality Starter Mix – Use a quality seed starter mix.  A soiless mix, usually a combination of peat moss and vermiculite is best.  We avoid starting mixes that are “pre-fertilized” preferring to use organic fertilizers latter.  You can also make your own starter mix and take complete control.

6. Carefully sow seed – Sow what you need. If you plan on four pepper plants in your garden, then sow 8 seeds, two per container.  At a low 50% germination , you will have your four pepper plants and maybe some extras for your friends.  Make sure the grow mix is moist and sow seed according to the instructions on the package.  Seed depth is important. Usually the seed is sown to a depth of three times it’s size.  Place seeds carefully on the surface of the mix and sprinkle an appropriate amount of mix on top of the seed. Sow 3 to 4 seeds per pot and thin to 2 or 3 after germination if needed.   Cover the seeded tray with sheet of plastic, saran wrap or plastic dome. You will eventually move each seeding to a lager pot.  We have found that cucumbers are an exception as they do not like being disturbed too much.  We start cucumbers in larger bio-degradable pots to avoid over handling and transplant directly to the garden.

7. Warmth is ImportantBottom heat is needed for good seed germination. You can provide for warmth by using a heating pad designed for seed starting, placing trays on top of your fridge, or a space heater set up to give warmth to the bottom of the trays. If you have heated floors in your house lay your trays out and watch your step!  You will have results without the bottom warmth, but you will have better results with bottom warmth.  Once the seeds have germinated, remove from heat source.  Seedlings do not need the same warmth.  Be sure to maintain a moist soil and be careful not to over water.

8. Use artificial light – Once germinated the seedlings will need lots of light.  The seedlings will fight for light and reach out for it.  Seedlings will become weak and spindly without an adequate light source. Use an artificial light source (fluorescent) hung just above the seedlings, raise the light as the seedlings grow and provide light for about sixteen hours a day.

9. Feed the seedlings – After the seedlings have the first true leaves use a weak solution (1/4 of normal) organic fertilizer (compost tea, fish emulsion and seaweed extract)  every 1-2 weeks until they’re ready for planting out.

10. Get a Fan – After transplanting seedlings to larger pots, place a fan to blow gently over the seedlings through the day.  This will help develop a stronger and hardier plant.  You can gently brush your hand over the seedlings a couple times a day as well.

11. Be ruthless – Thin your seedlings to allow only the strongest and healthiest to continue.

12. Be patient – Check the germination trays and the seedlings each day.  Also if you do not have a heated green house to accommodate starting your own seeds, be prepared to have your home taken over. for a couple of months!

Some thoughts

Starting your own seeds is not difficult, but requires planning, a methodical approach, patience and TLC.  Remember to make journal entries of your seed starting experiences.

Share the magic with others in your household.  Involve children is the garden cycle from the beginning.  Allow them to start their own seeds for their own garden and provide the care needed.

The rewards are well worth the effort when you bite into a sun drenched Big Beef Tomato that you started as a tiny seed in April.  You also know the source of the food you eat and know how it was grown.

Time to prepare the soil mix and fill some pots.

Tom and Di

 

 

Satisfying the Gardening Itch

Our planning and preparation continues.  Seed inventories done, and browsing seed catalogs and seed websites continues.  New asparagus roots ordered, vegetable seeds ordered, and some seeds have already arrived.

Both gardens now have four feet of the white stuff snuggling them.  Hard to believe that spring is only nineteen days away.  There are some positive signs that spring is near, the light of day has grown longer and the warmth of the sun continues to increase, spring training has started in baseball, and there are only two months left before the Stanley Cup Playoffs are over.

The other sign for gardeners is that itch Garden 003to get scratching in the dirt.  The desire to get started and smell the earthy aromas of soil and rotting compost.  Here in New Brunswick we will have to wait another six to eight weeks. There are, however, some things you can do to help satisfy those urges.

  • March is the time to start seeds indoors. White, Red and green onions will be started this week. Several of our flowers will be started as well. Check the frost dates for your area and the planting instructions on the seed pack.  Generally seeds are started indoors four to eight weeks before the last frost date.  We use May 15th as a guide, so if the seeds need to be started six weeks prior to the last frost, we will start on or before April Fools’ Day!
  • Get a start on new projects you are planning for the gardens.  Our new plans include:
    • 2 trellises for the cucumbers
    • Stacking boxes for the vertical potatoes experiment
    • Crates for the straw bales experiment
    • New stakes and row markers
    • More tomato cages
    • New cold frame for large raised bed.
    • 2 new raised bed boxes
  • On the stormy days or evenings, grab a gardening book and Garden tipsdiscover new tips to add to your gardening knowledge.  A good one to spend time with is 1,001 Old-Time Garden Tips edited by Roger Yepsen.  The book includes “timeless bits of wisdom on how to grow everything organically, from the good old days when everyone did”.
  • Then of course is one of our favourites, browse the garden centers.  This usually results in some new and neat tools being added to the shed!

If you have any other suggestions, please share in the comment section.

Until next time,

Tom and Di