Sprouting seeds in order to transplant them or grow them in place is a fun part of gardening. Some make critical mistakes that can quickly ruin a flourishing seed bed of newly-sprouted vegetables. Here are some things to do and things to avoid.
Eliminate Soil Contamination
Re-using old garden soil that has not been cleansed (via exposure to the air) is a common cause of sprout problems. The seedlings are sensitive to bad things in the soil and if microbes or invisible pests are present, they can quickly destroy a plant before it’s even seen its first ray of sunshine. Another common problem is for weed seeds to be in the soil and sprout first, robbing the new sprout of vital nutrients or, worse yet, confusing the gardener as to which is the right plant.
Soil contamination can be eliminated through the use of clean soils, by allowing your seed sprouting soil to air out in a thin layer in the sunlight for a day, and by using only top quality soils when sprouting seeds.
Proper Watering for Seed Sprouting
Over or under watering is the most common cause of seed sprout death or failure to germinate. Most gardeners know that wetting the soil without soaking it is ideal. Some go a little too far or don’t go far enough, however. It’s a hard thing to gauge without experience.
As a rule of thumb, you should be able to put your finger into the soil about an inch and feel only light moisture. Your finger should emerge from the soil with just latent clingy bits and not covered in mud. If it emerges relatively clean, you don’t have enough water. Water lightly and in a broadcast method so as to soak water into the soil without saturating it in one location.
Don’t Touch the Seedlings
Another problem is that many gardeners, enamored with the sprouts they see before them, are tempted to touch the new plants. This runs the risk of breaking the sprout, spreading diseases amongst plants, or causing unexpected damage to the leaves or stem of the new plant.
Avoid touching and handling your sprouts and let them grow on their own. All they need from you is TLC in the form of water, sunlight, and temperature control.
Sunlight and Hardening Seedlings
As the seedlings emerge, they are going to want sunlight in order to keep alive and flourishing. The seed pod eventually runs out of nutrients and it’s up to the new plant with its leaves to gather sunlight and continue the process. You can facilitate this by giving your seeds a few hours a day in the sun. A good window, open door, or other place where they can receive sun for a few hours (2-4 per day to start) is perfect.
Once the little plants are getting larger and about ready for transplanting to their permanent home (if they aren’t already), you should harden them. This is done by putting them outside in the sun and weather for a few hours a day, starting with 2-3 hours and working up to all day for over a week or so.
Want to learn more about seed sprouting?
See these helpful resources:
Sprouting Seeds for Food from the Virginia Cooperative Extension
Starting Seeds Indoors from the University of Minnesota Extension
Some really sound tips here. Would love to hear your opinion in sprouting seeds in automatic seed sprouters. Cheers.
I’m having a very hard time sprouting vegetable seeds indoors. As soon as they sprout and two leaves appear the next day the leaves or 50% of the time, the entire seedling disappears! I’ve had this happen three times now. I’m trying to always have seedings on hand to put in empty spaces in my garden. Something eats them as soon as they sprout! Please help!