Soaking Seeds

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DSC03558 300x225 Soaking SeedsIf you’re not into starting seeds, my gardening posts have probably sounded like a boring broken record this winter. I can’t help it… getting the most out of a Michigan growing season partially hinges on how and when you start your seeds. Now is a great time to start seeds for your home garden. (Not sure you can grow a garden where you are? I’d love to help you create a custom plan that you CAN do! For more details click here!) I’ve shared lots of info on seed starting recently. All the same, I wanted to talk to you about one other helpful seed-starting tip: soaking seeds.

Why Soak Seeds?

Soaking seeds before planting speeds up germination by stirring up the process of the dormant baby plant inside the seed’s hull coming to life. If you think about it, seeds are designed to withstand all that nature can throw at it – wind, cold, heat, animals, etc. Because of this, they have some natural defenses designed to keep them intact until they meet the right soil, water and heat conditions to begin growing. In nature, seeds get roughed up before they grow. In your garden, they’re relatively coddled compared to their wild relatives.  Plus once they get covered by dirt, the soil wicks away some of the moisture needed to start the growing process. Pre-soaking your seeds gives them all the water they need to get a jump start on life.

How to Soak Seeds

The process is pretty easy. Start with very warm tap water. Add the seeds directly and let them do their thing. The web is fully of inconclusive advice about how long seeds should soak. Here are the guidelines you should operate within. First, the bigger the seed and the harder the hull (shell), the longer they should be soaked. Second, you shouldn’t let you seeds soak for more than 24 hours because taking on too much water can make them rot. Turns out the old school practice of soaking seeds – like many other parts of gardening the way Grandma used to – is more art than science. You’ll have to experiment with how long to soak your seeds (use your garden journal to keep track of the results!). I’m aiming to soak seeds between 8 and 12 hours depending on the size of the hull.

Which Seeds Should I Soak

Because the purpose of soaking seeds is to break through that hard protective outer shell and to give the seed a good healthy drink before it is planted, small seeds are probably not good candidates for soaking. Small seeds – such as carrot and tomato – might benefit from 15-30 minutes of soaking but are too small to soak for a long period of time. On the flip side, pumpkin, cucumber, peas and beans will benefit from a good, long soaking (no more than 24 hours). Beet seeds and the like fall into the middle of the range and might be soaked for more like 4-8 hours.

Just like the “How to soak seeds?” question the answer to “Which seeds should I soak?” is inconclusive. Experienced seed-soaker Sally Roth offers this advice in her article about seed soaking at http://www.finegardening.com:

“I presoak just about everything except for the tiniest seeds. But I’m always careful not to presoak my seeds until the night before planting them in pots or in the garden. Once the seeds have swollen, get them into moist soil immediately, then keep them well watered until they’re up and growing. This simple technique can shave several days off the usual germination time.”

Anyone else out there have experience with and advice on soaking seeds?

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