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February 27, 2014

Pre-Sprouting Seeds: 101

Pre-sprouting means you are sprouting the seeds in the absence of soil, and then transplanting the ‘live’ seed with a bit of root to soil, compost, or vermiculite. The two most common methods of pre-germination are moist paper towel and gel. While many gardeners will ONLY use seeds prepared for the current growing season, what if you have some older seeds? Would you risk planting them and hope that they will grow? If you pre-germinate them, you can tell right away which seeds are viable and which are ready for the compost heap. Talk about saving time and valuable space in your vegetable patch.

Pre-Sprouting Methods

The basic way to pre-sprout seeds is very simple.
  1. Moisten two-three sheets of paper towel, not dripping wet just wet.
  2. Lay one layer of paper towel in a shallow Tupperware container*
  3. Spread the seeds out evenly
  4. Cover with another layer of moist paper towel
  5. Place the container in a warm spot, 70-75 degrees F is ideal
  6. Check the seeds daily, most seeds will start to germinate in 1-2 days
  7. Re-moisten if needed, you do not want the seeds to dry out

Once the seeds sprout roots it is time to transplant them to starter pots or sow them into the ground. Theses sprouted seeds are extremely fragile you do not want to break the roots that have formed. If the germinated seed has a little bit of paper towel stuck to it, that is ok.

*As an alternative to the Tupperware, you can lay the seeds on a single layer of paper towel and make little seed packets that can be placed in zip top bags that are only closed about ½ way.

The advanced method of sprouting seeds involves making a gel. First, mix 1 cup of water with 1 teaspoon of cornstarch. Let the mix come to a boil and start to thicken. Pour the mix into a shallow bowl, a pie plate, works well too. Spread the seeds evenly over the gel and cover with plastic wrap. Place the bowl in a warm place near a window for some indirect sunlight.

As soon as the seeds start to sprout roots, it is time to plant them. Take the pie pan outside and spoon the seed, with some of the surrounding gel into a ½” deep hole and cover lightly.

If you are up for a little adventure, there is one more method of planting you can use with the gel. Pour the gel mixture into a zip top plastic bag. Pour the seeds into the gel and mix around to distribute the seeds evenly. Zip the bag about ¾ of the way shut so some air circulates. Once seeds start to germinate take the bag outside and get ready to plant. First, dig a trench about ½-3/4” deep. Then cut a slit in a corner of the bag, and slowly squeeze the gel/seed mixture into the trench. Cover lightly and voila you have planted a row of pre-sprouted seeds.

Crops that work well with pre-sprouting are cucumber, tomatoes, peas, carrots, corn, parsley, pepper, eggplant, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and beet root. Beans can be pre-sprouted, but it is best to sow them directly as they have large cotyledons full of starch, and germinating beans are extremely susceptible to cracking.

If you are growing in a greenhouse, or a backyard vegetable patch, pre-sprouting seeds can shorten your growing window by days or even weeks. In some climates, where the growing window is short for things such as corn this can mean the difference between harvesting crops or watching them die from the first frost.

Happy planting! Feel free to post pictures of your pre-sprouted seeds on our blog or our Facebook page.

With less than a month before spring, we are continuing to talk about seeds. According to the calendar spring officially starts on March 20th 2014. However, Mother Nature does not pay as close attention to the calendar as we do. In the Northern Hemisphere, the spring planting and growing season start much later than March 20th. With some people experiencing a short growing

5 Easy Ways to Grow Your Own Sprouts

Sprouts of nuts, beans, and seeds were a dietary staple for over 5,000 years and still remain so in many Southeast Asian diets. After making international headlines for recent bacterial contamination, sprouts have received increased attention. The U.S. government even has a webpage dedicated to what consumers should know regarding the safety of sprouts.

Like other produce and meats that are properly handled, sprouts can offer nutritional benefits that supplement diets. And, they are easy to grow using a variety of methods. Five popular ways to grow sprouts for consumption are using trays, soil, a jar, a hemp bag, and paper towels.

Tray sprouting

Trays are available for purchase that will make your first sprouting experience an easy one. After obtaining your tray, soak the sprout seeds overnight in a jar or bowl. Use three times as much water as seeds. Since your sprouting tray has holes at the bottom, you can simply dump the soaking seeds into the tray. Attempt to spread the seeds fairly evenly along the tray floor, but understand they will move anyway once rinsed (which you should proceed to do next).

After rinsing, assemble any other parts of your tray (cover and/or drip tray) and place in a dark spot. During this sitting period, rinse the seeds 2-4 times per day. Within a day or two, you will see some sprouts and within 5-8 days, you will see larger sprouts. Once your sprouts have some little leaves and are an optimal length for your needs, move the tray to a sunny location. In a few hours, the sprouts will green and will be ready to eat. Store uneaten portions for up to a week in the refrigerator.

Earth sprouting

Sprouts can be grown using a traditional soil method, and some feel this is the safest method due to excess moisture which may encourage bacteria or fungi. Soak your sprouts overnight in a jar, ensuring lukewarm water covers all the seeds. Fill a shallow dish or pot with some light potting soil, drain your seeds and place a layer within moist soil. Cover with more moist soil and cover the entire container with plastic wrap.

Place the container in a warm, dark spot. Sprouts will begin to appear in 3-5 days. When they are long enough, you can cut with scissors and use immediately. Uncut sprouts will continue to grow and can be harvested later.

Jar sprouting

Choose a clean jar, such as a mason jar, glass container, or pickle jar. Fill the jar with enough filtered water to cover the seeds themselves. Enclose the jar with a cheese cloth or mesh barrier (nylon stockings or an old window screen will work). If you still have the metal ring that came with a mason jar this can easily keep the cover in place. Let sit overnight; then drain the water and rinse sprouts twice per day, thoroughly draining the water after each rinse.

Keep an eye on the jar’s environment. Temperature should remain between 50-70 degrees Fahrenheit and the jar can remain in a dark spot. When the sprout grow to your preferred length, you should properly drain and clean them. Use immediately, but may be refrigerated for up to five days.

Hemp bag sprouting

Although any sprout will work, beans and grains are perfect for sprouting in hemp bags. The reason for this is that the sunshine greening step utilized in other sprouting methods isn’t practical through a hemp bag. You can either buy a hemp bag or make one yourself (see link below for instructions).

First, soak seeds overnight in a jar or bowl, making sure the water entirely covers the seeds. You’ll want to prep your bag before use, boiling it for at least five minutes. This will remove any trace fabrics. Next, pour your seeds directly from the jar into the bag, as the soaking water will filter right out. Rinse your sprouts 2-3 times per day by dunking the entire bag into water and letting it drain. After each rinse, close the bag and let it sit (you may want to put a drip tray underneath or hang it over a sink).

You get to decide when the sprouts are ready to be eaten, determined by their length and growth time. If storing in the refrigerator, you can do so directly in the bag, but make sure the bag isn’t soaked from rinsing. Best of all, your bag is reusable! Simply rinse with hot water (no soap) and hang dry.

Sprouting between paper towels

A very simple method for growing sprouts is between two paper towels. As with other methods, sprouts should be soaked in water overnight in a jar or bowl. After rising, arrange seeds thinly between two paper towels. Towels should be moistened often so as to prevent a dry environment. Once sprouting starts, simply grow to your desired length and snip with scissors to garnish salad, soups, or the main course. Be careful not to oversprout; seeds may eventually mold or stick to the paper towels.

Want to learn more about sprouting seeds?

See these resources:

Types of sprouts and uses:
Sprouting Seeds For Food from Virginia Cooperative Extension

An overview on growing sprouts:
Growing Sprouts at Home

Creative Commons Flickr photo courtesy of therealbrute, Mike Lieberman, JoshuAByrd, Kim Knoch, and Jessie Hirsch.
Morguefile photo courtesy of Irish_Eyes.

5 Easy Ways to Grow Your Own Sprouts Sprouts of nuts, beans, and seeds were a dietary staple for over 5,000 years and still remain so in many Southeast Asian diets. After making international