If you find yourself with or without a long growing season, learning how to germinate seeds can be of benefit to you.
This step-by-step tutorial includes two more methods beyond using a damp paper towel to take less time between the day you plant and the long-awaited day when you’ll be putting homegrown food on your table.
Listen in to the full episode (#175) of the Pioneering Today Podcast, where we don’t just inspire you, but give you the clear steps to create the homegrown garden, pantry, kitchen and life you want for your family and homestead.
How To Get The Most Out Of Your Summer Vegetable Garden
When you think of a big, summer, vegetable garden planted full of squash, tomatoes, lettuce, peas, and beans, you generally think of all of those things being planted at the same time.
We tend to think of planting and growing these crops together, and that leads to waiting until the last frost date has passed before putting anything in the ground.
However, when you practice seed germination and a few other tips listed below, vegetable gardening can be taken to a whole new level of success.
What Is Seed Germination?
A simple definition of seed germination is when the seed sprouts and begins to grow. Check out my step-by-step seed starting post or this informational post on cold seed stratification to learn more about the science behind seed germination and how to do both.
Germination rate is basically the percentage of seeds that sprout out of the total number of seeds of a specific crop that you plant. So if you plant 10 tomato seeds and all of them sprout, then you have a 100% germination rate.
However, if you plant 10 seeds and only seven of them sprout and grow into plants, then that's only a 70% germination rate. Simple enough, right?
What Do Seeds Need To Germinate?
A common question asked is “Do seeds need sunlight to germinate?” The germination process actually requires no sunlight. It is not until the sprout breaks the surface and begins to photosynthesize that sunshine is required. Therefore, seeds need just three elements to germinate.
- Water – Consistent moisture allows the seed to swell and start the chemical process beginning the growth.
- Oxygen – The seeds need oxygen so they can have the energy for growth.
- Temperature – Warm and cool temperatures speed up and slow down seed growth. This process helps to break down the seed coating which sends the message that it’s time to start growing.
How Long Does It Take For Seeds To Germinate?
As far as germination time is concerned, some seeds have a longer germination period than others. Some seeds will germinate in 3-4 days, but others take 10-14 days.
Sometimes, we get in a hurry! Who wants to wait 10-14 days if you can speed up the process and have the seeds germinate faster?
If you have ideal conditions, learn how to germinate seeds, and have good germination rates, you’ll be able to harvest sooner. You’ll also have a longer growing season which can mean more production and higher yields.
Supplies Needed for Germinating Seeds
Direct Sow Method
- Seeds – Any large seed with a thick coating (such as beans, peas, corn, and radishes) will benefit from germination prior to planting. It takes them longer to rehydrate and germinate. For really tiny seeds like carrots and lettuce, pre-soaking is unnecessary.
- Water – Do not expose seeds to heat that is higher than 95°F. Soaking seeds allows them to fully rehydrate since they are dry from storage.
- Cup or Tray – The size will depend on how many seeds you have. They will need enough room to spread out in a single layer.
Indoor Seedling Method #1
- Seed Tray – A tray with individual cells helps to keep the seedlings supported and separated.
- Potting Soil – Well draining potting mix is best when starting seeds indoors.
- Heated Seed Mat – Grow lights can also be used.
Indoor Seedling Method #2
- Paper Towels – Paper towels will need to be moist, but not dripping wet.
- Plastic Bags – A zip top bag works best.
How To Germinate Seeds – Tips For Faster Germination
When direct sowing vegetable seeds into garden soil, you will need to wait until the soil temperature is 60°F.
How to Germinate Seeds for Direct Sowing
Soaking seeds before you plant them speeds up the process of breaking down the seed coating and allows them to germinate faster. This, however, is not a required step.
The planted seeds will germinate in the garden soil under natural circumstances, but if you want to know how to germinate seeds quickly, this is it:
- Place seeds in a cup or tray of warm water. (Make sure the water is warm, not hot).
- Soak them for 8-16 hours right before planting.
How to Germinate Seeds for Indoor Starts
Seeds can be germinated inside in a controlled environment. Depending on what growing zone you live in, some plants NEED to be started indoors because the growing season isn’t long enough to allow them to reach maturity outside.
Pepper and tomato seeds are commonly sown and germinated inside. Two germination methods are:
- Using a seed tray, fill each cell with seed-starting potting soil mix.
- Press seeds into the soil and put the seed tray on a heat mat or under grow lights.
- Moisten a paper towel and place seeds on half of the towel.
- Cover the seeds with the other half of the paper towel.
- Place the paper towels inside a plastic bag and keep it in a dark room at room temperature until you see sprouting seeds.
Germination Tips To Maximize Harvest
- Plant Cooler Weather Crops Early – Another way to speed up the process is to plant cooler weather crops early. This will depend on the outside temperatures, but as long as you keep an eye on the night-time temperature, you can push the envelope a bit and plant them early. They will be growing and producing earlier and giving you fresh food for your table. Examples of plants that can go in early are kale, a few lettuce varieties, Brussel sprouts, onion sets, radishes, and snow peas.
- Check the Weather Forecast – I know I know, the weather forecast isn't always 100% accurate. It can be a tool to help know when to plant those cooler crops, though. In the early spring, warm and sunny during the day can mean clear skies at night, which means I'm going to be having some frost. But the soil temperature will get really warm during the day, which is perfect for planting those cold-weather crops. I can soak my seeds overnight in warm water and then plant them out late in the morning when the sun is out warming the soil. Then, once I plant them, they're going to have all day in that nice heated, warm soil, and be able to withstand a frost during the night.
- Create Warm Pockets And Microclimates – For seeds that need to be directly sown in their permanent spot, or to get a jump start on starting warm weather seeds indoors and then transplanting them outside, create warm pockets and microclimates to encourage germination. A greenhouse, high tunnel, or using row covers in the garden is a great way to create this space.
More Posts You Might Enjoy
- Where to Buy Heirloom Seeds – Heirloom, Hybrid & GMO Differences
- Cold Stratification of Seeds – Why & How
- The Ultimate Seed Starting Guide
- What Are the Best Seed Starting Containers
- Potting Up Seedlings & How to Separate Seedlings
- Direct Sow Your Garden Seed
- How to Grow Food YEAR ROUND Using Covers (Hot & Cold Weather)
- Seed Packet Information – How to Read Seed Packets for Gardening Success