Getting seeds to germinate properly is the most difficult aspect of planting the garden. Here are some simple tips to germinate seeds successfully.
The temperature of the soil as well as the humidity has to be just right for germination—and remain so—for a period of time. Sometimes, as with carrots, this can be ten days to two weeks. Sun, wind, rain and temperature are unpredictable and can vary greatly within the course of one day. But here are some tips to germinate successfully.
Start With Good Seeds
Perhaps it goes without saying that you buy good seeds. And if you’re using old seeds, make sure you test them to ensure they are still viable. See this post on how long seeds last and how to test them easily.
Water and Oxygen
Water softens the seed coat to induce germination. And seeds simply need to get hydrated and take in a lot of water before they begin to germinate. And if you water too much and the seeds get water-logged, they’ll drown because they’re not getting oxygen to breathe! Like us, plants need oxygen! Bottom-line: Make sure they get the amount of water specified on the packet. Don’t let them dry out and don’t waterlog them.
With our raised beds, a sunny, windy, warm day can dry out this section many times in a day. I often have had to water the carrots four or five times from sunrise to sunset. Needless to say, I am quite tied to my garden during these periods (unless it rains!).
Part of getting the right amount of oxygen to breathe is planting seeds at the correct depth. If you plant a seed too deep, they can’t get the oxygen they need. Most of my little seeds live in the uppermost ¼ to ½ inch of soil. So, if your seed packet says the same, follow directions and don’t bury those seeds!
It is soil temperature (not air temperature) that controls seed germination. Most of us just go by weeks before or after frost dates (See the Almanac’s Planting Calendar). But to be truly accurate, you could insert a soil thermometer (available at garden centers) into the ground.
Most vegetable crops have a minimum germination temperature between 36 F and 60 F degrees, but there is also an optimal range. This is where the difference between cool-weather crops (spinach, lettuce, cabbage, etc.) and warm-weather crops (eggplant, cucumber, tomato, pepper) come into play. For example, parsnips will germinate best between 50 F and 70 F degrees. But eggplant will germinate best between 75 F and 90 F, tomatoes between 61 F and 86 F, and peppers between 64 F and 95 F degrees.
Now here’s a look at my garden from last spring …
Last year, I tried a trick to help germination that seemed to help. I put old sheets on top of my germinating carrots. Of course, you have to keep an eye on the bed and make sure that they aren’t “up” yet as the weight of the sheets would be hard on the emerging plants. This is what the young carrot seedlings look like …
I also have some carrots that are a little further along. I planted four rows in this bed where I really could have planted five, but this happens. So, I let an edible weed—in this case purslane—grow in the middle until it gets to a harvestable size …
Purslane is nice because it grows fast and it’s not only delicious but nutritious as well. Culpepper even thought it was useful for the treatment of fevers and inflammation. When you are getting it ready to steam, be sure to clean it carefully. Little bits of dirt like to hide where the stems come together. Steam until the consistency that you like (crunchy or soft), toss with butter and unrefined sea salt and yum!
Germinating Swiss Chard and Beans
In this bed, I planted Swiss chard. The first planting did not come up evenly, but I replanted it to fill in as you can see.
The beans are also just coming up. I’ve already placed their climbing poles as they have tendrils that can catch onto the stakes and climb up on their own.
Germinating Broccoli and Onions
The broccoli came in very well. I have way too many plants in their bed, but I’m not going to thin them just yet.
We’ve had too many days of cold rain here and my peppers and tomatoes are looking a bit dismal. I’m sure that some of them will be okay, but if they start rotting, it may be a super-big broccoli year….
Onions and other plants that can’t shade their own soil need quite a bit of weeding. If the soil isn’t too wet, I often loosen it with my fork to get all of the roots of the weeds. There is an old Chinese saying, “When weeding in the garden, be sure to get all of the root.” Once the bed is weeded, I re-water it as the roots of the crop need to be settled down.
I hope these tips on germinating seedlings help give perspective as you start your own garden!