Seed Starting Method

Seed Starting for the Strongest, Healthiest Plants for Your Climate 
This works well for tomatoes, peas, beans, corn, squash, melons and cucumbers.  I use it mostly for tomatoes as I'm trying to breed fast germinating tomato seeds with the strongest roots and resistance.  It allows me to see and select plants by the strongest roots, instead of the best top growth.
It does not work well with very small seeds or delicate seedlings like herbs, strawberries, etc.

1.   Put your seeds in a sprouter.  Varieties need to be separated and labeled.  I prefer a vertical, multi-tray sprouter like Victorios. 

2.   Rinse the seeds once a day with hot tap water. The first time you use the Victorio sprouter, it will drain very slowly for a couple of weeks, then it will drain normally.  After the first 12 hours, I speed up the draining by tilting the trays.  You don't want your seeds sitting in water after they've soaked 12 hours.

3.   Store the sprouter on a countertop, shelf or table – not in the sun.  I have tried covering them with a towel to see if they'd sprout earlier and did not find a discernible difference. 

4.   Don’t touch the sprouts, you want to handle them as little as possible. 

5.   The sprouts are strong enough to transplant when they are about 1-4” long, depending on variety, and when they look like a plant. They should have green growth or leaves and a white root.  The smaller they are when transplanted, the more care you need to take that they don't get too wet or dry until they have matured.

6.   Only plant the best, strongest looking plants.  These will be the ones that germinated first, and are the healthiest.  Compost or eat the others. 

7.   Use natural, biodegradable pots like newspaper or coconut coir pots that you can plant directly into the ground without disturbing the plant.
8.   How to make a newspaper pot:  Do not use the shiny newspaper pages, the finish is not food grade.  Wrap ½ or a full, folded newspaper page around a cylinder shaped glass or vase in the height and diameter you want.  A cut PVC pipe is my current favorite.  Wrap it with the excess paper on the open end leaving at least an inch of the cylinder showing on the closed end.  Twist the excess paper gently and tuck it into the open end of the glass.  Pull the cylinder out and fill your paper pot with potting soil and a sprout!   

9.   Place your paper pots in a tray so that you can fill it with water and bottom water the plants.  Bottom watering encourages strong root growth and avoids molds and fungi that can grow on the top of your soil and the plant when it’s too wet.  You may want to water from the top once right after you transplant.  Group the same varieties together and keep them labeled. 

10.  Place the trays in the sun, they need light and warmth at this point.  A South facing window works well, I built shelves into a couple of mine.  

11.  The plants should be at least 6-10” tall, depending on variety, before planting outside.  They can be bigger, you don’t want them to blossom prior to planting though. 

12.  You are going to select only the best, strongest plants for producing and planting outside.  You need to harden off your plants properly before planting or they will have a low survival, health and production rate.   This is where you need to baby your plants a bit.  Hardening off involves slowly exposing your plants to the environment they will be planted in.  You will want to start with daytime, take the plants outside for 1-2 hours, then bring them back inside.  Do this each day, increasing by 1-2 hours each time until they have been out all day.  Watch your plants carefully and back off if they are distressed.  If the weather changes significantly, back off.  Then harden them off at night until you can keep them outside, in the environment in which they will be planted, at least 24 hours without distress.  

13.  Plant into loose soil.  The paper cannot be higher than the soil level, so tear off the top of your paper pot until it is level or below the soil level. Your paper or coconut pots may fall apart a bit when you plant, that’s ok, plant them still in the pot to avoid handling them. 

14.  As your plant produces, mark the best of the first fruits to save the seed from – don’t eat them, I know, you can’t wait any longer!  Saving the first fruits preserves the trait of early germination in your plants.

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