Seed Germination 101
How you germinate your seeds depends on what kind of seedlings you’re after. The two seed types are those needing stratification, and those not needing stratification. Stratification is the process of tricking a seed into thinking it’s survived the winter and it’s time to grow. Fortunately the majority of seeds don’t need any trickery to sprout.
Germinating Regular Seeds
There are a number of methods, depending on your growing technique and area.
1. The wet paper towel method
This method is a favorite among beginners and experienced growers alike. Place your seeds in a moist paper towel, and store it in a plastic bag in a warm area. I like to label my germination bags and place them on my growing lights to keep warm. Check them daily and depending on the species you’ll see germination anywhere from 3-21 days. When the roots begin popping through the seed’s shell, carefully remove the seedling and place it into your growing medium of choice. This is a great technique for expensive or rare seeds, like Coffee or Blueberries.
2. Rock wool method
Rock wool is a cheap medium for hydroponics. It’s (literally) a wool-like product made from grinding rocks down to a fibrous consistency. The enormous surface area of the medium allows it to stay moist for a week or more. To germinate in rock wool, place your seeds between layers of the wool, and place it into a net pot and into a hydroponic reservoir. Make sure the bottom of the medium touches the water to continue wicking moisture to the seeds. This method is about as fast as the paper-towel method.
3. Sowing into soil
The old fashioned way is to just bury the seeds into moist soil and wait. Some growers growing certain species will scatter the seeds without burying them, and let nature take her course. This is a good method for plants with a large amount of very small seeds, like Poppies. If you’re growing a large crop outdoors this is probably your best bet. This can be done in any growing medium that holds moisture. Some growers throw them into perlite, vermiculite, etc. I wouldn’t recommend this unless you have tons of it lying around.
Germinating Seeds Requiring Stratification
There are two ways to produce viable fruiting plants if your seeds require subtle trickery.
1. Stratification through refrigeration.
This is similar to the paper-towel method, but instead of a moist paper towel, we use moist soil in the germination bag. The bag is placed in a refrigerator and the seed sleeps soundly thinking its the long, cold Winter months. Depending on the species, you can expect to see germination in any number of months. Some require the seed to be removed and warmed up to make it think it’s spring. Google the specific stratification times for your variety of plant.
2. Buy stratified seeds!
After two months of waiting for my peach pits to sprout, I decided this is the best route. Stratified seeds cost a bit more, but considering the wait time it’s well worth it. We currently carry stratified seeds for both American Ginseng and Highbush Blueberries in the shop!
All things considered, unless you’re growing huge crops you should use the paper towel method. It’s how most of us started, and how most of us will continue germinating.