The DTE Notebook for the Urban Organic Vegetable, Herb & Flower Gardener

Article and photos by Rob Danforth

Seeds have all they need within them to germinate without any soil or potting mix. Just add water, darkness, and warmth, and growth will begin! You can then discard the dead, and plant the living ones in seed pots.

This is especially useful if you have seeds of uncertain age; although the dates differ depending on the vegetable, herb, or flower, all seed has a “best-before” date. Why waste space and time nurturing seeds that may fail to germinate?

Start a selection of seeds on a wet paper towel sandwich: a tray, a wet paper towel base, seeds sprinkled, a wet paper towel to cover, and an hard cover or a plastic wrap over all to slow moisture loss. Make sure the cover is loose or has air holes, because some air exchange is necessary.

Place the tray in a warmish, darkish place for 10 days and keep towels moist at all times – no drying out, but also no swimming pools. On top of the refrigerator out of the light has worked for us every time.

If this is a first time, be sure to identify the seeds in some way: mark the paper towel before wetting or make notes or a map. Seeds could also be laid out in a pattern, or confined to a marked section or quadrant.

After 10 days, plant the seedlings in seed pots with potting mix. Caution: if the roots have penetrated the paper towel – and some certainly will – do not tear them from the paper towel or the roots will break. Scissor around them and plant the roots with the small piece of paper towel still attached.

Note: most seeds are solo, however, be aware that some “seeds” (e.g., chard, beets) are actually seed cases with more than one seed in each case. Do not break them open. Test the viability of the case as if it is just one seed.

Special note: fun to do with children! Let them be the guardians and let them check often for moisture. They will be tempted to peek under the top towel; encourage them to do so, but carefully, in case a seed root has penetrated the top paper towel and also to prevent the different seeds from shifting about and mixing. If there is only one kind of seed, then no worries!

Happy seed testing! This way, you (or a child) could plant and nurture only viable seed in each seed pot!