Pre-sprouting, or pre-germinating, is an easy and inexpensive way of maximizing your plant growing success. By pre-sprouting your seeds before you put them into soil you rid yourself that pesky wait time between sowing the seeds and seeing them sprout---which often feels like it's taking forever and can lead to you forgetting about the future plant altogether.
Pre-sprouting is also a great way to see if the old seeds you have laying around are still good. All seed packets come with an expiration date, but that doesn't mean that packet of seeds from 2009 won't germinate. Some seeds are harder to germinate, like Pink Bananas, or hot peppers (Ghost Peppers are said to be tough, I'm currently working on it). So Pre-sprouting your tougher seeds will save you a lot of time, energy, and money. I bought Ghost Pepper seeds at $5/10 seeds.
Using this technique, your seeds could begin sprouting in 24-48 hours, a lot faster than the 7-14 days listed on many seed packets.
Step 1: Materials
Paper towel or coffee filter
Heating pad (optional)
Sharpie (or whatever you prefer for labeling)
Seed Starting Soil
Step 2: The Bag
Identify which seeds you want to sprout first and then set up the baggies with your labels. I tend to include the date I started the pre-germination, the type of vegetable, and how many seeds I'm germinating. Labeling first helps me stay organized.
The purpose of the plastic baggy is to keep the seeds and paper towel moist, eliminating the need to water the seed.
Step 3: The Paper
Moisten your paper towel or coffee filter with water. You don't want it dripping, too much water can promote mold growth. Put your seeds on the paper and then fold the paper over.
The first picture shows Aeropress paper filters, the second regular paper towel. I also started some seeds with regular coffee filters, but I think I forgot to take a picture.
I'm doing succession planting this year, which is why I'm only using 2-3 seeds per vegetable.
Step 4: The Bag Returns
Place your seeds in their respective baggies and gently press the air out. Now some people say to press the air from the bag and then seal it. Some people say not to seal it. Others say to seal it, but don't press the air out. I've tried all of these and I haven't noticed a difference. I think what makes the biggest difference in the pre-germinating process is setting up your seeds and germinating them at the right temperature. Tomatoes that need 80 degrees to germinate are not going to if the temperature is 70.
Whatever bag closing method you chose, make sure to put it in a warm area (or on top of a heating pad) and keep out of direct sunlight.
Step 5: The Wait...
Some seeds will sprout quicker than others so make sure you are checking your bags daily. Along with evidence of sprouting, you want to make sure the paper towel doesn't try out and you want to make sure no fuzzies or evidence of mold is growing.
I don't recommend using Aeropress filters as they seemed to attract mold right away and out of the 5 different seeds I set up, only the Sun Gold Tomatoes sprouted and were mold free.
Paper towel and regular coffee filters are much more successful and didn't give me any mold problems. They also stayed moist longer than the Aeropress filters.
Step 6: Germination!
The seeds pictured are all tomatoes and it only took 2 days for them to germinate. Now, they need to be transplanted into soil to continue growing into seedlings (also to avoid decay).
Moving the seed to their transplant container needs to be done as carefully as possible to minimize shock or damaging the teeny sprout. If you accidentally break the root, the sprout will die.
Step 7: Transplant
Carefully transfer each sprout into its transplant pot. I'm using paper rolls (instructable coming) that are filled with seed starting mix. Each sprout goes into the mix, root down.
If your sprout started growing into the paper towel (as one of my Roma seeds, first picture) simply cut around it and then transplant it into soil paper and all.
Keep your sprouts warm and moist, but avoid watering the plant directly or over-water. You can continue seedling growth under a light or in a windowsill in a warm area.