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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Soaking Seed in "Fortified" Water Does Make a Difference

Q. I am new to starting my plants from seed. I read an article about soaking seed with fish or seaweed solution before planting. I am trying broccoli seeds which are small and I used water from a fish solution. Am I on the right track?

A. Yes, you are on the right track. Let’s focus on vegetable seed which are fairly easy to germinate. When seeds germinate, they first “soak up” water from its surroundings. This is called imbibition.
            Imbibition causes seed to swell or enlarge and begins all of the internal chemistry which pushes it towards germination. That is, IF the temperature is correct for that seed. By the way, imbibition does not tell you if the seed is alive. Imbibition occurs if seed is alive or dead.
            If a seed imbibes water and begins the process of germination and the seed dries out after this, living seed will die. It had its chance and failed.
            For imbibition to occur, the seed must be in contact with the water long enough for water to be absorbed. This is an important concept in the desert. If the seed comes in contact with water for five or 10 minutes, and then dries, it will not imbibe water. The seed will not germinate but it may still be alive. If this happens too many times in a row, the seed will die.
Large seed like this runner bean seed is easy to soak in water, surface dry and plant. Small seed are difficult.
            Seed must be in contact with water for a fairly long time for imbibition to occur. This is the reason I encourage gardeners who are germinating seed in the garden during the summer months to use a thin surface mulch. This surface mulch reduces evaporation from the soil and leaves soil water in contact with the seed for a longer period of time.
            The water that moves into the seed during imbibition carries with it whatever nutrients are in solution. So if you have dissolved nutrients from sea kelp or a fish solution, that water will enter the seed and provide nourishment to the seedling.
            That was a long winded answer that basically says, “Yes, the quality of the water used for germinating seed may have an impact on the growth of a seedling.” I will caution you though. You do not want a strong solution when imbibing seeds with water. If this water has a high nutrient content from the sea kelp or fish solution, it could kill the seed or damage the seedling. It is best to dilute it.
            Another word of caution. Once you retrieve these small seeds from this solution of water, they will be wet, cling together and be difficult for planting. It is much easier if they are allowed to dry before planting.
            Here is where you have to be careful. If you dry seeds too long before planting you risk the possibility they will die. If you do not wait long enough, they are difficult to plant. Allow seeds to dry on their surfaces, only, before planting. Do not let them dry further than this or you may kill the seed.
When seed first begin to germinate (left) the beginning of the root, the radicle, is the first to emerge.
            And another word of caution. If you wait too long before planting and these seeds begin to germinate, you will see a tiny projection coming from the seed. This is the beginning of a root called the radicle. It is very easy to break this radicle when you are handling the seed as you are planting. If it breaks, the seed is dead.Throw it out.

            Imbibe the seed with cool water for 24 hours. Surface dry the seed long enough so it can be planted easily and immediately plant it in warm soil.

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