A lack of faith — or maybe it's just impatience — drives some gardeners to set out transplants rather than sow seeds.
But there's another option: pre-sprouting.
My faith in seeds is occasionally shaken, even when I remind myself of the eons of practice they have had sprouting in soil. Mice, for instance, can shake my faith; corn and squash seeds want to grow, but mice want to nibble away at them before they sprout. Or weather: I have worried about whether a warmth-loving seed such as okra will sprout when it's time to plant but the weather has turned unseasonably cool. And old seed, no matter what kind, never sprouts well.
In such cases, when I want to keep closer tabs on what my seeds are doing, I pre-sprout them before planting.
REASONS TO PRE-SPROUT
You can pre-sprout enough plants for a whole garden bed in one small jar. With transplants, growing that many plants would require a small greenhouse.
I only pre-sprout a few kinds of seed. I also avoid pre-sprouting fungicide-treated seeds because the extra handling that pre-sprouting requires means touching more fungicide. Not a good thing.
Pre-sprouting works well with plants that do not transplant well, such as lupines or carrots. It also might be worth doing with plants, such as peas and beans, that are not worth growing as transplants because of the paltry yield per plant. A jar of sprouting pea or bean seeds requires little space and no light.
Pre-sprouting has the advantage of getting sluggish seeds to germinate faster than they would out in the garden. Parsley, for instance, germinates very slowly; it's said to need to travel to hell and back nine times before it finally pokes up through the ground.
Pre-sprouting hastens germination because sprouting inhibitors are washed out of seeds, and because the seeds can be given nearly ideal moisture, air and temperature conditions indoors.
One more reason you might want to pre-sprout: When space is tight in the vegetable garden, something else can still be growing out there during the few days that seeds are pre-sprouting indoors.
SOAK, THEN KEEP MOIST
Large seeds are the easiest to sprout indoors. Soak them for a half a day or so in a jar of water to plump them up, then drain off the water. Rinse the seeds frequently.
Keeping the jars near the kitchen sink is a convenient reminder to rinse them a couple of times a day, or enough so they never dry out. A canning jar with a screen for a lid works well, as would any other container to which you could add and pour off water without losing the seeds.
With small seeds, spread them out after a half-day soak on a piece of paper towel, blotter paper or filter paper laid on a dish. Then cover the seeds with another piece of moist paper and some sort of a lid, such as another dish, inverted, to maintain humidity. Petri dishes are ideal for sprouting small seeds.
DON'T WAIT TOO LONG TO PLANT
Keep all these seeds warm, then get ready to plant soon after you see little white root radicles poking through their seedcoats. Be gentle to avoid damaging those delicate radicles.
Dump larger seeds onto a tray or plate to be plucked individually into waiting ground. Thoroughly mix small seeds with some dry sand or fine potting soil so that they are easier to spread along a furrow.
Water the sprouted seeds in their holes or furrows before covering them with soil. Then firm the soil in place and stand back!