You’re tired of waiting and waiting and waiting for carrot, parsnip or parsley seeds to sprout (they can take up to 3 weeks when sown directly in the garden)? Or they simply don’t come up at all or only here and there (usually because the soil was too moist, too dry, too hot or too cold)? If so, try pre-sprouting them. Safely indoors, under controlled conditions, you can give the seeds the stable warmth and humidity they want and avoid Mother Nature’s volatility.
True, it’s an extra step, but in return it shaves a week to two weeks off the time to harvest, improves germination (by about a third), eliminates all need for thinning and helps fragile seedlings avoid pests and diseases. But you do need a good eye: reading glasses may come in very handy!
I remember a few years back when none of the other gardeners in my community garden had any luck with carrots that year: for whatever the reason, the garden-sown carrots just didn’t come up in spite of repeated attempts. Wasn’t I smug with my boundless supply of healthy carrot plants I had pre-sprouted!
One Technique Among Many
There must be dozens of techniques for pre-sprouting (also called priming) carrot seeds (and, I repeat, their relatives parsnip and parsley). Some people even paste them to strips of toilet paper before they prime them, strips that can then be used as seed tape, but that’s a hassle. Here’s what I do:
1. Place a baking rack in the bottom of the kitchen sink.
2. Take a paper towel and cut or fold it so it’ll fit into a zip-lock bag.
3. Place the paper towel on the rack.
4. Lightly spread carrot, parsnip or parsley seeds on the towel.
4. Rapidly pour boiling water over the seeds. Yes, boiling! No, it won’t hurt the seeds, as the heat won’t have time to penetrate, but it will soften the hard cuticle that covers the seeds and slows their germination.
5. You’ll need to allow the excess water to drain away, so let the paper towel sit for 15 minutes or so, until it’s slightly moist, not dripping wet.
6. Carefully insert the paper with the seeds on it into a zip-lock bag, then seal it.
7. Lay the sealed bag on a heating mat designed for seed sowing or somewhere warm (about 70 to 80 °F/21 to 27 °C). The spot can be in moderate light or in darkness, but never in full sun, where it could get too hot.
8. When you see the first signs of sprouting (usually in about 3 days), just a bit of white showing, use tweezers or a pencil tip to carefully to move the seeds to the garden, spacing them about 2 to 3 inches/5 to 8 cm apart, barely covering them with soil.
9. Water thoroughly but carefully (use the rose attachment on your watering can or set the hose nozzle to “spray” to break up the force of the water) and keep moist.
The seedlings will be up and growing vigorously in just a few days.
This method works with both early spring sowing and successive sowings in summer.