Priming Seeds

By Charlie Nardozzi

Seeds of some vegetables, such as heat-loving melons and cucumbers, can fail in cool soils of early spring. One technique expert gardeners use to avoid this is to pregerminate the seeds by soaking them overnight in warm water. After this treatment, the seeds have begun to grow and are ready to be planted. Of course, they must be planted that day or they'll dry out and die.

As good as this trick is, a new twist to it -- adapted from a technique commercial growers call seed-priming -- offers improved flexibility for gardeners. It offers quick growth similar to that of pregerminated seeds, but the seeds don't need to be planted right away.

Here's how to prime melon seeds: Soak seeds in 80° F water only until the seeds swell, usually 6 to 8 hours. Remove the seeds from the water and blot them with paper towels. Let them air-dry on a tray for one day in a cool, dry place, then store them in airtight bags in the refrigerator. Not only do primed seeds germinate faster and more reliably, but they can wait a full year, refrigerated, in their state of readiness.

There are two caveats: First, if the tiny seedling root, called the radicle, emerges before seeds are dried off and refrigerated, they must be planted right away. Secondly, this technique doesn't work well with the seeds of seedless varieties of watermelons.

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