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Garden Journal

Seeds benefit from a good soak

By Paul Barbano | Jan 22, 2014
Nasturtium seeds benefit from a good soak.  Soaking seeds before planting, you speed up the amount of time it takes for a seed to germinate.

I want spring to come faster, so I potted up some nasturtium seeds.  Before I sowed the seeds I decided to soak them. Soaking seeds can shorten the time they take to sprout.

A long soak doesn’t sound too bad for the gardener either on a winter day. A soak, an aspirin and a tale of an uncle’s gift to a nephew he had not met.

As for aspirin, as part of war reparations in the 1919 Treaty of Versailles following Germany’s surrender after World War I, aspirin (along with heroin) was no longer a registered trademark in France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Aspirin joined a legion of once trademarked names to become a free generic name.

Soak and relax, and for seeds, soak and germinate.

Seeds benefit from a good soak.  Soaking seeds before planting speeds up the amount of time it takes for a seed to germinate. In a process called imbition, seeds have to take up water before they will trigger germination. A good rule of thumb is to soak large seeds such as nasturtiums, beans, peas, corn, melons and squash in water for six to no more than 24 hours; then sow immediately. Many small seeds are slow to germinate, and most need to be sown close to the soil surface.  To get better luck with even small seeds, try soaking before planting.  The tiny seeds of carrots, parsley, beets and spinach can soak for the same six to 24 hours as large seeds.  After soaking, carefully strain them, pat the seeds dry for easier handling, and plant them immediately.

In addition to soaking in a nice bath, some very large seeds or seeds with unusually hard coats need scarification before soaking. Scarification is damaging the seed coat so the water can penetrate the seed. The hibiscus and true mallow (Malvaceae), morning glory and moon vine (Convolvulaceae) all benefit from scarification before soaking. You can rub the seed on fine-grain sandpaper, or on larger, hard-coated seeds try chipping the seed coat with a knife. For stubborn seeds, you can crack the seed coat with very gentle hits from a hammer wrapped in a towel.

What to soak?  How about an old-fashioned cowpea from Italy. One large seed you can indeed soak before planting is the Italian Black Cowpea (Vigna unguiculata) from Seed Savers Exchange. This easy-to-grow family heirloom was brought from Sicily around 1900 by the Santangelo family of Massachusetts.  Many use it for a dry winter soup bean.

You can harvest the tender young pods of Italian Black Cowpea to steam them like  string beans but accompanied by tomato sauce.

Seeds are pure jet black that grow into semi-vining plants with dark green foliage topped with purple flowers. The pods start out dark purple, fading to just purple on the tips when the seeds are fully expanded. Soak the large seeds for 24 hours before planting them.

Soak your seeds now and plant them immediately in pots or remember to soak them in the spring just before planting. Have a winter soup of Italian Black Cowpeas.

And soak yourself in herbs such as rosemary in a hot tub.

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