Sprouting and planting
My preferred method of seed sprouting is the wet paper towel method. Take six sheets of white (non-printed) paper towel and fold them to a roughly five by six inch square (about 24 layers thick). Soak this square pad in pure water and place the seeds in the center fold, with twelve layers both above and below. Keep the pad wet and the seeds will usually sprout in one to ten days. (On some occasions I've had seeds take up to two weeks to sprout, so be patient!)
I have found the ideal temperature for sprouting most seeds to be around average room temperature (70-78?F or 21-25?C) . Though higher temperatures may hasten the sprouting time, the heat will also increase mold, fungus and bacteria levels. So keep a watchful eye open in a warmer situation.
One more bit of advice concerns certain seeds which do not want to release from their shell. The seeds will sprout, the sprout will grow root, and it transplants fine. However the seed shell does not come off of the sprout on its own. The shell seems to harden on the head of the sprout, eventually causing its death if not properly dealt with.
I've found that these rare anomalies need help in shedding their shell or sheath in order to survive. It takes a very gentle yet firm hand to remove the shell without damaging or killing the plant. Under the shell is a thin sheath that may also need coaxing to get off. Again, practice is the best guide for this skill.
I would also like to point out that though this phenomenon is rare,the plants that develop from these stubborn sprouts are usually very desirable. So it is worth the effort, especially if breeding is intended with the sprouts.
Roots and planting pots
At first, the seeds crack open along their seam and send out a white root. I like to wait for the root to grow an inch or two before transplanting the sprouts to soil (while keeping the paper towel pad continuously moist with water until this time). When I do set the sprouts to soil, I like to bury them right up to the head of the plant so the head is right at the soil level. It is important to gently water and feed the sprouts from this point on so as not to disturb the new roots too much. I have found the common turkey-baster to be of great value for this purpose.
The method of planting into soil that I use is very basic and simple to understand. I like to use small, two to four inch pots. A great substitute for planting pots are the sixteen to twenty-four ounce disposable plastic drink cups. These cups can be bought cheaply in bulk amounts at any discount or grocery store. They will each need five or more drainage holes to be added to their bottom, this can easily be done with an electric drill and a quarter to a three-eights inch drill bit. Stacking ten to twenty cups at a time will hasten this process.
The cup or pot is filled with the soil mix, usually a high nitrogen variety for sprouts, and the soil is gently yet thoroughly tapped and shaken down to fill all vacant spaces equally. The soil level should end up to be two-thirds to three quarter of the cup or pot capacity. In other words, there should be an adequate space between the top of the soil and the top of the cup or pot. This is to allow for more soil to be added later as the main stem grows. Once the soil is sufficiently tapped down to at least two-thirds full, it is time to moisten it.
Grow flats and turkey basters
I'll put anywhere from one to two dozen cups or pots per standard grow flat (or tray). Next, I'll fill the appropriate sized bucket or container with the water/nutrient mix. The common turkey-baster is once again the best tool available to evenly soak all of the cups or pots. Larger operations may require some kind of pump and tubing device to aid in the watering.
If the grow flat and all of the pots are relatively clean, then any excess solution may be re-used until all of the soil is at its fullest saturation point. Just prior to this saturation point, I like to use a standard chopstick to poke a hole, as deep as the sprout roots are long, into the middle of the soil. Into each hole more nutrient solution is added to fully soak the medium and prepare it for the sprout. Once the entire flat is ready, it's time to begin the planting process.
Take one sprout at a time from the paper towel, handling it as gently as possible by the stem just below the sprout head, and transfer it to the moist, pre-made hole in the soil. Carefully guide the root tip all the way down the hole, using the chopstick if necessary. Be certain that the root tip is pointing down and not curved up in what is called a J root. J root may be fatal to the sprout.
Once the sprout is situated in its hole, the root is running down the hole and the sprout head is above and as near to the soil level as possible, the soil may be gently packed around the sprout stem to hold it firmly in place.
Water and soil
Next, the sprouts will need to be watered. Despite the fact that the soil is saturated to its maximum capacity, this first watering helps stabilize the root in the soil. This again is gently and carefully done using the turkey baster (or whatever gentle watering device is available) as a watering tool. Once the sprouts are adequately set in the moisture-saturated soil, they will not need watering again until after the soil dries a little.
It is also important not to leave any standing water in the grow flat. The turkey baster is also useful for sucking the excess water from the bottom of the grow flat, to help hasten its dry time. The baster is handy for the first few waterings, when a gentle touch is still beneficial.
In one to two weeks, the healthy sprouts will stretch and grow up over the top of the cup or pot. It is after this time that more soil may be added to help give the sprout more stability and root room. This tip helps deal with the problem of spindly plants by giving them more base support during their early development. This step also promotes and stimulates adequate root growth. New roots will sprout and grow from the soil-covered stem in a week or two.
Hydroponic sprouting is as simple as placing a seed in a rockwool cube or fiber pellet and keeping it moist. The seeds will sprout and root automatically in this porous and nutrient-rich medium. Tying the plants up to stakes will be the only way to deal with stretched or spindly growth in the hydroponic system.
Hydro transplanting is also quite simple. The pellet is placed in a larger rockwool cube or gravel medium and the roots grow quickly into the new material. Hydro systems often need extra supports, such as stakes or poles to hold the top-heavy, weak stemmed plants up.
Transplanting becomes necessary when the roots outgrow the medium. This is evident by checking one or two of the average plants roots. When the white root wad is becoming entwined, growing among itself and beginning to turn brown, it is time to transplant. Special care needs to be taken when transplanting into larger containers to avoid as much trauma as possible.
I like to transplant when the root system is semi-dry, a day or two before a usual watering. The medium in the larger container should be saturated to its maximum density with nutrient-rich water. The semi-dry rootwad is placed firmly into the saturated fresh medium, and the rest of the space in the larger pot is filled with fresh, semi-moist medium. Ideally, the fresh medium will cover the old soil level by a bit, and the loose soil is gently packed into place throughout.
I like to gently shake the soil fully into place and level the soil top by hand. As with the original planting, the fresh transplant is completely watered to its saturation point. New roots will quickly and eagerly find their way into the fresh, new medium, and accompanying growth will develop in the plant.