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Germinating Seeds in Paper Towel

Garden season (as well as farming season) is upon us and if you haven't already started planning you garden or farm... it is time to get planning! (And why not use the Fantastic Farm & Garden Calculator or the Grow Your Own CSA tool suite to help you get the most out of your farm or garden?) As part of your planning and getting ready to start growing, some of you may want to start your own seedlings.

One easy way to germinate seeds is in a paper towel. How long does it take to germinate seeds in a paper towel? For more visual folks like myself, the this video gives a good overview of starting seeds in paper towels. One thing I'd suggest is to not use a sealable ziplock bag as she does, but if you do, don't zip it shut.

To start, moisten a paper towel and wring it out so it is damp, not wet. Then spread the seeds out evenly, then sandwich with another moist towel. As the video mentions, a four inch square piece is a nice size and will easily slip into a plastic sandwich bag. Fold the towel and put it in a plastic bag.

Next you'll want to keep the seeds in a slightly warm (generally 65-75 degrees is good for most plants) area until they germinate. I've heard some who set them on top of their refrigerator, some even mention setting them on top of their hot water heater. if you're starting a lot of seeds, you could set them in a cooler (ice chest type) and rig a low wattage light bulb inside to give off the heat. With this method I'd usually partly cover the top of the cooler to keep some of the heat in, but not cover it all the way.

Depending on the variety of seed (check what is specified on the seed packet), germination should start within a week or even days. As soon as the seed breaks and new growth begins, place in moist soil. For very small seeds, you can just lay the sprouts on the surface (or refer to seed packet instructions), for larger seeds bury according to the packages instructions. If you've followed these guidelines and your seeds are not germinating in the paper towel after the specified number of days, they may be too old and you'll need to start again.

{ 6 comments… add one }
  • Bubs February 2, 2011, 6:01 pm

    Do you have to re-moisten the paper towel while you are waiting for germination?

  • admin February 2, 2011, 8:41 pm

    I’ve usually had the seeds germinate before the paper towel dried out, but you will want to keep an eye on them. If they seem to be drying out to quickly I’d recommend slipping them out of the plastic bag and using a spray mister bottle (set to a fine mist) to dampen them a bit more. Again, you don’t want to get them too wet.

  • dude February 15, 2011, 9:50 am

    i rolled mine in a paper towel and set them out in a plate. this gives the seeds room to grow. i also keep the seeds wet until the germinate

  • Trevor September 27, 2012, 5:32 am

    When the seeds sprout do you plant the complete seed under soil including the ”root”

  • admin September 27, 2012, 3:47 pm

    Hi Trevor, yes, at our pilot study farm, HeartEye Village CSA, we germinate our basil, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant this way. When we transplant the sprout to a soil medium we bury it at the depth specified on the seed packet.

  • ellen March 30, 2013, 11:26 am

    I have seeds from Arizona, was told they were Desert Daisies. They are two years old. After they germinate should I put them in soil, and how deep?

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