Tricks For Handling Small Seeds

David Trammel's picture

In a couple of months it will be time to seed start my early Spring crops. What are your tricks for handling very small seeds?

I often use 1" wide strips of paper towel, kept moist in tupperware in a dark cabinet over the stove (for the warmth) to germinate them. Especially for older seeds that might have lower germination rates. Then carefully use a folded bit of paper as a funnel to put them on the towel. Once they germinate, then cut the towel into 1" squares and plant.

Recently I saw someone suggest mixing small seeds with sand, then putting the mix into a salt shaker. You could just sprinkle the mix over the towel, or over seed starter pots.

kma's picture

I don't have a solution to this but will try your method in the spring. I've always had more seeds than I could use so go for the sprinkle as best as I can method and then thin and give away extras. Your way is much better for saving resources.

Interesting idea. I've never tried the salt shaker thing, or cutting up the paper towel. Given that I do chit carrot seeds, I should try this.

Thrifty1's picture

I've been trying to grow parsnips for several years, because I love them. But have never managed to get them to germinate, until this spring I tried sprouting the seeds on damp kitchen towel in a plastic take-away food container on top of my floor-mounted boiler. Once I saw the little white roots appear, I transferred them to into the soil, dropping them into prepared holes about 6" apart. Sadly only about 3 of them survived - I suspect they didn't like being detached from the kitchen towel, never mind the temperature shock - I should have let them acclimatise for a few hours first. It never occurred to me to tear the kitchen towel up & leave them on it - I just threw it away! So you've given me the missing piece of the puzzle there - I'll report back next year, but all other things being more or less equal, I bet I get rather more than 3 parsnips!

Commercial parsnip seed is very hard to start and to further complicate the matter, the seed doesn't last very long, a couple of years at most. Depending on where you get your seed, it could already be that old and perhaps older. As a way to get fresh seed, I would suggest that if you get some to grow in your garden, leave one of the parsnips in the ground and let it flower and produce seed the following year. Parsnip is very productive of seed and you will find that if you plant this fresh seed the year after that, they will sprout wonderfully and quickly. At least that has been my experience. I have also thought, but haven't tried this, that it might be possible to make a perennial bed of parsnips as the seed you miss that falls to the ground will germinate and sprout on it's own very readily.

Naturally to get fresh seed, you will need to do this exercise every other year or so and not only will you get loads of fresh seed, but you will be developing your own land race of parsnip seeds.

I saved seeds from some (5-10) parsnips I left too long in the ground last year. They were from someone else who'd saved seeds. I got a lot of seed off them, and will be giving some of it away locally next year.

Parsnips are outcrossing insect pollinated plants. If you want viable seed you a) need more than 1 plant for decent pollination and seed set, and b) if you want to do this without inbreeding depression setting in a few generations, you'll want a minimum number of plants. I'm not sure what that number is. If I save seeds again from this lot, I should probably start paying more attention to that.

David Trammel's picture

Thrifty, I was having very poor luck with starting them in soil/seed pots. I was doing some microgreen experiments at the same time, so I tried using the paper towel for a medium on them. Had about 1 out of 20 germinate. When I first tried to separate them from the towel, I broke roots so then I just cut out the area the seed that started was, then planted that towel and all in a seed pot. That seemed to do better.