Agriculture can feel like a miracle.
You take a cold, hard, tiny thing – a seed – and with the right conditions you can unlock its potential to grow into a flourishing life form.
Of course, it’s not just a miracle. It’s science! And learning how to seed and germinate effectively is one of the foundational keys to building a successful hydroponic operation.
We’ve learned a lot about how to do this well (and how not to do it) over the past few decades. Here’s some of the most important lessons and frequently asked questions about seeding!
Should I seed by hand or use a tool to automate the process?
First of all, this is a very individual choice – unique to every farm and farmer. There are some fairly large growers that use hand seeding effectively!
However, the crucial thing is that it isn’t always just about a personal preference. It should be based on a clear analysis of cost and value. How much time and effort goes into manually seeding at your farm? How much do you have to pay for that labor? Or – how much does it take away from other important greenhouse tasks? In the context of your overall budget, there should be a clear number where you know how much the seeding process costs you, and whether or not an investment in automation would be worth it.
A Vacuum Seeder is the first step up in terms of automation. These can cost about $1000. Like a lot of commercial hydroponic equipment, it can sound like an expensive investment. But if you’re spending much more than that in labor costs annually, then it is an investment well worth making! Hand seeding a standard 1020 tray might take about 4-5 minutes per 1020 flat. With a vacuum seeder, the same vacuum seeder would take less than a minute.
Beyond this, there are even more expensive and efficient options, like a Vacuum Drum Seeding Line. These systems can seed multiple trays per minute. All you have to do is feed trays into a machine that seeds them, waters them, and spits them out ready for germination. It’s big budget item, costing thousands of dollars! But it can be a huge time saver for large operations.
For most commercial operations, the initial expense of seeding automation usually quickly pays for itself. But we always recommend making sure you know the best decision for you!
Should I Use Pelleted, or Raw Seeds?
This is an easy recommendation. In general, anytime you’re utilizing a singular seed, pelleted seeds are worth the money. Quite simply, they ensure more even germination, they’re easier to handle, and they create a more uniform seed environment to promote ideal seedling emergence. Our own side by side tests show stronger initial growth from pelleted seeds than raw seeds. After seeding, the next critical phase germination. You don’t just seed, water and hope for the best. You have to create a maximally optimum environment during those critical 24-48 hours. Pelleted seeds have a clay coating that helps to hold moisture around the seed, as well as maintain a proper temperature range. The pelleting is just one factor, of course, the better the environment, the more productive the germination will be.
One final note about cost – pelleted is substantially more expensive per seed. But in the big picture of the growing operation, the seed cost is so low that the increase is not significant. You should use pelleted seeds!
How Long do Seeds Last? Should I Stock Up?
Viability varies based on storage conditions. We generally recommend keeping 3-6 months worth of seed on hand, and they should be stored in a fridge (ideally). That said, when not actively seeding, seeds should be kept in your seed refrigerator. However, even with this method, the longer you store your seed, the more likely it is that you may encounter problems down the line.
How do I find a good seed source? Can I use any seeds?
Seed sourcing is another area where a bit of extra investment can improve results. Tremendous work has been done in crop genetics, and there are many seeds that are specifically bred for use in CEA (Controlled Environment Agriculture.) Companies like Paramount Seeds in Florida and Johnny’s Selected Seeds ship from their online store. Always make sure you are purchasing your seeds from a high quality, commercial source of seeds. There are many such options!
Hydroponics is so flexible. You can grow almost any seed hydroponically! It’s been a viable farming model far longer than we have had access to this modern genetic engineering technology. However, this is a great way to optimize productivity. They’re always coming out with new and more optimized varieties!
What are the best seeding and germination techniques?
First off, every different growing media may have slightly different techniques, but in general, here’s some things we recommend:
- Use high quality seeds that have been stored properly. (Less than 6 months old)
- Utilize popular, tried and true growing media, like Oasis, coco fiber, or peat plugs.
- Proper irrigation. We always recommend that people germinate seeds using nutrient solution and not just fresh water.
- Proper oxygenation. The nutrient solution also needs to be tested to contain the correct amount of oxygen, and the growing media needs to be porous enough to allow for draining and healthy roots.
The next step: When do I know my seedlings have been properly seeded and germinated?
Most seedlings germinate in the dark, with the notable exception of lettuce. The sign that they’re ready to be moved into the regular system is the emergence of the first roots, as well as the initial radicle – which will rise upward from the seed.
This usually happens for most plants within 24-48 hours. When you’re just getting started, you should monitor this closely, checking daily. However, if you’re running a consistent operation, you should have consistent results, and you can rely on this established timing in the future too.
Thanks for reading! Show us some love by forwarding this to other growers or aspiring growers you know! Or let us know if we missed anything and you have more questions.
We’re here to support you on your hydroponic journey, no matter where you are on your journey. Good luck!
-The AmHydro Team