Who doesn't feel better after a warm bath?
I like to indulge my pea and bean seeds in a soak before planting them outdoors. In the picture foreground, on the left, is a basic shriveled pea seed. The other seeds, which I soaked for three nights, have plumped to double in size and are starting to sprout. I planted them right after their photo shoot. (Lest you think I am kind of slow in planting peas this season, this is a variety that holds up to summer heat. Phew!)
I soaked the seeds in a dish of warm water overnight. Next day (day 1) I drained the water and placed a wet paper towel directly on top of the seeds in the dish. The aim at this point was to keep the seeds moist but not soggy. I checked the seeds the following two days, wetting the towel when needed. I chose to plant when all had visible roots, on day 3.
Why bother with all this? Well, indoor soaking offers a more controlled environment for germination, removed from the temperature and weather extremes so true of finicky spring. Sprouted seeds also guide your planting patterns. Often times we direct sow more seeds than we think we need, in anticipation that some may not sprout. And then, we end up thinning seedlings that are too crowded. Soaking seeds first gives you more control in the outcome.
Even soaking just a portion of your seeds can help in your garden planning. Say you want to plant 50 bean plants. You soak 10 seeds, and eight swell and start to sprout. That gives you a sample germination rate of 80 percent. So plant 63 seeds. (OK, for all you math fiends out there, it's really 62.5 -- but I dare you to cut a seed in half and still have it sprout!)
Soaking to estimate germination rate is helpful with seeds you're not sure about: those that have been stored in less than ideal conditions, or for a very long time.
In my experience bean seeds are more fragile than peas and can split in half if jostled too much while soaking. They're also quicker to go moldy if left soaking too long. I've learned to plant my soaked bean seeds when just a hint of root starts to show.
What are you tricks for seed sprouting?