HELEN LANG: One way to get a greenhouse

I have the guilty feeling that I should have talked about this a week or so ago

Some of you may be ahead of me on this. I have the guilty feeling that I should have talked about this a week or so ago, but hopefully most of you will still be sitting by the fireplace toasting your feet and reading your seed catalogues and won’t be mad at me for being slow to talk about pre-sprouting seeds.

This is something that I found to be a wonderful help when I had a greenhouse, a heating coil and lots of energy.

So here goes.

First of all, maybe you should collect the things you’ll need (besides the seed, of course). Paper towelling, several plastic bags (bread bag size, or smaller), a source of moderate heat (the top of the water heater, or the frige or maybe a heating pad turned low (and covered with plastic … no point in burning the place down!)

Wet the paper towelling and spread it out on the counter. Write the name of the seed(s) in pencil (ink runs, making it impossible to know whether the seeds are turnips or tomatoes).

Spread the seeds out (so they don’t touch) on the wet towelling and fold it over to cover them.

Add the identification slip and slip it all into the plastic bag and put it over your source of heat.

After four or five days, take a peek to see if the seeds are sprouting. If you can catch them when the first signs of life appear (it will be a white nub, or even an elongated white thread — which is a root) it makes things a lot easier.

Before they really begin to grow, using the tines of a fork, or tweezers, very gently lift the seed and drop each into a quarter inch deep hole in your potting soil (I use a pencil to make the shallow holes). Holes need to be about an inch apart to allow the emerging roots to spread out.

Write the name of the new plant on a tag of some sort and add it to your pot of soil.

The pots should be kept warm to encourage root development, but better too cool than too hot.

Within days you should see green shoots appear. When these are actively growing plants, a window sill is needed (or a good source of light) and you’ll need to turn the pots daily to keep seedlings from leaning. My spouse used to groan at this kind of window-sill gardening. One way to get a greenhouse!


Helen Lang has been the Peninsula News Review’s garden columnist for more than 30 years.