These pre-sprouted corn seeds are ready to be potted. (Mary Lowther photo)

Mary Lowther column: Pre-sprouting corn in paper towels

My new packet of spinach didn’t grow when I put the seeds directly into potting soil

By Mary Lowther

I pre-sprout a few seeds on paper towels for various reasons. I tear off a piece of paper towel, write the name of the seed and the date on the towel, lay about a third more seeds than I plan to grow on half the paper, cover this with the other half, then drip enough water on the covered seeds to wet the paper through. I place it inside a plastic bag and put this in a warm place to germinate, like the top of the fridge. Every day I open up the bag and look at the seeds to see if they’re germinating and to give them fresh air.

I’m pre-sprouting corn because I want to see how many of my saved seeds are viable. My new packet of spinach didn’t grow when I put the seeds directly into potting soil, so I’m pre-sprouting to see if it’s the seed or something in the soil. My dill and fennel seed are nearing the end of their viability period, so I’ll only pot up the seeds that sprout and save potting soil. If my brand new packet of spinach seeds don’t sprout in the wet towel, I’ll contact the company and let them know.

I’ve started only a third of the crop of corn, will do another third one week later and the last third the following week to extend my harvest between early September and October. Two acorn squash get started now too and they’ll go into the corn bed at both ends of the space where I’ll encourage them to circle the bed to keep out raccoons.

I prepared the corn bed yesterday by pulling out the last of the overwintered broccoli and kohlrabi, ran the stirrup hoe over the few weeds remaining and laid on about a quarter inch of compost. I sprinkled Solomon’s fertilizer mix at the rate of four litres per hundred square feet. By the time the corn is ready to transplant, birds will have had time to chomp up whatever bugs they find on the compost. I hope.

Then the corn seedlings get transplanted into one third of the bed in rows because I water with soaker hoses that lay in straight rows. The plants sit one foot apart in two rows that are three feet apart. I dig out an eight inch hole for each transplant, put in one third of a cup of fertilizer and dig this into the soil below. I fill up the hole with water and then transplant the seedling into this, incorporating the dug-out soil and tamping down this soil to remove air bubbles. I plant the acorn squash at both ends of the bed, awaiting the filling of the last two thirds with subsequent corn seedlings.

Once the seedlings are transplanted I cover the whole bed with Remay to keep out those blasted crows and jays determined to pull out every seedling they see. They used to until I cottoned onto them. Once the last third of corn seedlings reach about eight inches I remove the Remay. At this point I hoe out any weeds and side dress the rows as farmer Terry Williams taught me: dig a shallow trench about one inch wide and a quarter inch deep on both sides of each row and fill them with fertilizer mix. Pull the soil back over the fertilizer and hand water this in. Do this again every three weeks until harvest. I also pour compost tea on the roots every two weeks.

I write this schedule into my agenda book so it’s easy to keep track. My brain got full years ago so I have to write everything down these days or it doesn’t get done. Of course, I must remember to look at the agenda book.

Please contact with questions and suggestions since I need all the help I can get.


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