Inside a tiny vegetable seed lies a miniature plant ready to sprout and grow when exposed to the ideal conditions. The hard outer seed coat protects the seed from germinating in conditions unsuitable for healthy growth. Although all seeds require moisture and oxygen to germinate, other requirements vary depending on the particular species. Most germinate well when covered with soil, but some require direct light to germinate and must be planted on top of the soil. Each has its preferred soil temperature for germination.
Check the back of the seed or refer to a seed germination chart (see Resource 3) to determine the requirements for the vegetable you wish to grow. Seeds that require light to germinate are noted on the seed packet and directions for sowing are included.
Prepare soil by tilling to a depth of 10 to 12 inches. Remove stones and roots. Add well-rotted manure or compost to improve aeration. The embryo in the seed needs oxygen to break down the food supply in the seed. Without adequate aeration in the soil, seeds will not germinate.
Add necessary amendments to the soil at this time. If you use granular fertilizer, mix it in well with the existing soil to prevent damage to seeds and young seedlings. Side dressing with fertilizer once seedlings are several inches high is a safer method and reduces the chance of injury from fertilizer.
Review the chart to determine the appropriate time to plant seeds. Most require waiting until after the danger of frost has passed in your area and soil has warmed. Some cool season crops, like peas, potatoes and onions, prefer cool soil and germinate poorly once soil warms. Others, like beans and squash, prefer warm soil and rot in cool damp soil.
Plant the seed, following the recommended seed depth. In general, seed-planting depth is twice the depth of the seed.
Water to moisten soil and keep evenly moist until seedlings emerge and show signs of growth.
Keep soil moist until seedlings show signs of rapid growth and reduce water. Water when the soil dries.