Germinating Seeds for Hydroponics: India Becomes A Germination Nation
There are countless benefits to starting seeds in a controlled environment. As an indoor/soilless grower, you don’t have to depend upon the seasonal availability of seedlings to start your crop, and you’ll find a much wider variety of seeds available compared to seedlings. Heritage and heirloom seeds are not yet as widely available as hybrid seeds are, but are worth seeking out. Germinating your own vegetable seedlings will likely ensure that your plants will be healthier, more vigorous and more disease resistant, not to mention yielding a bountiful harvest that will be tastier and possibly more nutritious.
When a seed sprouts, a plant is born and the process is called germination. Normal fully developed seeds usually contain an embryo and a nutrient supply wrapped in a seed coating. Most seeds go through a period of dormancy, and bringing a seed out of dormancy requires a change in its environment. Moisture, oxygen and temperature are three factors that commonly affect germination. Different types of seeds have different environmental requirements, so it makes sense to research the best approach for the type of seed you want to germinate.
Water is essential to starting the germination process—when the seeds absorb moisture, the process is referred to as imbibition. Imbibition will soften the seed coating and make the nutrient stored inside available to the embryonic plant.
Grow trays and starter plugs especially designed for hydroponic seed starting help to simplify your operation. You just saturate the grow plugs with pH balanced water, drop the seeds in the holes and wait. Remembering that the seeds bring their own nutrients to the process, they need only moisture, warmth and oxygen to sprout.
Don’t forget to label your seeds—seedlings of vastly different plants can look almost identical at this stage!
Seeds need heat during the germination process. The ideal is between °C 21 and °C27, with peppers/capsicum usually requiring slightly warmer temps. Hydrofarm’s Jump Start Seedling Heat Mats and Heat Mat Thermostats are available in India and offer a stable, uniform source of heat. Seed starting instructions are even printed directly on the mats.
Many growers recommend creating a greenhouse effect by using plastic bags, plastic bottles or commercially available plastic domes. Be careful not to smother the seeds—they still need oxygen and too much moisture could lead to the introduction of mold and fungi.
Once the seedling emerges, light becomes the third necessary element. The plants need bright light for more than 12 hours per day, so it makes sense to use grow lights make sure your seedlings will grow rapidly and with vigor. Hydrofarm’s Jump Start Grow Light System is available in India, and comes in 2’ and 4’ sizes. The lamp height is adjustable so you can raise it as your seedlings grow taller. Be sure not to place the light too close to the seedlings, as they are tender and easily dried out.
(Some products may require plug adaptor and/or voltage converters)
Wait until your seedlings have 4 true leaves and are about 5 to 7cm tall before transplanting them into your main hydroponic unit. Don’t remove the seedlings from the grow cubes—just make some room in your hydro grow medium, and pop the plug right in—the beauty of this is that it doesn’t disturb the root system at all.
At this point the seedlings will need a light nutrient solution; when adding it, make sure that you fill the container high enough so that the roots can access the solution.
There’s a real sense of satisfaction to be had from starting your garden from the very beginning, and a real sense of accomplishment when you’re eating and sharing the delicious vegetables you’ve tended to every step of the way.