Foolproof Cucumber Seedlings- You Can Grow That!

The other day I blogged about the fun I’ve had this year with growing tomatoes. I’ve been in kind of the same mode with cucumbers (and pumpkins, and squash, and peppers, and several varieties of flowers). There’s a background story to my seed starting obsession that I have to share. In February one of the women who I work with in my job as an adaptive gardening specialist at Bass River approached me with a package of cucumber seeds that were dated 2011 and asked if we could grow them. I thought that starting them successfully was a long shot but I also saw the challenge as a chance for a fun learning opportunity. We decided to plant some of the seeds in pots of seed starting mix, and to try to germinate another group on a damp paper towel in a jar. Within a few days we had a jar full of cucumber sprouts that were flourishing. The seeds planted in the soil never did germinate, not one. We transplanted the sprouts to a container of soil and now we have little cucumbers growing on a trellis in a sunny window. So, we concluded that a little bit of humidity goes a long way in sprouting seeds and even older seeds might respond to this special treatment. I’ve been reading a lot about adding humidity to help the germination process and I brought the idea here to my home garden.  I’m growing all kinds of things in plastic bags and jars!

Here’s a step by step description of my easy foolproof way to grow cucumber seedlings:

IMG_5338I start with a paper towel, a clean jar with a lid, a water spray bottle, some tape and a package of seeds.

IMG_5343I dampen the paper towel and spread the seeds evenly over it.

IMG_5345Roll it up gently…

IMG_5346and place it in the jar and close the lid.

IMG_5354Then I mark it with a sharpie or as in this case I tape the seed package to the jar.  I did this on April 25th, remember that date!

IMG_5355Here’s what I found when I took them out on April 29th. These are a little bit overgrown, they could have come out of the jar on the 28th or even the 27th.

IMG_5357I gently placed well moistened seed starting mix in cups with a hole punched on the bottom… I don’t usually use paper cups but I had these on hand and the seeds needed to be transplanted right away.

IMG_5360I dug a little hole and placed a seedling in each container with the root facing down,

IMG_5362and just barely covered it with soil.

IMG_5363I put the cups under the grow light,

and here they are on May 3rd. The first leaves are sprouting and the second set is close behind!

They would be ready to go out in a few days if our last frost date were closer. Unfortunately it’s not quite time for tender plants to be planted outside here on the New England coast. I’ll move them out from under the light when they get a little bigger and keep them in a sunny window for a few weeks. When transplant time is close I’ll put them outside in a protected spot for the daytime hours for several days to harden them off (help them get used to outside temps) before I plant them in the garden.

Just to summarize the dates; I started them on April 25th and eight days later their well on their way. That makes the turnaround time from putting them in the jar to being garden ready about 12-14 days.

Guess what that means? You have plenty of time to do this! And it’s easy, and I dare say it’s fun!

I hope that you get some seeds started soon!

Remember, you can grow that!


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“You Can Grow That” is a website hosted by garden blogger and author C.L Fornari which was created to widely share the message that plants and gardening enhance our quality of life. On the fourth of each month garden bloggers participate by publishing a “You Can Grow That” post. The hope is to create a national conversation about the benefits of gardening and to encourage people everywhere to participate in and experience all of the joy that the garden brings. Be sure to visit the “You Can Grow That” website to learn more about this wonderful effort and to find links to other bloggers’ posts.


A Few Thoughts About Growing Tomatoes From Seed

I’ve really gotten in to starting seeds this year. I have three varieties of tomatoes growing (Rutgers, Matina and Supersweet 100) and I think it’s safe to say that their doing quite well.  I spent a lot of time reading about seeds over the winter so I’ve approached the project from a different knowledge base this year.

I’ve made a few simple adjustments:

–I started the seeds on damp towels in sealed plastic bags and planted them in seed starting mix as soon as they germinated. This is one of my new favorite approaches with seeds of all kinds. When I visited my friend Betsey (the onion lady) in January she showed me that her husband often starts “harder to germinate” seeds in plastic bags. I’ve also experimented with forcing germination at work lately with great success. Betsey recommended a blog called Tomato Dirt  and as I read over their many tips for growing tomatoes from seed, I’ll be darned, this method was mentioned again. I tried it and the extra humidity got things going and before I knew it I had beautiful seedlings that had been transplanted into potting soil.

–I’ve kept the lights very close to the plants, about two inches above the tops of the seedlings. This keeps them from getting leggy and encourages them to grow stronger and sideways, rather than upward and spindly.

–I’ve brushed them gently with my hand once a day which also encourages a stronger, stockier plant.

–The lights are on a timer, twelve hours on, twelve hours off.

–I used one florescent bulb and one plant bulb in a regular shop light.

–I water from below encouraging strong root formation.

–I used seed starter containing vermiculite to encourage root formation.

–I talk to them, love them and spend time with them as I work on other projects.

I’d be growing well too if I were these tomatoes!


Here they are today. I’m thinking about moving them away from the lights and up to my sunny office, maybe even into larger pots.

Are you growing tomatoes this year? How’s it going? Share your tips in the comments!

and of course, enjoy everything!