For certainty and a jump on spring, sprout seeds early

Get a jump on spring, plus positive germination of those hard-to-start seeds! Presoaking and sprouting takes the guesswork out of using old seeds or the seeds you have saved from your own favorites, such as squash, tomatoes, or potatoes. Further, presoaking encourages germination by as much as one to two full weeks in the cool soils of spring. In areas where summers are short, this process will supply a much wider variety of vegetables from which to choose.

Presprouting seeds ensures a higher, more positive percent of germination for the short summer gardens and for the second crops, such as winter cabbages, hard-to-germinate parsnips, and that last treat of salad greens before winter sets in.

Early potatoes, peas, Swiss chard, onions, and all of the first-crop vegetables can get a head start on spring with a 24- to 48-hour warm-water soak.

Treat potato "eyes" to a week in a warm south window or under a neon light in an area that can be foliage-sprayed twice a day. An open-topped box lined with a large plastic sack works like a sauna tent for quick, strong sprouting. Turn the eyes to encourage the weaker sprouts.

Peas will need 24 hours to break and can be planted then. Allowing a 48-hour soak, changing the water daily will ensure an even greater success, with up to 100 percent sprouting. Use water warmed to room temperature when adding needed water.

A shallow soup bowl will hold a packet of peas as they slowly swell. Keep only enough water in the bowl to cover peas as they enlarge.

Beets, Swiss chard, onions, beans, cucumbers, squash, and turnips will slightly swell during a 24-hour warm-water soak. Handle the seeds carefully as you plant them after soaking. A follow-up warm-water soil soaking will ensure continual germination.

On cool overcast days a warm-water drench each morning will add the warmth normally supplied by the sun.

Presprouting your garden and flower seeds sets the garden calendar ahead by as much as three weeks. This program is a continuation of presoaking. To be sure of a safer, more sure count of germination, let the seeds soak until they sprout.

When the weather settles, set out your potted seeds. You're still weeks ahead of your neighbors.

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