How to - Seeds

Jump-start seeds with gelatin

Try this technique that's popular in the Prairies to sow your seeds

It’s almost de rigueur for Prairie gardeners to start seeds indoors during long winter months to wring a few extra weeks out of a notoriously short growing season. Sowing seeds in soilless mix is the usual route, but Willem Kuyt, a Carvel, Alberta, gardener and nursery owner, uses a less traditional medium.

Kuyt says using gelatin, which is rich in phosphorus and calcium, improves germination rates and produces sturdy seedlings. It’s also less expensive and cleaner to work with than soilless mix, he says. Kuyt moved to Alberta from Holland two years ago, where gelatin is used in universities to start seedlings indoors. Here’s how it’s done.

The following recipe yields enough gelatin to fill one 50- by 25-centimetre tray or four 12.5- by 25-centimetre trays. Alternatively, use short Mason jars. You don’t need to water the germinating seeds, so drainage holes aren’t necessary. Whatever containers you use, make sure they’re deep enough to allow for a five-centimetre layer of gelatin, which will accommodate about 1,000 tiny seeds (like poppy) or 200 large seeds (like bean).

Preparating the gelatin

  • In a 5-litre saucepan, sprinkle 150 millilitres of unflavoured gelatin powder over 500 millilitres of cool water. (Gelatin packages generally come in 15-millilitre envelopes, so for smaller batches, divide water and fertilizer amounts by 10.)
  • Pour 500 millilitres of boiling water into the mixture and stir one to two minutes, until gelatin dissolves.
  • Add 30 millilitres of water-soluble fertilizer such as 20-20-20; stir for another two minutes.
  • Add 2.5 litres of boiling water, stir lightly and pour into wide-mouth Mason jars. Boil the jars in a canner for five minutes to sterilize the growing medium.
  • Let cool to below 38ºC, then pour the mixture into plastic trays that have been washed with a 10 per cent solution of bleach and water, and then rinsed, or small Mason jars that have been sterilized.
  • Place clear plastic or glass coverings over the trays or jars and let sit overnight.


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