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The reason we sprout seeds in soilless containers is that it makes it possible to observe the germinating process, including the swelling and cracking of the seeds, the seed coat falling away, the embryo pushing through, the beginning of stems and roots, and the formation of the first leaves. We can also take measurements as the sprouts grow. As we know, though, these sprouts will not live very long without nutrition. Plants need the nourishment they get from soil.

[There are chemicals that can be mixed with water, which will nourish plants that are bedded in gravel, without soil. Using that method is called "hydroponic" (means set down, or rooted, in water; pronounced "high-dro-PONN-ick"), and it is very complicated and expensive.]

There are several different types of soilless gardens.

1. Use a piece of cotton sheeting, 6 inches wide and 8 inches long with seeds on it about one inch apart. Cover it with another piece of cotton the same size, which has been dampened. Roll it up and tie it at the ends with rubber bands. Place the ends of the cloth into small saucers of water. Unroll it after a few days to see if the seeds have germinated.

2. Put a wet sponge into a saucer of water, and sprinkle some seeds on it. Radish seeds or grass seeds are good. You can even use bird seed, if it hasn't been roasted. (No, you will not grow little birds!) If you put the sponge into a bowl with sides, you can cover the bowl with plastic wrap to create a greenhouse.

3. Instead of using a sponge, you can use a piece of brick or cotton wadding.

4. Lay a block of wood across a pan of water, so that the wood is not touching the water. Fold a blotter, or a cloth, so that it rests on the wood, but the sides of the blotter or cloth hang down into the water. Put seeds on the cloth or blotter where it is sitting on the wood. You can make a green-house of this by turning a glass or wide jar upside down onto the seeds.

5. Place a blotter or layer of cotton on a sheet of glass. Put seeds onto the blotter or cotton. Put another sheet of glass on top and fasten the pieces together with rubber bands. If the seeds are large, you can avoid crushing them by putting small strips of wood (laths) along the edges of the glass. Put this into a tray of water.

6. Roll a blotter, a paper towel, or some cloth, and put it inside a glass jar. Fill the center of the container with peat moss, cotton, excelsior, sawdust, sand, or other absorbent material. [Some materials, such as sawdust, discolor the water and the blotter, towel, or cloth.] Put seeds between the glass and the blotter, evenly spaced, about 1/4 of the way down the side of the jar. Moisten the material in the center. You can keep a little water in the bottom of the jar, but the water cannot touch the seeds. If the water evaporates, it needs to be replaced.

7. Tie a piece of cloth over the mouth of a small jar. Set the jar in a larger jar or pan, and let the extra cloth length hang down the sides into an inch or two of water. Put A sheet of glass over the top of the large container in which the small jar is sitting, to make a greenhouse. Put seeds onto the part of the cloth that covers the mouth of the small jar.

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