Instant Pot gardening hack hurries up Mother Nature

An Ottawa scientist who's a keen amateur gardener has figured out how to speed up seed germination using her Instant Pot. The low, constant heat of the yogurt setting is perfect to jump start seeds.

Local gardeners speed up germination by using yogurt setting

Ottawa's Lyanne Betit shows off her creative use of space under her desk in her home office. All plants were germinated using her Instant Pot. (Supplied by Lyanne Betit)

Move over butter chicken and mushroom risotto. There's a new use for the Instant Pot, the popular kitchen appliance, famous for hurrying up slow-cooking dishes.

An Ottawa scientist who's a keen amateur gardener has discovered that certain seeds germinate in jig-time while exposed to the constant low heat of the Instant Pot yogurt setting.

Lyanne Betit is a government scientist with a background in biochemistry and organic chemistry. Last year, she had trouble finding seeds due to increased demand during COVID-19.

"By the time I found seeds, it was very late in the season to start peppers and eggplant, so I tried to figure out what could make it faster," said Betit. 

She decided to jump start her seeds in her Instant Pot, switching out pizza dough, for pepper seeds.

Eggplant seeds sprouted in Betit's gardening hack. 'A lot of people have a hard time with ... eggplant. They come to my door and say, "I failed," and I say, "Yeah, it's very hard until you put them in the Instant Pot."' (Lyanne Betit)

She put the seeds between layers of damp paper towel inside a Ziploc bag, tucked them inside and turned the pot to yogurt setting. Et voilà. No great surprise for scientist Betit.

"I expected it to work. I knew it was the perfect temperature for seedlings that grow in very hot countries ... about 32 to 33 degrees Celsius."

It's the perfect temperature to germinate hot-weather seeds, such as peppers, hot peppers, eggplants, tomatoes, watermelons and cucumbers, according to Betit.

Some seeds need slightly cooler, yet still consistently warm temperatures, such as basil, so Betit rests the Ziploc bag on top of the Instant Pot lid, where the temperature is around 24 C.

WATCH | One scientist's Instant Pot seed hack:

How to sprout seeds in your Instant Pot

3 years ago
Duration 1:47
Ottawa resident Lyanne Betit, who works as a government scientist and is a keen amateur gardener, describes how to get certain seeds to germinate using the constant low heat of the Instant Pot yogurt setting.

The Instant Pot hack is helpful if you're in a hurry, but it's not just about rushing to plant. Betit believes it results in much higher yields. "Because the temperature is so good, and it's constant moisture, there's no failure." 

Betit would put her pot germination record up against any window grower or even a heat mat system, where "the percentage of actual germination is much lower than with my Instant Pot." Even with three-year-old leftover seeds, "I still had over 70 per cent yield. And that's unusual … for home gardeners," said Betit.

"A lot of people have a hard time with peppers and eggplant. They come to my door and say, 'I failed,' and I say, yeah, it's very hard until you put them in the Instant Pot."

A variety of plants including eggplants, tomatoes and peppers, all germinated in an Instant Pot by Betit. (Lyanne Betit)

Betit shared a video of the hack with the vibrant online gardening community Edible Ottawa on Facebook, and people such as Lynda Boonstra of Gatineau, Que., took notice. Goodbye succulent ribs, hello seeds.

"I had done an entire raft of peppers and none of them sprouted because my house floor was so cold, and I had no space off the floor," said Boonstra. The Instant Pot hack put her gardening on the fast track.

Pepper plant seeds that normally take seven to 10 days, got done in two to four. 

"A good quarter of the seeds were sprouted in two days and the rest were good to go in four days," said Boonstra, who was suddenly up to her neck in tiny pepper seedlings needing transplanting. "I was in a total panic." 

Lynda Boonstra with varieties of peppers all germinated with help from her Instant Pot, which she normally uses to make ribs. (Christian Boonstra)

Nonetheless, Boonstra's advice is to "go for it," especially for seeds that thrive in hot climates. 

"The okra and the peppers went beyond all my expectations. The tomatoes were just normal. They didn't care one way or the other."

She recommends avoiding the Instant Pot hack for seeds from the Brassica family, "so no cabbages, no kale, no parsley, no chives.

"I now have peppers that are the size of what I would normally put outside."

The problem is, it might be two months before Boonstra can plant them outside. "I know. I'm in trouble."

In a bid to slow them and make them bushier, not leggier, Boonstra has topped them by pinching the bud, which would encourage her peppers to grow out, not up.

Okra seeds grown by Boonstra with constant Instant Pot heat. (Lynda Boonstra)

Betit has not yet reached out to the Instant Pot company to share news of her germination hack, nor does she plan to invent a purpose-built seed incubator.

"People don't want another appliance. They want an appliance that works for everything." 


Hallie Cotnam

Writer broadcaster

You can reach Hallie Cotnam by email or by Twitter @halliecbc.