This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V20", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
The curious things about seeds - Some of the secrets - Sowing of flower seeds - Preparation of soil - Covering - Tree and shrub seeds - The critical periods - Subsequent treatment - The three enemies - The delight of success. The beginning and the end of plant life are in the seed. Nothing is so nearly a constant miracle as this endless round of nature, from the planted seed, through the leaf, stem, blossom, and forming germ, to the ripened seed of another generation. A deep interest surrounds every step of the process, so often seen, so seldom carefully studied. Noiselessly, when the first rains of Winter come, all the brown slopes thrill and quiver with countless budding blades that climb from hidden seeds. Noiselessly, too, over all the new-ploughed, smoking acres, the promise of the harvest springs into being; the seeds of the old-fashioned flowers in the little gardens, begin to found their palaces, and rear their tinted spires, on which, in due season, their banners of blossoms shall wave.
By the low marshes, where the sedges and Mimulus grow; along the rivers, bright with Lupines and Gilias; in our deep gulches, fit home of Trilliums and Aristolo-chias, of Calycanthus and Azaleas; on the long mountain slopes, sown with blue Nemophilas, and countless growing bulbs - everywhere the glad germs spring, and the world laughs into leaf and blossom.
Men have learned to produce this miracle of germination at their own will, by imitating nature's conditions of heat, moisture and darkness. So, mainly by seeds, which retain their life for a considerable, though varying period, and can be easily transported, we are enabled to possess the plants and flowers of every land; some of them to brighten our conservatories, some to give an added grace to the garden, and some to become field products, and so increase the wealth of the individual, and the prosperity of the State. The history of the introduction of many seeds, now common, reads like a romance - the romance of horticulture. Ardent collectors have risked their lives to gather and preserve seeds; the strangest accidents have'scattered them; they have been carried in unknown ways, and suddenly have appeard in new places; kings have made treaties for them, and have planted them with their own hands. As Tennyson held the "flower from a crannied wall " in his questioning hand, feeling that if he could only read its story the secret of the world would be known, so might we take the shelly seed of some Indian palm, or tropic Cycad, and ponder long upon the life that lies hidden within it, the dormant cells, the starch and albumen, and nice provisions for covering.
In such moods the work of the gardener and of the farmer seem to run parallel to the very fibres of being - in truth a simple and holy work.
But after we have thought of the wonderful things connected with the beginnings of plant life, we must proceed to put a practical point to our article. Given the seed - this brown mystery - and how shall we set it at work; how shall we rouse its dormant energies; what are the " laws of germination?"
The secrets of starting seeds are very simple, warmth and moisture are the two essentials. These must be applied evenly, steadily, and with patience, for they are as important elements in sprouting seeds as pork and beans, beans and pork were in our miner's typical dinner. The mechanical condition of the soil is of great importance; it should be light, mellow and healthy.
Flower seeds are best sown in boxes, two and one-half inches deep and one foot in length and breadth. Cut small holes in the bottom for drainage, and fill the boxes with prepared soil. Just here the amateur begins to be puzzled, if he has consulted a series of authorities. Peat, loam, silver sand, compost, sods, leaf mould, variously compounded - these look mysterious enough, to be sure! But there is in practice a simpler way. Take any garden soil as a basis, and mix with it sand, and the light mould from under an old straw stack, or from the hollows on the mountain sides, where leaves drift and decay, until you have a light, rich and friable soil. No definite rule respecting the proportions can be given, except that the prepared soil should hold moisture well, should have no tendency to become hard, and should never crack, even if in the sun.
Fill the boxes carefully with moist, but not wet earth, and, with a small board, press the soil evenly and closely, so that it will retain moisture better. The board must be planed on the under side, or the soil will stick to it, and it will be found convenient to nail a little handle on the upper side. Sow your seed broadcast, if you are sure the soil is not weedy, and if you will know the plants when they come up; but, in general, it is best to sow in marked rows, in all cases scattering the seed evenly. Now take a sieve, made by tacking a square of one eighth inch mesh wire netting to a light frame, and sift light soil, which has been rubbed and well mixed, over the box, until the seeds are just covered. Take the little board again and press the soil carefully. If any seeds are in sight, sift a little more dirt on and press again. Small seeds must never be covered more than their own thickness; the surface must be level and firm; keep it damp, but not dripping, and you will succeed. Countless thousands of seeds perish from too deep planting. The chief uses of covering are to preserve moisture, and to keep the seed in darkness during the germinating process. Very fine seed must be sown on carefully sifted earth, which has been sprinkled before the sowing is done.
Cover the box with a pane of glass, and if it looks dry, spray it with a brush dipped in water and drawn lightly over the edge of a stick. Be careful to wipe the under side of the pane of glass occasionally, or the moisture may be so much as to rot the seeds.
The seed-boxes must be set level, for otherwise the constant tendency is to wash the light seeds all to the lower side, and destroy many whilst sprouting. The soil must be equally pressed all over, or else watering will cause some portions to sink lower than others, and so form little puddles, which drown part of the seed. The watering must be done with a fine rose held so that the soil does not wash away, for this, too, is a fruitful cause of failure, and the time for watering must be in the evening or early morning. Still, if the boxes look dry at any time, water them and shade from the sun, which will harden the surface and slaughter the hopes of the coming plants.
(To be Continued).