This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V24", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
Every season we hear numerous complaints on the failure of seeds to germinate, etc. We hear that seeds were procured from such and such a firm and not one came up; seeds were gotten from another place and one half germinated ; and seeds that were obtained from another prominent seedsman all came up. Now the amateur is convinced that seedsman No. 1 is a rascal and gives his verdict accordingly; seedsman No. 2, although not quite so bad as No. 1, is nevertheless not an honest man, - of this he is quite convinced ; and says that No. 3 is the only reliable one, etc. Now this certainly looks very bad for seedsmen Nos. 1 and 2, but the puschaser never seems to reflect that perhaps the season is more advanced by the time he gets his orders filled from No. 3, consequently the weather is more favorable to their germination.
Some seeds require heat and will not vegetate freely without it, such as Tomato, Coleus, Lan-tana. Others again will grow more freely in a cool atmosphere, and will often lay dormant until the weather is cool. Cabbage, Pansies and Sweet Alyssum seed are good examples of these. Many seeds that vegetate freely out of doors, lay dormant for a long time under glass. I have known Clematis, Smilax, Verbena and Lantana to lay dormant in the soil of the seed boxes for six months, and then being exposed to the air vegetate freely.
I am satisfied, from the experience of others and by experiments made by myself, that there is as much importance in the way the seeds are sown and the condition they are kept as there is in the freshness of the seeds. Many seeds germinate more freely by being soaked in warm water, such as Cypress Vine, Canna, Thun-bergia, whilst this process would be the death warrant for many of the seeds of Palms, Cactuses, etc. There can be no set law made for sowing seeds, as almost every kind has its own peculiar wants, and the cultivator must or ought to study their peculiar requirements if he wishes success. A pretty safe rule to go by in sowing is to bury the seeds no deeper than the seed is thick; for instance, if the seed is 1-8th of an inch thick, it may be buried 1-8th of an inch deep, or a very little deeper. More seeds are killed by being buried too deep than by being sown too shallow. Any ordinary sound seed will vegetate if no more than two years old, and many kinds, such as Zinneas, Asters and Chrysanthemums, actually seem to improve by keeping two or three years.
The plan I follow in sowing fine seeds is to take boxes of any convenient size or shape, but no more than 2½ inches deep; glass box for instance, sawed in half makes two complete boxes or flats, and sometimes furnish the frame for a third. If it has no cracks, I bore holes in it for drainage; and then cover the bottom with any loose sievings, broken pots or a thin layer of moss, to the depth of half an inch. Over this I fill in, to within an inch of the top, with fine soil composed of sand, leaf mold, and loam in equal parts, press it firmly and gently down, making an even surface; then soak the whole with water through a fine rose water can, and an hour afterwards, when drained off, sow the seeds on the wet soil and cover lightly with fine light soil; cover this with panes of glass. Your box will hardly want water until the seeds are up, when the glass must be removed.
Where the seeds are very fine, such as Calceolaria, Torenia and Ferns, etc., it is best not to cover the seed with soil, but, sprinkle a little moss, that has been rubbed through a fine sieve, over them. Place the boxes in a situation where they will obtain all the light, but not be fully exposed to the rays of the sun. Shade the boxes until the seeds are up, and if the light comes only on one side of them, turn the box around so that the front will be in the rear every other day. Prick off the young seedlings in boxes of sandy soil as soon as they show the rough or third leaf.