The man who wanders into a seed shop in spring to buy an ounce of Parsnip seed rarely realises what a mine of interest is packed away in the drawers, bags, and pigeon-holes. The seed shop is a storehouse of beautiful and wonderful treasures, more brilliant, to the imaginative man, than any bazaar. To most people it is a rather untidy place with a curious, dry, paper-and-canvas smell; to him it is a garden of beautiful sights and sweet odours.
There is some seed the scent of which, singularly enough, is more agreeable than that of its flowers. I love to bury my face in a bag of Nemophila insignis - it is so piquant and delicious. Mignonette seed, on the other hand, has little perfume, and that not altogether suggestive of the garden.
Amongst vegetables, Onion seed carries with it more than a suspicion of the characteristic smell of this pungent esculent. Parsley is unmistakable, and so is Carrot, though I do not mean to convey that they smell exactly like the growing crops.
Seeds are very pleasant things to be associated with. It is true that there are occasional disagreeable tasks connected with them. For instance, Radish seed when stored in bulk becomes attacked by a disease which shows itself in a fine pinkish powder, and a week of sifting to get rid of this pest is not the nicest business in the world. But in the main seeds are agreeable to handle, and over and above that there is the interest inseparably associated with them as potential plants. It is absorbing to reflect on the mass of stem, leaves, flowers, and possibly fruits packed away in these tiny spheres. You packet up, let us say, Sweet Peas, and straightway your imagination tells you of the beautiful gardens these tough little balls will help to adorn. It is winter in the seed shop, a little inclined to be dreary, perhaps cold; but the packet in your hand takes you away a-wheel into a Somersetshire lane, and between tall trees you catch a glimpse of a lovely garden; and then, as packet after packet falls from your busy fingers, you flit from county to county, with gardens, gardens every where. You are in fruitful Kent, in sunny Norfolk, in a Cumberland dale, in a Highland glen, in sweet Killarney. And all this magic is worked by the seeds.
Of the early days of my horticultural training, one of the happiest memories is an association, lasting for several pleasant years, with seeds, and if I could write eloquently enough of the wondrous interest and charm which seeds possess, fewer of them would be flung into the soil as so many are now - like stones out of a cart.
A seed is a marvellous organism, and should be handled with a care almost approaching to reverence.
It is to be feared that the interest of most cultivators in seeds is of a somewhat narrow nature. Will old seeds grow, and so save the expense of buying fresh? Can seeds be saved at home? These are the main points with many. Well, they are practical matters, and so we will give a little examination to them. There is a great difference in the longevity of the different sorts of vegetable seeds. Some will retain their vitality for many years, although I might remark, in passing, that the mummy Pea is regarded in well-informed circles as an impostor.
Plump seeds of Cucumbers will grow after a lapse of several years, as will Beetroot, Cabbages, and other Greens, Celery, Lettuces, Radishes, and Turnips. On the other hand, Beans, Carrots, Onions, Parsnips, Peas, and Tomatoes are, as a rule, shorter-lived, and should not be relied on after the second year.
As a general principle, old seeds should not be trusted to, but fresh procured every year. Seeds are very cheap in these days, and it is much the most satisfactory to get a fresh supply each year.
Fig. 14. How To Make Seed Pockets
Take a sheet of paper about 7 by 5 inches, fold it lengthwise, leaving a margin of 1/4 inch; turn this margin back to overlap the smaller section, and turn it a second time. Turn the end over as at B C in Fig. 1 from A to D. Then turn the corner as at E A in Fig. 2 from B to C, and slip it under. Treat the other end the same, and the pocket will be ready:. 3 shows the front, and 4 the back of it.
The saving of seed at home might be commendable if cultivators would remember the all-important fact that only the best specimens should be selected, but, as they hardly ever do, duty demands that the practice should be condemned. Stock breeders who relied upon the worst specimens of their stocks and herds for breeding would soon find themselves beaten. Only the best examples of the various crops should be chosen for saving seed from.
I know of one cultivator who has a strain of home-saved Ailsa Craig Onion which he has had for twelve or fifteen years, and which is better now than when he first got it, although it was purchased from one of the very best sources. He has maintained its excellence by saving seed only from the deep bulbs; the flat ones he has otherwise disposed of.
Few growers appreciate the many points in seed growing, saving and harvesting, or the trouble taken by the principal seedsmen in keeping their stocks good and pure; in fact, I do not see how they could possibly do so unless they had been through the mill themselves. Seed doctoring is now a thing of the past. The great seedsmen vie with each other in honourable rivalry as to who can produce the best stocks. To this end, the rows of every variety are carefully scrutinised, and plants differing from the type are noted, to be marked for future use if new and good, to be pulled out and destroyed if inferior. This process is termed "rogueing." Only by such means can the tendency to deterioration which is exhibited by all cultivated plants be counteracted.
Fig. 15. A Handy Seed Store
Get a dozen large matchboxes, glue the frames together, and glue a piece of tape to the bottom of each box. Paste a label on the front of each, and you have a handy set of seed drawers.
The conditions which most affect the germination of seeds are of vital moment to every vegetable grower. There are still some of the old school who look upon the phases of the moon as the ruling power in this matter, but most of us are less exalted, and look earthward, leaving the moon to her own duties. There are other growers who have a calendar, and stick to it religiously. A calendar is useful as a guide, but need not be obeyed as a dictator.
Fig. 16. Matchbox Seed Store. This shows the matchbox seed store, with labels affixed.
The real arbiter as to the proper date of sowing is, of course, the weather. With a crisp December and January, a wet February, and a mellow March, sowing may go forward apace, for frost has sweetened the soil, rain moistened it, and sun warmed it. There is little gained by sowing when the soil is in bad condition, that is, very dry, or very wet, or very cold. When the soil is in the pleasant intermediate state represented by its clinging lightly, yet not pastily, to the tools, it is in the right state for sowing.
Fig. 17. A Simple Bird Scarer.
Get a piece of tin 6 inches square (Fig. 1), cut from each corner towards the middle. Bore a hole through each corner (1, 2, 3, 4), and one in the middle. Turn each corner towards the middle, pass a long nail through the holes, and drive it into a stake (Fig. 2). This rattles vigorously in the wind.
Many vegetables may be regarded as possessing a very wide range of sowing or planting season. Carrots, for example, may be sown from March to July, and Potatoes may be planted from February to June. Those who have warm, south borders can afford to commence operations long before those who have not. Making due allowance for this, the following table will be useful:-
Time and Depth, of Sowing and Planting Seeds.
Planting Distance Apart and Time of Maturing.
[Note. - The first figure in the middle column indicates the distance from plant to plant in the rows, the second figure the proper distance between the rows.]