Sowing seed is the only method by which we can get a new individual. A cutting or layer is only a division of the plant, and a graft and bud is not a new plant, it is still the perpetuation of the same individual with the help of another plant's vigor and strength. Still, cuttings are the only way generally that we can increase a hybrid or variety, and far more stock is increased by cuttings than by seeds. I consider raising plants by seeds a far more delicate and particular undertaking than our usual method with the cuttings and propagating bed. And just let me say here that within thirty or forty years we have wonderfully simplified the cutting bed. There may be, and is occasionally, the need of a closed case or a bellglass for propagating some of the hard-wooded plants, but I can remember, and so can thousands of gardeners, when verbenas and petunias were put under a bellglass. Just fancy how we have progressed in this line. Selling carnation plants in pairs, charging for boxes or baskets and using bellglasses belong to another continent and past age. But this is about seeds, and not cuttings.
In the article on Asters I gave in detail a method of sowing them or any other seed of considerable size. We are asked repeatedly how deep to sow seeds. There is no rule, and out of doors in the garden you would cover much deeper than you would in the greenhouse. A very good rule would be to cover the seeds their own thickness, which would be with an aster seed just out of sight, and with a gloxinia so little that it would be impossible to measure it or apply it. Still, we are sure that a grain of wheat or oats will struggle to the surface when buried six inches, and a cabbage seed will send up its leaves to the light when covered an inch. And these depths are a hundred times the diameters of the seeds.
However, we are not considering the seeds in the garden, but how to raise them without failure under glass. The great Prof. Lindley, in his "Introduction to Botany," says: "It is well known that seeds will not germinate in the light." That we know to be perfect nonsense, for we have all seen many kinds of seed grow in the light. The old seedsman's way of testing seeds was to wrap a piece of wet flannel around a bottle, and, sticking the seeds in the flannel, keep the bottle full of hot water. Mustard seed will grow in the light and so will an acorn. With seeds larger than those of the aster or verbena there is very little need of failure and no need of covering them more than their depth, because our seedlings are soon to be handled. But with begonias, calceolarias, gloxinias and other very minute seeds the operation is one of great care. Fred L. Atkins gives the correct method in an article on gloxinias in the Florist's Review, March 3, 1898, page 569, all of which is excellent.
The soil should be well baked or scalded with boiling water to destroy the seeds or spores of any other vegetable growth. The pan or pot should be filled to within an inch of the fine soil with crocks and moss. The surface should be of sifted soil, which should be a soft loam and leaf-mold. The surface should be smooth and even, and to thoroughly wet this before sowing you should stand the pan in water. In a few minutes the water will soak up to the surface. Then sow the seeds.
You are so liable to sow these seeds too thickly that great care must be exercised. The smallest pinch between your finger and thumb and a very slight movement of the same will with care drop the seeds equally distributed. Then the smallest quantity of clean sand distributed over the surface, not enough to hide the color of the soil, but just a sprinkle. Then press lightly the surface with the bottom of a clean pot. Let the surface of the soil be an inch below the top of the pan.
Mr. Atkins recommends covering the surface with green, moist moss and then putting over it a sheet of glass. We sometimes use a piece of wet cheesecloth instead of the moss, which can be dampened with the Scollay sprinkler, and as there is so little evaporation there will be little need of water, but the glass and moss, or cloth, should be removed once a day to see if they are dry in any spot.
Directly you notice the seeds germi-ating remove the covering and tilt up one side of the glass, and as the little plants get stronger remove the glass entirely. The Scollay sprinkler will water the surface while the plants are very young, and when stronger you can dip the pans in water and let it quietly run over the surface; that is better than a coarser sprinkling, when the seeds are well up, and by careful handling they should never be allowed to draw up, the seed pans should be given the fullest light, but never allowed to get parched by the sun.
However grown, plants may relish being occasionally on the dry side and then getting soaked. Small seedlings, particularly at the critical time of germination, should be kept at a uni-from moisture. Seedpans can be kept in a house 5 or 10 degrees warmer than you would grow the plants, but as soon as well up should be placed in the temperature most suited to the plant when growing.
All seedlings with hardly an exception should be transplanted into other pans or flats as soon as they can be handled; particularly is this the case with those that you have sown thickly A sudden drying will often wilt and destroy many young seedlings, and for-getfulness to shade is often disastrous.
At the same time it is most essential that the little plants should have the fullest light, for if you start off with a drawn, spindling plant you have seriously handicapped your future success.
Now, all the points related above are easy to follow, but the great thing is to follow them faithfully. A watchmaker can throw down his tools, leave his watch for a week, then return and take up his task with the loss only of time; but you can't leave a week or a day, or hardly an hour. It is the care and watchfulness and everlasting attention and thoughtfulness that make the gardener, far more than scientific action, either mental or physical.
Don't blame the seedsman always. I must at the cost of being thought egotistical say that for years I never blamed a seedsman when perhaps I had a reason. I blamed my own clumsiness and carelessness.
The man who has charge of the seeds should be given plenty of time, for he needs it.