Raising crops from seed is a simple matter if the ground is carefully prepared beforehand and the seedlings given a little attention in the way of thinning, weeding and hoeing. It is essential that the ground should be in what is termed a good tilth ; that is to say, the particles of soil should be broken down to a fine mate so that the seeds are not lost ill rough ground. The earlier the ground is dug prior to seed sowing the easier it will be to break down with fork and rake. When crops are removed in the autumn, dig deep, at the same time incorporating organic manure where required. Leave the ground in a rough state, or in ridges, to be weathered by the frost and rain. Early in the New Year it should be possible to break down the ridges. When ready to sow, rake the ground, removing all stones and other coarse material from the surface so that the young seedlings will have no difficulty in pushing their way through the soil. Soil that is on the heavy side will be made more porous and better suited to seed germination if sand is added to a depth of from 2 in. to 3 in. To light soil add plenty of humus.
METHODS OF SOWING
Aim at neatness in the vegetable plot. It makes hoeing and fertilizing easier, and the garden a more pleasant sight. All crops should be grown in straight rows. When taking out drills for seed sowing, use a taut line and the draw hoe.
Seeds vary considerably in size, and on this depends the method of sowing. To •sow large seeds, such as peas or beans, take out a small trench 3 in. deep, using a spade or draw hoe, and set the seeds at the bottom in a staggered double or triple row. Sow a few extra seeds at the ends of the rows. These plants may be transferred later into any spare spaces.
Finer seed is sown in drills in. to I in. deep, made by drawing the corner of a draw hoe along the ground. It is important to sow really thinly, as the final distance between the plants of all root crops is at least 6 in If sown thickly, there is unnecessary wastage. To ensure thin sowing, tear off a small portion of the packet at one corner so that seed can only pass a little at a time. To cover the seeds, use the back of the rake. This avoids disturbing the seeds.
Do not make the mistake of burying seeds too deeply. A useful rough and ready gardeners rule is : Cover the seeds with twice their own depth of soil.
NURSERY SEED BED
There are some vegetables—notably the Brassicas (I.e., cabbage, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli and kale)— which, unlike root crops and legumes (peas and beans), are easily transplanted while they are seedlings. Therefore, in order to take up as little room in the garden as possible, they are sown all together on a small, specially prepared bed. This nursery seed bed is prepared in the same way as the rest of the kitchen garden, but the rows of seeds may be sown as close together as 6 in. Although the seeds should be put in fairly thinly, they can be sown thicker than ordinary crops as they will be lifted and transplanted before they begin to overcrowd each other. The plants will be ready for transplanting when they are about 4 in. high. The ground so vacated can be forked over and a further sowing made for successive crops. After a year a fresh site will be advisable for the nursery seed bed, otherwise all the plant food, necessary for this particular crop will be exhausted. Ground where peas and beans have been grown is good.
SOWING AT STATIONS
Some root crops, such as parsnips, which have seeds that are large enough to handle individually, are sown at “ stations.” This reduces the amount of thinning and is therefore much more economical in seed. For this method, sow the seed at the required final distances, placing three seeds at each of these points. When the seedlings appear the strongest is left and the other two, they have both germinated, pulled up.
In stony ground, gardeners find it difficult to prevent roots from forking. Although a little more work is entailed, it is possible to replace the soil with a specially prepared compost. To do this a crowbar or stout piece of wood is used to make holes about I ft. deep, which are filled with the prepared mixture. The three seeds are sown as before on these specially prepared spots an inch below the surface of the ground.
SOWING IN BOXES
Some of our vegetables, such as onions, leeks and celery, are half-hardy plants and therefore cannot be sown with safety outside until April or May, which means that the crops will not mature until late in the season. In order to secure them earlier, gardeners resort to seed sowing in boxes under glass. Where a heated glasshouse is available, this should be used ; but a frame placed over a hot bed will do equally well. In this latter case the boxes should be stood on the hot bed.
The boxes are filled with a specially prepared mixture made of two parts loam, one part leaf-mould and a little sand.
This is put over broken crocks (pieces of flower pot) placed concave side down in the bottom of the box for drainage and the mixture made firm by pressing with a piece of wood. Seed is scattered thinly on the surface and covered by sifting fine soil over it. Cover the box with a sheet of glass, if you have any handy, and a piece of brown paper until the seeds-have germinated. Keeping them in the dark in this way makes germination more rapid. The compost used for filling the boxes should be moist, and if covered with glass and paper should require no further watering until the seedlings are through. If, however, the boxes have to be watered, use a very fine rose on the can.
When the seeds have germinated the boxes should be transferred to a light position in the greenhouse, as near the glass as possible, so that they do not become drawn and leggy. Each day the sheet of glass should be turned and have surplus moisture wiped from it.
When the seedlings are large enough to handle, they should be pricked out into further boxes of similar soil, being placed about x in. apart. A small pointed stick (dibber) is useful for this work.
Towards the end of April the boxes of young plants should be gradually hardened off so that they may be ready for planting out during May and June.
TIME FOR SEED SOWING
Although the major portion of outdoor seed sowing is carried out in March and April, practically every month of the year sees the sowing of one or other of the vegetable crops. Succession of crops is all important and it is possible to secure this by sowing a particular vegetable at intervals varying from a fortnight to three months, With the introduction of new varieties, strains that will withstand cold damp winters have been produced and therefore, when ordering your seeds, include a few of these varieties. These may be sown any time from July to early October. It is well known that broad beans are perfectly hardy, provided a longpod type is grown, and sowings should not be made until November.
With a cold frame or greenhouse, salads can be raised all the year round. Seed may be sown at any season, the only point to be considered being the variety. As with autumn sowings outside, hardy varieties need to be selected. Where the frame is over a hotbed, the reverse applies ; sow tender varieties.
Seedsmen’s catalogues generally give a good selection of varieties of each type of crop for different purposes, and the grower can choose which seeds will best suit his requirements. The best season for all gardening operations varies slightly in different districts. The grower will always find a gardening neighbour who can advise him as to the local peculiarities of that variable factor—the weather.
SEEDLINGS IN THE GREENHOUSE
An open staging in a light, airy greenhouse is the best place to put the boxes of pricked-out seedlings. To avoid all possibility of confusion each box and variety should be clearly named, a wooden label and a special gardening pencil’being used. Keep boxes clear of weeds.
1. Seedlings can be raised early in the year if given the protection of a cold frame or cloche.
2. Bedding plants should be transferred to boxes which are prepared as follows: Cover the drainage holes with broken crocks, concave side down, and over this place a layer of rough material, such as decaying leaves.
3. Fill the box with a compost made of two parts loam, one part leaf-mould and half part sand, passed through 1-in. Sieve.
4. When the soil in the box has been pressed firm the seedlings may be pricked out one or two inches apart.
Newly transplanted seedlings need plenty of moisture, fresh air, and shade from bright sunshine. Keep the seed boxes free from weeds.