Home Vegetable Gardening/Chapter IX
Chapter IX: Sowing and Planting
The importance of having good seeds has already been declared. They must not only grow, but grow into what we have bought them for--be true to name. Without the latter quality we cannot be sure of good gardens, and without the former they will not be full ones. A meagre "stand" from seeds properly sown is a rather exasperating and discouraging experience to encounter. The cost for fertilizing and preparing the land is just as much, and the cost of cultivating very nearly as much, when the rows are full of thrifty plants or strung out with poor ones. Whether you use ten cents' worth or ten dollars' worth, the best seed to be had will be the most economical to buy--to say nothing of the satisfaction that full rows give.
And yet good seedsmen are more thoughtlessly and unjustly abused in the matter of seed vitality than in any other. Inexperienced gardeners seem universally to have the conviction that the only thing required in seed sowing is to cover the seed with soil. What sort of soil it is, or in what condition, or at what depth or temperature the seed is planted, are questions about which they do not trouble themselves to think.
Two conditions--moisture and warmth--are necessary to induce germination of seeds, no matter how full of life they may be; and as was shown in the preceding chapter the different varieties have some choice as to the degree of each, especially of temperature. This means of course that some commonsense must be used in planting, and when planting outdoors, where we cannot regulate the temperature to our need, we simply must regulate our seed sowing to its dictates, no matter how impatient we may be.
To insure the best possible germination, and thus the best gardening, we must, first of all then, settle the question of temperature when sowing out-of-doors. For practical work it serves to divide the garden vegetables into two groups, though in planting, the special suggestions in the following chapter should be consulted.
When to Sow Outdoors
Sow from the end of March to the beginning of May, or when plum and peach trees bloom, the following:
Sow from the beginning of May to the middle of June, or when apple trees bloom, the following:
Getting the seed to sprout, however, is only the first step in the game; they must be provided with the means of immediately beginning to grow. This means that they should not be left to germinate in loosely packed soil, full of air spaces, ready to dry out at the first opportunity, and to let the tiny seed roots be shriveled up and die. The soil should touch the seed--be pressed close about it on all sides, so that the first tiny tap root will issue immediately into congenial surroundings where it can instantly take hold. Such conditions can be found only in a seed-bed fine but light enough to pack, reasonably rich and sufficiently moist, and where, in addition to this, the seed has been properly planted.
Methods of Planting
The seed-bed, as it is called, is the surface prepared to receive the seed, whether for a patch of radishes or an acre of onions. For crops to be sown directly where they are to go, the chapter on Preparation of the Soil takes us to this point, and as stated at the conclusion of that chapter, the final preparation of the bed should be made only immediately prior to its use.
Having, then, good seeds on hand and the soil properly prepared to receive them, the only problem remaining is what way they shall be put in. The different habits of growth characteristic of different plants make it patent at the outset that there must be different methods of planting, for very evidently a cabbage, which occupies but three or four square feet of space and stays in one place to make a head, will not require the same treatment as a winter squash, roaming all over the garden and then escaping under the fence to hide some of its best fruit in the tall grass outside.
The three systems of planting usually employed are known as "drills," "rows" and "hills." I do not remember ever seeing a definition giving the exact distinctions between them; and in horticultural writing they seem to be used, to some extent at least, interchangeably. As a rule "drills" refer to the growing of plants continuously in rows, such as onions, carrots or spinach. "Rows" refer to the growing of plants at fixed distances apart in the rows such as cabbage, or potatoes--the cultivation, except hand weeding and hoeing, being all done in one direction, as with drills. "Hills" refer to the growing of plants usually at equal distances, four feet or more apart each way, with cultivating done in both directions, as with melons and squashes. I describe the different methods at length so that the reader may know more definitely just what is meant by the special instructions given in the following text.
Sowing the Seed
If one observes the suggestions as to temperature just given, and the following precautions in placing the seed within the soil, failure of good seed to germinate is practically impossible. In the first place, plant _on a freshly prepared surface_, always just before a rain if possible, except in the case of very small seeds, when just after a rain will be better. If the soil is at all dry, or likely to be followed by a spell of hot, dry weather, always firm by using the back of the hoe for small seed, or the ball of the foot for larger ones, such as peas, beans or corn, to press the seed firmly and evenly into the soil before covering. Then when the soil is covered in over the seed, firm along the top of the row very lightly, just enough to mark it and hold the soil in place.
The depth of the drill furrow in which the seed is to be sown will depend
- on the variety of vegetable,
- on the season of planting, and
- on weather conditions.
Remember that the seed must be supplied with moisture both to germinate and to continue to exist after germination; and also that it must have soil through which the air can to some extent penetrate. Keeping these things in mind, common sense dictates that seed planted in the spring, or during a wet spell of weather, will not need to be put in as deeply as should the same seed in summer or early autumn, or during a hot, dry spell.
The old general rule is, to cover seed planted under glass, where the moisture can be controlled, to a depth of two or three times its diameter; and out-of-doors, to four or five times. I should say these depths were the minimums desirable. In other words, the smallest seed, such as onion, carrot, lettuce, will go in one-quarter to one-half inch deep. Beets, spinach, parsnips and other medium-sized seed one-half to one inch deep, and peas, beans, corn, etc., two to four inches deep-- usually near the first figure.
After the seed is sown it is of course desirable to keep the ground from baking or crusting on top, as it is likely to do after a morning rain followed directly by hot sun. If the seed sprouts have not yet reached the surface of the soil, rake very lightly across the rows with an iron rake; if they have broken through, work as close as possible to the row. The best implement I have ever seen for this purpose is the disc attachment of the double wheel hoe--see Implements. An ordinarily good garden loam, into which the desirable quantity of short manure has been worked, will give little trouble by raking. In a clay soil, it often will pay, on a small scale, to sift leaf mould, sphagnum moss, or some other light porous covering, over the rows, especially for small seed. The special seed-bed, for starting late cabbage or celery, may easily be sheltered. In very hot, dry weather this method will be a great help.
Setting Out Plants
The reader has not forgotten, of course, that plants as well as seeds must go into the well managed garden. We have already mentioned the hardening-off process to which they must be subjected before going into the open ground. The flats should also be given a copious watering several hours, or the day before, setting out. All being ready, with your rows made straight and marked off at the correct distances, lift out the plants with a trowel or transplanting fork, and tear or cut them apart with a knife, keeping as much soil as possible with each ball of roots. Distribute them at their positions, but not so many at a time that any will dry out before you get them in place. Get down on your hands and knees, and, straddling the row, proceed to "set." With the left hand, or a trowel or dibber if the ground is not soft, make a hole large enough to take the roots and the better part of the stem, place the plant in position and firm into place by bearing down with the backs of the knuckles, on either side. Proceed so to the end of the row, being careful to keep your toes from undoing your good work behind you, and then finish the job by walking back over the row, still further firming in each plant by pressing down the soil at either side of the stem simultaneously with the balls of the feet. When all the rows are completed, go over the surface with the iron rake, and you will have a job thoroughly done and neatly finished.
If the weather and soil are exceptionally dry it may be necessary to take the additional precautions, when planting, of putting a pint or so of water in each hole (never on the surface) previous to planting; or of puddling the roots in a thick mixture of rich soil and water. The large leaves also should be trimmed back one-half. In the case of plants that are too tall or succulent, this should be done in any case --better a day or two previous to setting out.
Transplanting should be done whenever possible in dull weather or before rain--or even during it if you really would deserve the name of gardener! If it must be done when the sun continues strong, shade the plants from, say, ten to three o'clock, for a day or two, with half sheets of old newspapers held in tent-shaped position over the plants by stones or earth. If it is necessary to give water, do it toward evening. If the plants have been properly set, however, only extreme circumstances will render this necessary.
Keep a sharp lookout for cut-worms, maggots or other enemies described in Chapter XIII.
And above all, CULTIVATE.
Never let the soil become crusted, even if there is not a weed in sight. Keep the soil loosened up, for that will keep things growing.