Planting the vegetable seed
There is no part of the garden work which calls for such nice judgment and careful attention as the sowing of seed. Most of the failures originate right here, and a large share of the blame devoted to the seeds and seedsman, if traced back to its original source, would be found to rest on the ignorance or carelessness of the gardener. In the first place, there is a tendency among a large class of people to get something for nothing or at least at a bargain. This results in the purchase of cheap seeds or premium seeds or seeds purchased by the local grocer or seedsman that may, probably, have laying on his shelves from the season before or an even earlier date.
Now, to have a successful garden one must start right by buying good seeds of reliable seedsmen and seeds of plants suited to one’s own locality. If, in addition, the seeds have been grown in practically the same latitude, so much the better; it ensures a hardy constitution, acclimated to the conditions which prevail in your particular locality. Now, as a general thing, good seed means high-priced seeds or seeds for which one pays a reasonable amount. This is at it should be. One should not expect to raise premium vegetables from cheap, scrub seed, and there is as great a difference in the pedigree of seed as in that of animals.
Then one should not only see that they are securing the best seed that the market affords but they should secure it in time, not wait until they are ready to plant and then rush off an order, hurriedly prepared and half the things needed to be forgotten and most of the others wrong, and expect to receive them by return mail. The spring of the year is a busy time with the seedsman, and it is but fair to him, as well as just to yourself, to give him a reasonable time to fill your order by getting it in early. If Mr. Jones has ordered an ounce of silver-skin peppers and ruby-king parsnips, there ought to be time allowed for the seedsman to inquire what Mr. Jones really wants, and not be obliged to fill his order by guesswork. Of course, he will readily understand that what is wanted is ruby‑king peppers and silver-skin onions, but how about the parsnips?
Late in winter or early in spring, one should go over the seeds which have been saved from the home garden and ascertain how far they meet the requirements of the coming year. Then a list of such seeds as are not on hand should be made and the catalogs consulted for prices and varieties. The list made up then may, probably will, need frequent revising, and by the time it is mailed to the seedsman may be trusted to supply just about the varieties and quantities wanted. And, speaking of quantity, it will be about as cheap, in a good many cases, to buy by the ounce as by the packet; especially is this the case with those seeds of which it may be necessary to make repeated sowings—as cucumbers, squashes, melons, beans, and the like. A cold, wet spring often entails much replanting, and sufficient seed should be on hand to enable one to replant at once when it is discovered that the first planting is for any reason abortive. Owing to the proneness of seeds of vine plants to rot in the ground if too wet or cold, a much greater quantity of seed is required. Generous planting of these seeds is also necessary on account of the ravages of the squash bug, which must be liberally fed to induce him to leave a plant or two for the garden.
Next in importance to the quality of the seeds is the time in which they are sown. There are a few seeds that may be planted into the ground as early as they can be worked. Beets, cabbage, lettuce, onions, peas, salsify, spinach, and turnips are all planted for early crops as soon as the ground can be worked, but such early planting of corn, tomatoes, melons, cucumbers, and other heat-loving plants would simply result in the loss of both time and seed.
The condition of the soil, also, has a marked influence on the germination of the seed. When the ground is still wet from the frost in spring it is not in condition for the successful sowing of seed; it is better to wait until it has dried sufficiently to be mellow and tractable before sowing any kind of seed. Too dry soil is seldom a cause of complaint. The thorough firming of the soil over the seed is of the utmost importance—this and the depth at which the seeds are planted—for in sowing seed in the open ground much greater depth is necessary than would be given the same seed in the hotbed.
In my early gardening experience I was very ambitious about getting things started at the earliest possible moment and to have things a little in advance of my neighbors, but several years of covering plants in the open ground to protect them from frost has quite cured me of any undue ambition; I am quite willing that my neighbor’s tomatoes shall ripen a day or two ahead of mine if in return they will collect blankets, quilts, canvas, and other protective material and spend frosty hours spreading them over tender plants scattered over an acre or two of ground and trail around in the dew of the morning removing them, while I toast my toes by the fire and read my evening paper.
Unless the time and the condition of the ground are entirely favorable, it will be well to plant only a portion of the seed at a time, reserving enough for a second planting should the first fail to come up or the young plants be destroyed in any way.