Having now our frames provided and our soil composed properly and good
strong tested seed on hand, we are prepared to go about the business of
growing our plants with a practical certainty of success--a much more
comfortable feeling than if, because something
or other had been but half done, we must anxiously await results and the chances of having the work we had put into the thing go, after all, for nothing. The seed may be sown either directly in the soil or in "flats." Flats are made as follows: Get from your grocer a number of cracker boxes, with the tops. Saw the boxes lengthwise into sections, a few two inches deep and the rest three. One box will make four or five such sections, for two of which bottoms will be furnished by the bottom and top of the original box. Another box of the same size, knocked apart, will furnish six bottoms more to use for the sections cut from the middle of the box. The bottoms of all, if tight, should have, say, five three- quarter-inch holes bored in them to allow any surplus water to drain off from the soil. The shallow flats may be used for starting the seed and the three-inch ones for transplanting. Where sowing but a small quantity of each variety of seed, the flats will be found much more convenient than sowing directly in the soil--and in the case of their use, of course, the soil on top of the manure need be but two or three inches deep and not especially prepared. Where the seed is to go directly into the frames, the soil described above is, of course, used. But when in flats, to be again transplanted, the soil for the first sowing will be better for having no manure in it, the idea being to get the hardest, stockiest growth possible. Soil for the flats in which the seeds are to be planted should be, if possible, one part sod, one part chip dirt or leaf mould, and one part sand. The usual way of handling the seed flats is to fill each about one- third full of rough material--screenings, small cinders or something similar--and then fill the box with the prepared earth, which should first be finely sifted. This, after the seeds are sown, should be copiously watered--with a fine rose spray, or if one has not such, through a folded bag to prevent the washing of the soil. Here is another way which I have used recently and, so far, with one hundred per cent, certainty of results. Last fall, when every bit of soil about my place was ash dry, and I had occasion to start immediately some seeds that were late in reaching me, my necessity mothered the following invention, an adaptation of the principle of sub-irrigation. To have filled the flats in the ordinary way would not have done, as it would have been impossible ever to wet the soil through without making a solid mud cake of it, in which seeds would have stood about as good a chance of doing anything as though not watered at all. I filled the flats one-third full of sphagnum moss, which was soaked, then to within half an inch of the top with soil, which was likewise soaked, and did not look particularly inviting. The flats were then filled level-full of the dust-dry soil, planted, and put in partial shade. Within half a day the surface soil had come to just the right degree of moisture, soaked up from below, and there was in a few days more a perfect stand of seedlings. I have used this method in starting all my seedlings this spring--some forty thousand, so far--only using soil screenings, mostly small pieces of decayed sod, in place of the moss and giving a very light watering in the surface to make it compact and to swell the seed at once. Two such flats are shown [ED., unable to recreate in typed format], just ready to transplant. The seedlings illustrated in the upper flat had received just two waterings since being planted. Where several hundred or more plants of each variety are wanted, sow the seed broadcast as evenly as possible and fairly thick--one ounce of cabbage, for instance, to three to five 13 x 19 inch flats. If but a few dozen, or a hundred, are wanted, sow in rows two or three inches apart, being careful to label each correctly. Before sowing, the soil should be pressed firmly into the corners of the flats and leveled off perfectly smooth with a piece of board or shingle. Press the seed evenly into the soil with a flat piece of board, cover it lightly, one- eighth to one-quarter inch, with sifted soil, press down barely enough to make smooth, and water with a very fine spray, or through burlap. For the next two days the flats can go on a pretty hot surface, if one is available, such as hot water or steam pipes, or top of a boiler, but if these are not convenient, directly into the frame, where the temperature should be kept as near as possible to that indicated in the following table. In from two to twelve days, according to temperature and variety, the little seedlings will begin to appear. In case the soil has not been made quite friable enough, they will sometimes "raise the roof" instead of breaking through. If so, see that the surface is broken up at once, with the fingers and a careful watering, as otherwise many of the little plants may become bent and lanky in a very short time. From now on until they are ready to transplant, a period of some three or four weeks, is the time when they will most readily be injured by neglect. There are things you will have to look out for, and your attention must be regular to the matters of temperature, ventilation and moisture.
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