STARTING THE PLANTS

Plants
Starting the plants
This beautifully prepared garden
spot--or rather the plant food in
it-- is to be transformed into good
things for your table, through the
ever wonderful agency of plant
growth. The thread of life inherent
in the tiniest seed, in the smallest
plant, is the magic wand that may
transmute the soil's dull metal into
the gold of flower and fruit.

All the thought, care and expense described in the preceding chapters
are but to get ready for the two things from which your garden is to
spring, in ways so deeply hidden that centuries of the closest
observation have failed to reveal their inner workings. Those two are
seeds and plants.
The plants which you put out in your garden will have been started
under glass from seed, so that, indirectly, everything depends on the
seed. Good seeds, and true, you must have if your garden is to attain
that highest success which should be our aim. Seeds vary greatly--very
much more so than the beginner has any conception of. There are three
essentials; if seeds fail in any one of them, they will be rendered
next to useless. First, they must be true; selected from good types of
stock and true to name; then they must have been good, strong, plump
seeds, full of life and gathered from healthy plants; and finally, they
must be fresh. It is therefore of vital importance that you procure the
best seeds that can be had, regardless of cost. Poor seeds are dear
at any price; you cannot afford to accept them as a gift. It is, of course,
impossible to give a rule by which to buy good seed, but the following
suggestions will put you on the safe track. First, purchase only from a
reliable mail-order house; do not be tempted, either by convenience or
cheapness, to buy the lithographed packets displayed in grocery and
hardware stores at planting time--as a rule they are not reliable; and what
you want for your good money is good seed, not cheap ink. Second, buy
from good seedsmen who make a point of growing and testing their own
seed. Third, to begin with, buy from several suppliers and weed out to the
one which proves, by actual results, to be the most reliable. Another good
plan is to purchase seed of any particular variety from the firm that makes
a leading specialty of it; in many cases these specialties have been
introduced by these firms and they grow their own supplies of these
seeds; they will also be surer of being true to name and type.
Good plants are, in proportion to the amounts used, just as important
as good seed--and of course you cannot afford losing weeks of garden
usefulness by growing entirely from seed sown out-doors. Beets,
cabbage, cauliflower, lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, egg-plant, and for
really efficient gardening, also onions, corn, melons, celery, lima
beans, cucumbers, and squash, will all begin their joyous journey
toward the gardener's table several weeks before they get into the
garden at all. They will all be started under glass and have attained a
good, thrifty, growing size before they are placed in the soil we have
been so carefully preparing for them. It is next to impossible to
describe a "good" vegetable plant, but he who gardens will come soon to
distinguish between the healthy, short-jointed, deep-colored plant
which is ready to take hold and grow, and the soft, flabby (or too
succulent) drawn-up growth of plants which have been too much pampered,
or dwarfed, weakened specimens which have been abused and starved; he
will learn that a dozen of the former will yield more than fifty of the
latter. Plants may be bought from the florist or market gardener. If so,
they should be personally selected, some time ahead, and gotten some
few days before needed for setting out, so that you may be sure to have
them properly "hardened off," and in the right degree of moisture, for
transplanting, as will be described later.
By far the more satisfactory way, however, is to grow them yourself.
You can then be sure of having the best of plants in exactly the
quantities and varieties you want. They will also be on hand when
conditions are just right for setting them out.
For the ordinary garden, all the plants needed may be started
successfully in hotbeds and cold-frames. The person who has had no
experience with these has usually an exaggerated idea of their cost and
of the skill required to manage them. The skill is not as much a matter
of expert knowledge as of careful regular care, daily. Only a few
minutes a day, but every day. The cost will be very little, especially if
you are att all handy with tools. The sash which serves for the cover,
and is removable, is the important part of the structure. The sash may be
purchased ready made and painted, at from $15.00 to $20.00 each, and
with care they will last ten or even twenty years, so you can see at once
that not a very big increase in the yield of your garden will be required to
pay interest on the investment. Or you can buy the sash unglazed, at a
proportionately lower price, and put the glass in yourself, if you prefer to
spend a little more time and less money. However, if you are not familiar
with the work, and want only a few, I would advise purchasing the finished
article. In size they are three feet by six. Frames upon which to put the sash
covering may also be bought complete, but here there is a chance to save
money by constructing your own frames--the materials required, being 2x4 in.
lumber for posts, and 3/4 x 2 x 12 in. planks.
So far as these materials go the hotbed and coldframe are alike. The
difference is that while the coldframe depends for its warmth upon
catching and holding the heat of the sun's rays, the hotbed is
artificially heated by fermenting manure, or in rare instances, by hot
water or steam pipes.
In constructing the hotbed there are two methods used; either by
placing the frames on top of the manure heap or by putting the manure
within the frames. The first method has the advantage of permitting the
hotbed to be made upon frozen ground, when required in the spring. The
latter, which is the better, must be built before the ground freezes,
but is more economical of manure. The manure in either case should be
that of grain-fed horses, and if a small amount of straw bedding, or
leaves--not more, however, than one-third of the latter--be mixed among
it, so much the better. Get this manure several days ahead of the time
wanted for use and prepare by stacking in a compact, tramped-down heap.
Turn it over after three or four days, and re-stack, being careful to
put the former top and sides of the pile now on the inside.
Having now readied the heating apparatus and the superstructure of our
miniature greenhouse, the building of it is a very simple matter. If
the ground is frozen, spread the manure in a low, flat heap--nine or
ten feet side, a foot and a half deep, and as long as the number of
sash to be used demands--a cord of manure thus furnishing a bed for
about three sash, not counting for the ends of the string or row. This
heap should be well trodden down and upon it should be placed or built
the box or frame upon which the sash are to rest. In using this method
it will be more convenient to have the frame made up beforehand and
ready to place upon the manure, as shown in one of the illustrations.
This should be at least twelve inches high at the front and some half a
foot higher at the back. Fill in with at least four inches--better six
--of good garden soil containing plenty of humus, that it may allow
water to soak through readily.
The other method is to construct the frames on the ground before severe
freezing, and in this case the front should be at least twenty-four
inches high, part of which--not more than half--may be below the ground
level. The 2 x 12 in. planks, when used, are handled as follows: stakes
are driven in to support the back plank some two or three inches above
the ground,--which should, of course, be level. The front plank is sunk
two or three inches into the ground and held upright by stakes on the
outside, nailed on. Remove enough dirt from inside the frame to bank up
the planks about halfway on the outside. When this banking has frozen
to a depth of two or three inches, cover with rough manure or litter to
keep frost from striking through. The manure for heating should be
prepared as above and put in to the depth of a foot, trodden down,
first removing four to six inches of soil to be put back on top of the
manure,--a cord of the latter, in this case, serving seven sashes. The
vegetable to be grown, and the season and climate, will determine the
depth of manure required--it will be from one to two feet,--the latter
depth seldom being necessary. It must not be overlooked that this
manure, when spent for heating purposes, is still as good as ever to
enrich the garden, so that the expense of putting it in and removing it
from the frames is all that you can fairly charge up against your
experiment with hotbeds, if you are interested to know whether they
really pay.
The exposure for the hotbeds should be where the sun will strike most
directly and where they will be sheltered from the north. Put up a
fence of rough boards, five or six feet high, or place the frames south
of some building.
The coldframe is constructed practically as in the hotbed, except that
if manure is used at all it is for the purpose of enriching the soil
where lettuce, radishes, cucumbers or other crops are to be grown to
maturity in it.
If one can put up even a very small frame greenhouse, it will be a
splendid investment both for profit and for pleasure. The cost is lower
than is generally imagined, where one is content with a home-made
structure. Look into it.

PREPARING THE SOIL

All this may seem like a lot of trouble to go to for such a small thing
as a packet of seed. In reality it is not nearly so much trouble as it
sounds, and then, too, this is for the first season only, a well built
frame lasting for years--forever, if you want to take a little more
time and make it of concrete instead of boards.
But now that the frame is made, how to use it is the next question.
The first consideration must be the soil. It should be rich, light,
friable. There are some garden loams that will do well just as taken
up, but as a rule better results will be obtained where the soil is
made up specially as follows: rotted sods two parts, old rotted manure
one part, and enough coarse sand added to make the mixture fine and
crumbly, so that, even when moist, it will fall apart when pressed into
a ball in the hand. Such soil is best prepared by cutting out sod, in
the summer, where the grass is green and thick, indicating a rich soil.
Along old fences or the roadside where the wash has settled will be
good places to get limited quantities. Those should be cut with
considerable soil and stacked, grassy sides together, in layers in a
compost pile. If the season proves very dry, occasionally soak the heap
through. In late fall put in the basement, or wherever solid freezing
will not take place, enough to serve for spring work under glass. The
amount can readily be calculated; soil for three sash, four inches
deep, for instance, would take eighteen feet or a pile three feet
square and two feet high. The fine manure (and sand, if necessary) may
be added in the fall or when using in the spring. Here again it may
seem to the amateur that unnecessary pains are being taken. I can but
repeat what has been suggested all through this book, that it will
require but little more work to do the thing the best way as long as
one is doing it at all, and the results will be not only better, but
practically certain--and that is a tremendously important point about
all gardening operations.

SOWING THE SEED

Having constructed our frames 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: You can get flats from your local flower or
garden shop. The bottoms should have holes bored in them to allow
any surplus water to drain off from the soil. Shallow flats may be used for
starting the seed and 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 if it has no manure in
it, the idea being to get the hardiest, 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 mold, and one part
sand.
The usual way of handling the seed flats is to fill each about onethird
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 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 four 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.
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, oneeighth
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. (following page)
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.

VEGETABLE DATE TO SOW BEST TEMPERATURE TO
GERMINATE (ABOUT)

Beets Feb. 15-Apr. 1 55 degrees
Broccoli Feb. 15-Apr. 1 55 degrees
Brussels Sprouts Feb. 15-Apr. 1 55 degrees
Cabbage Feb. 1-Apr. 1 55 degrees
Cauliflower Feb. 1-Apr. 1 55 degrees
Celery Feb. 15-Apr. 1 50 degrees
Corn Apr. 1-May 1 65 degrees
Cucumber Mar. 15-May 1 75 degrees
Egg-plant Mar. 1-Apr. 15 75 degrees
Kohlrabi Mar. 1-Apr. 1 55 degrees
Lettuce Feb. 15-Apr. 1 55 degrees
Melon, musk Apr. 1-May 1 75 degrees
Melon, water Apr. 1-May 1 75 degrees
Okra Mar. 15-Apr. 15 65 degrees
Onion Jan. 15-Mar. 15 50 degrees
Pepper Mar. 1-Apr. 15 75 degrees
Squash Mar. 15-Apr. 15 75 degrees
Tomato Mar. 1-Apr. 15 75 degrees
The temperatures required by the different varieties will be indicated
by the table above. It should be kept as nearly as possible within ten
degrees lower and fifteen higher (in the sun) than given. If the nights
are still cold, so that the mercury goes near zero, it will be
necessary to provide mats or shutters to cover the glass at night.
Or, better still, for the few earliest frames, have double-glass sash,
the dead-air space making further protection unnecessary.

VENTILATION: On all days when the temperature within the frame runs up

to sixty to eighty degrees, according to variety, give air, either by
tilting the sash up at the end or side, and holding in position with a
notched stick; or, if the outside temperature permits, strip the glass
off altogether.
WATERING: Keep a close watch upon the conditions of the soil,
especially if you are using flats instead of planting directly in the
soil. Wait until it is fairly dry--never until the plants begin to
wilt, however--and then give a thorough soaking, all the soil will
absorb. If at all possible do this only in the morning (up to eleven
o'clock) on a bright sunny day. Plants in the seedling state are
subject to "damping off"--a sudden disease of the stem tissue just at
or below the soil, which either kills the seedlings outright, or
renders them worthless. Some authorities claim that the degree of
moisture or dampness has nothing to do with this trouble. I am not
prepared to contradict them, but as far as my own experience goes I am
satisfied that the drier the stems and leaves can be kept, so long as
the soil is in good condition, the better. I consider this one of the
advantages of the "sub-irrigation" method of preparing the seed flats,
described above.
TRANSPLANTING: Under this care the little seedlings will come along
rapidly. When the second true leaf is forming they will be ready for
transplanting or "pricking off," as it is termed in garden parlance. If
the plants are at all crowded in the boxes, this should be done just as
soon as they are ready, as otherwise they will be injured by crowding
and more likely to damp off.
Boxes similar to the seed-flats, but an inch deeper, are provided for
transplanting. Fill these with soil as described for frames--sifted
through a coarse screen (chicken-wire size) and mixed with one-third
rotted manure. Or place an inch of manure, which must be so thoroughly
rotted that most of the heat has left, in the bottom, and fill in with
soil.
Find or construct a table or bench of convenient height, upon which to
work. With a flat piece of stick or one of the types of transplanting
forks lift from the seedling box a clump of seedlings, dirt and all,
clear to the bottom. Hold this clump in one hand and with the other
gently tear away the seedlings, one at a time, discarding all crooked
or weak ones. Never attempt to pull the seedlings from the soil in the
flats, as the little rootlets are very easily broken off. They should
come away almost intact. Water your seed-flats the day previous to
transplanting, so that the soil will be in just the right condition,
neither wet enough to make the roots sticky nor dry enough to crumble
away.
Take the little seedling by the stem between thumb and forefinger, and
with a small round pointed stick or dibber, or with the forefinger of
the other hand, make a hole to receive the roots and about half the
length--more if the seedlings are lanky--of the stem. As the seedling
drops into place, the tips of both thumbs and forefingers, by one
quick, firm movement, compress the earth firmly both down on the roots
and against the stem, so that the plant sticks up firmly and may not be
readily pulled out. Of course there is a knack about it which cannot be
put into words--I could have pricked off a hundred seedlings in the
time I am spending in trying to describe the operation, but a little
practice will make one reasonably efficient at it.
In my own work this spring, I have applied the "sub-irrigation" idea to
this operation also. The manure placed in the bottom of the boxes is
thoroughly watered and an inch of soil put in and watered also, and the
box then filled and the plants pricked in. By preparing a number of
flats at one time, but little additional work is required, and the
results have convinced me that the extra trouble is well worth while.
Of the early cabbage and cauliflower, not two plants in a thousand have
dropped out.
Ordinarily about one hundred plants are put in a 13 x 19 inch flat, but
if one has room and is growing only a few plants for home use, somewhat
better plants may be had if fifty or seventy-five are put in. In either
case keep the outside rows close to the edges of the flats, as they
will have plenty of room anyway. When the flat is completed, jar the
box slightly to level the surface, and give a thorough watering at
once, being careful, however, to bend down the plants as little as
possible. Set the flats close together on a level surface, and, if the
weather is bright, shade from the sun during the middle of the day for
two or three days.
From now on keep at the required temperature and water thoroughly on
bright mornings as often as the soil in the flats gets on the dry side,
as gardeners say--indicated by the whitening and crusting of the
surface. Above all, give all the air possible while maintaining the
necessary temperature. The quality of the plants will depend more upon
this than anything else in the way of care. Whenever the temperature
allows, strip off the sash and let the plants have the benefit of the
rains. A good rain seems to do them more good than any watering.
Should your plants of cabbage, lettuce, beets or cauliflower by any
chance get frozen, do not give them up for lost, for the chances are
that the following simple treatment will pull them through: In the
first place, shade them thoroughly from the sun; in the second, drench
them with cold water, the coldest you can get--if you have to break the
ice for it, so much the better. Try, however, to prevent its happening
again, as they will be less able to resist subsequent injury.
In hot weather, where watering and ventilation are neglected, the
plants will sometimes become infested with the green aphis, which under
such conditions multiplies with almost incredible rapidity.
HARDENING OFF: For five days or a week before setting plants in the
field they should be thoroughly hardened off. If they have been given
plenty of air this treatment will mean little change for them--simply
exposing them more each day, until for a few nights they are left
entirely without protection. They will then be ready for setting out in
the open, an operation which is described in the next chapter.

STARTING PLANTS OUTSIDE

Much of the above is applicable also to the starting of plants out-ofdoors,
for second and for succession crops, such as celery and late
cabbage. Select for the outside seed-bed the most thoroughly pulverized
spot to be found, enriched and lightened with fine manure. Mark off
rows a foot apart, and to the necessary depth; sow the seed evenly;
firm in if the soil is dry, cover lightly with the back of the rake and
roll or smooth with the back of the spade, or of a hoe, along the
drills. The seed, according to variety, will begin to push through in
from four to twenty days. At all times keep the seed-bed clear of
weeds; and keep the soil between the rows constantly cultivated. Not
unless it is very dry will watering be necessary, but if it is
required, give a thorough soaking toward evening.
As the cabbage, celery and similar plants come along it will add to
their sturdiness and stockiness to shear off the tops--about half of
the large leaves--once or twice after the plants have attained a height
of about six inches.
If the precautions concerning seed and soil which I have given are
heeded and the details of the work of planting, transplanting and care
are carried out, planting time (April) will find the prospective
gardener with a supply of good, stocky, healthy plants on hand, and
impatient to get them into that carefully prepared garden spot. All of
this work has been--or should have been--interesting, but that which
follows in the next chapter is more so.