The Ancient Gardener's Instructor: Dispatches from Wesley Greene
February 20, 2013In our last correspondence we discussed the formation of a hotbed for raising spring seedlings. After the hot dung is loaded into the pit and packed down firmly, the window sashes are laid on the frame and the manure is allowed to heat. If it is well made, and the dung is not too wet, the bed should achieve a temperature of between 120 and 140 degrees in a day or two. Once a sufficient heat is generated it will be time to lay the soil over the top. For this we use the fully composted manure from last year’s hotbed as it is well known that seeds germinate more reliably in an organic soil than in a mineral soil. The compost is broken up fine and then laid evenly over the dung approximately four inches thick being mindful to pick out any grubs that you may find within the compost. The glasses are then placed back over the frames and in a day or two, the soil temperature will have settled at between 70 and 80 degrees on Mr. Fahrenheit’s scale. You are now ready to sow your seeds. Some seeds, such as lettuce and cabbage, will emerge in just a few days while others, such as leek and artichoke, will take a week or two to appear. When the seedlings have their first true leaves it will be necessary to thin the rows so that the individual plants will have room to mature to transplantation size. Lift the entire row of seedlings with your trowel and gently separate them one from the other, handling them by their leaves and not by their stems. They can then be laid in a basket while you level the planting bed and make evenly spaced holes with a dibble to accept the seedlings. Once they are planted water them well and cover the frame back over with the sashes.
In a month and a half the plants will have five or six leaves and will be ready to be moved into the garden; choose an overcast day with rain in the forecast for the most reliable results.
A fuller explanation of the art and science of propagating vegetables can be found in Vegetable Gardening the Colonial Williamsburg Way, 18th Century Methods for Today’s Organic Gardeners (Rodale Press).