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Seed raising is the simplest method of plant propagation. Its success depends on the type of soil and the position of the seedbed. The capacity of the soil to hold moisture during the period of germination is most important, because seedlings are greatly Influenced by the moisture content of the seed-bed.
Select a position in the garden that receives a fair amount of sun and is protected from drying winds. The size of the bed will depend on how much of the garden is allotted to annuals and perennials.
A light free-working soil of uniform texture is best for raising seed, especially when enriched with organic matter. The soil must retain water but never be wet and soggy. It must be easily drained.
Phosphates are the most important food for seedlings. They play an important part in early root formation and it might be advisable to apply superphosphate to the bed some weeks before planting.
Stable manure added to the soil is very helpful, and it can be mixed in at about the same time as the phosphates. Manure and well-rotted compost improve the water-holding capacity of the soil.
Preparing the Seed Bed When preparing the seed-bed, begin digging some weeks before planting. Open the soil to a depth of about 6 inches. A week before the seeds are to be sown fork it over so as to give it a crumbly texture; a fine tilth is not needed at this stage.
Level it off using a rake or flat board and then soak with water. Rake
the bed again just before planting the seeds. The seeds should not be sown too deeply and, if very small, they can be mixed with sand. Sow both sand and seeds together and leave them on the surface. Begonia seeds, for example, require no soil covering.
When the seeds are sown in boxes and not in beds it is advisable to cover the boxes with sheets of glass. Seed-beds can be covered with damp sacks which will conserve moisture. Frequent light watering after planting is most important, but the bed must not be kept wet.
As soon as the seeds show signs of active germination remove the sacks or sheets of glass; it is necessary to allow air to circulate freely over the seed-bed or boxes. This will tend to dry out the surface soil and a light watering might be called for. Keeping the soil wet at this stage will encourage "damping-off"; when seedlings are attacked by this disease they topple over at soil level and die.