Lecture by Alan Chadwick in Saratoga, May 9, 1972
Lecture 2, Part 2.1
An Introduction to Alan Chadwick's Lectures and a Glossary of Terms
The full text of this lecture segment
Contents of this Segment:
Gratitude of nature toward human beings; Visions of master propagators have created most of the garden plants; Raising seeds; Cuttings, Root divisions; Direct sowings and transplanting; Preparation of seed flats; Potting mix; Turf loam.
Villa Montalvo Lecture Series
Saratoga, California, 1972, Lecture 2,
Propagation, Part 1
The subject of our discussion is Propagation. It’s a huge world, and I’m going to try to go as fast as I can. If I become inaudible, or you find problems in keeping up with the speed, don’t hesitate to make a noise and bring us back to earth.
I have brought a certain quantity of books tonight, as requested, and next week I will bring pamphlets on fruit, orcharding, and also on Steiner references, of books, of addresses, and so on. And then anything else which is not here—and there are several books which I would have liked to have brought, but which I have been evacuated of at the University—and I will resuscitate them and bring them.
Propagation, this enormous, fascinating subject is indeed one in horticulture and agriculture which proves and brings about a sense in mankind which is really enormous and very unique. It is the biggest area of growing where nature at large literally says to man, “Thank God you exist. How delightful it is that you are with us. For we need your assistance, your guidance, and your help.” And this is indeed true in man’s propensity in the farm, in the garden, in propagation. Nature, obviously, has a huge love, affection, and delight in his participation.
Please to realize the fact that every vegetable, every flower, and practically all our garden plants, our decorative plants, and all our fruit trees today are the vision of master propagators, in conjunction with the laws of nature and creation. Every lettuce, every apple, plum, cherry, onion, is all a matter of propagation from what God, in a sense, has given in a wild state for man to enter the scene and say, “Come, let’s get together and see what we can create.”
And, of course, though man does not create anything at all, it is propagation. And I would suggest this for your thinking: There is nothing in the future, there is nothing in the world of the garden that you cannot imagine, but that if you imagine it sufficiently clearly, and have good enough intentions, you can bring it into being. That is not an understatement. At the moment, the whole world is asking for a yellow sweet pea. If any member tonight can develop a yellow sweet pea he will be a millionaire tomorrow.
I want to run over an ordinary procedure of seed raising to commence with, some of the technical procedures which are a high culture of seed raising. First of all, one has to assess this very astonishing fact that literally everything in this world blossoms and seeds, including birds and human beings. And, of course, it’s somewhat astonishing, a great many people do not seem to realize that every tree blossoms and produces seed. And of course, the method of propagating trees is from seed. They all come true to their family.
With shrubs, there are three variations of propagation—seed is not always correct; you get intermarriage—but cuttings and root division or air strike. And then with plants you have to divide up into annuals and then into perennials, and then into biennials and triennials. And here you usually have three methods of propagation: seed, cuttings or strikes, and again, root or crown divisions, with variations on themes, of course.
So, I first of all want to discuss a clear and very excellent technical method of producing seeds in boxes or in beds. Then this will lead us into a talk of the cycles, and then to deal with strikes and cuttings. And later on, after the coffee, I suggest we talk about taking our own seed, because this is a huge and very important subject.
When you are going to raise seeds, you must decide whether that seed is transplantable or not. If the seed is not transplantable, it must be sown into a permanent bed. And there are a certain number of plants, particularly of root varieties, where this is necessary such as carrots, beets, turnips, radish, and so on.
On the contrary, a great many plants not only can be transplanted, but actually proceed better if and when they are transplanted, providing that a strict technique is followed. So I will begin upon a system of raising seeds in boxes for transplanting and pricking-out first. And that will be three procedures: the sowing of the seed in the box, the pricking-out, and then the transplanting into the bed.
The method of preparation of the box:
The box should be shallow, and of such a size as to be handle-able: normally that length, that width, and that depth, not deeper. The box should have more than one board in the bottom to have good drainage. I won’t go over last week’s discussions on matters; you will find that they will line up, drainage being the all-important matter in growing. Into that box you should now place a lining of top leaf mold, preferably oak, second beech, third any deciduous leaf, and it should be of last year’s falling. On to that, you should have a preparation, sifted through sieves, of a mixture of “a third, a third, a third” with variations according to the seed. That variation should constitute literally: a third leaf mold or compost; a third sharp, meaning grit, alluvial grit or mineral grit, sand, if you like, but sharper than soft sand; and the third is turf loam.
Now I must stop there for a second to describe turf loam for those who are not au fait with it. Turf loam is a very considerable matter. All gardens in the past, when gardeners were much more gardeners, grew an area every year of turf. And that turf constituted a half grass of most any kind you like, provided that it is something not of a pernicious root, any kind of lawn turf, and into it a half of white clover, sown. And an area was always sown of this each year and left to grow and well-cultured, nurtured, and looked after. And in the late fall or autumn, you took a turf-cutting spade, which is a very sharp, special-shaped spade, and you cut that turf at an exact and acute thickness whereby the grass and the clover, which has just been cut before the cutting, before the lifting of the sod. That grass or clover is exactly the same depth as the soil and root in which it is growing when it is cut. And the actual thickness is about that. That now is placed after being cut into pieces very much like you would buy at a haberdashery or a draper’s shop, and they are placed grass to grass and sod to sod. And then grass to grass and sod to sod...
[Text transcription 2015 by G. Haynes]