Making The Beds

All plant beds in French gardens, whether under frames or cloches or in the open air, are of uniform width, namely, 4 ft.

5 in., with a pathway of 1 ft. between, making 5 ft. 5 in. altogether. The length may vary, but, as a rule, they are arranged so that five frames with fifteen lights are placed end to end, thus making the length of each bed about 65 ft. before an intersecting pathway comes. By arranging all the beds in this way the frames and cloches are readily interchangeable from one bed to another. This is a great advantage, as it often happens that frames and lights and cloches that might otherwise be lying idle after their crops have been gathered, are immediately transferred over other crops, which will be hastened into maturity more quickly by the extra warmth and protection.

It should be mentioned that frames and pathways are purposely narrow for two reasons. First, during the winter season it would be often dangerous to open the lights or cloches to supply water to the crops, as the latter might be chilled and checked so much in growth that they would be a failure. Water, however, being an essential of plant growth, must be present in sufficient abundance, or the crops would also fail. To avoid this, the rain or water falling on the frames drips into the narrow pathways between and is soaked up by the manure in the same way that water is soaked up by a sponge. The beds, being only about 4 ft. 6 in. wide, allow therefore for a soakage inwards and upwards by capillary attraction for about 2 ft. 3 in. on each side from the pathways. It is fairly obvious that if the beds were, say, 6 or 8 ft. wide, the plants in the centre would probably perish either from drought, or by giving them water overhead the entire crop would be endangered.

In the second place, the pathways are narrow to economize manure, and so that a more regular heat can be maintained when they are filled right up with hot manure in severe weather. These important facts have been overlooked in some English market gardens where the French system has been "tried ", or rather misapplied.

To carry manure about, a peculiar kind of wicker basket, called a hotte, is used by French gardeners. The general appearance of it may be seen in fig. 519. It is essential to have this basket, and to carry it on the back by means of the two leather straps that go over the shoulders, as it would be quite impossible to use a wheelbarrow in the narrow pathways (1 ft. wide) between the frames and beds of cloches. Ordinary hottes hold more manure than a big box wheel-barrow, and the French gardeners say they would rather carry manure a whole day in a hotte than they would wheel it for half a day in an ordinary English wheelbarrow. Such is taste and custom!

To fill a hotte with manure it is placed on a tripod stand, made of wood or iron, quite close to the manure heap. When full, the workman places a strap over each shoulder and marches off with the manure to the desired spot. An expert can unload the basket quite easily, but the novice, in attempting to unload, will be probably turned " head over heels " in the manure itself, and get his feet entangled in the straps. Novices, therefore, should not be employed to carry or deposit manure between rows of frames and cloches.