This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V18", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
In managing the vegetable garden the highest excellence should be aimed at. This is the chief source of pleasure in a garden. If one can take no pleasure in his garden, - if the watching of the beautiful processes of nature in furnishing him food - and the many lessons they teach him, which he in a thousand ways can so pleasurably and profitably apply, have no charms and attractions for him, he had better give up gardening; for assuredly, in most cases, - even to 99 in 100 instances, - the market gardener will bring the vegetables to his own door cheaper than he can grow them. Amateur gardening should primarily be pursued for the lessons it teaches, and the pleasure it affords; when it ceases to do this it should be abandoned.
In the Middle States the work for February will, for the most part, consist of preparations for future operations, and particularly for dealing with the manure question. All those kinds that are grown for their leaves or stems require an abundance of nitrogenous manures; and it is useless to attempt vegetable gardening without it, To this class belong Cabbage, Lettuce, Spinach, etc. The other class, which is grown principally for its seeds or pods (as Beans, Peas, etc.), docs not require much, manure of this character; in fact they are injured by it. It causes too great a growth of stem and leaf, and the earliness - a great aim in vegetable growing - is injuriously affected. Mineral manures, as wood ashes, bone-dust, etc., are much better for them. For vegetables requring rich stable manure, it is better that they have it well rotted and decayed. Nothing has yet been found so well fitted for the purpose as old hot-bed dung: though to the smell no trace of "ammonia" remains in it.
One of our most interesting parts of a vegetable garden is a hot-bed for starting seeds early. The end of the month will be time enough for those who have not command of a large supply of stable manure, as the very low temperature we often get at the end of the month soon absorbs all the heat the hot-bed possessed. It is in any event best to put up the beds in the warmest and most sheltered spots we can find, and to keep cold winds from the manure, by covering it with branches of trees or mats; and the glass should always be covered with mats at night. Tomatoes, Egg-plants, Peppers and Cucumbers, are the first seeds to be sown this way. Cooler frames can be got ready for Cauliflower, Lettuce, Beets, Celery and Early York Cabbage, a little of which may be sown about the end of the month for the earliest crop. The Cauliflower is a particularly valued vegetable, and no expense spared to get them in perfection will be regretted when one's efforts are successful.
In the open air, should the weather prove favorable, as it often is about the end of the month, Peas and Potatoes may be planted. Frost seldom gets deep enough in new dug ground to injure them after this date.
In the more southern States, the gardener will lose no time in getting in his Potatoes, Beets, Carrots, Parsnips, Peas, Spinach, Radishes, Lettuce, Onions, and Salsafy. These should be the first crops put in after the season breaks up for good. The earlier they are in the better. Asparagus, Rhubarb and Horse-radish beds may now be made. Asparagus roots are generally planted too thickly to produce fine shoots, - they starve one another. A bed five feet wide should have three rows, and the plants set about eighteen inches apart. A deep soil is very important, as the succulent stems require every chance they can get for obtaining moisture. About four inches beneath the soil is sufficient to plant them. Rhubarb also requires a deep, rich and moist soil. Horse-radish beds are best made by taking pieces of strong roots, about one inch long, and making a hole about a foot or fifteen inches deep, with a dibble, and dropping the piece to the bottom of the hole; a clean, straight root will then rise up through the soil.
Crowns or eyes are better than pieces of roots, - where they can be had - and a rich clayey soil better than a light, sandy one.
About the middle or end of the month, or still later in the North, - say the middle of March, -Celery and late Cabbage may be sown. Here, we usually sow the second week in March.
In the Northern States, Broccoli, and Cauliflower when sown in March as recommended, do not head early enough in Fall. It should be sown about the time of Early York Cabbage, in the hot-bed, during this month.
Pruning of fruit trees, when required, should be proceeded with at favorable opportunities. We write when required, for in our climate more injury is done by the knife than by the neglect to use it. Gooseberries, for instance, are usually ruined by pruning. In Europe, it is customary to thin out the centre well to " let in the sun and air." Here it is - the sun and air that ruin them, by inviting mildew; and so the more shoots, the better. Our country farmers are the best gooseberry growers, where weeds run riot, and grass and gooseberries affect a dose companionship. Wherever, in fact, the gooseberry can find a cool corner, well shaded from the sun, and with a soil, which, is never wet, nor yet by any means dry, there will gooseberries be produced unto you. The English kinds mildew so universally as to lto almost gone out of cultivation south of the St. Lawrence. Nor, indeed, is it to be so much regretted, since the improved seedlings of large size and fine quality, raised from the hardier American species, are becoming known, and their merits appreciated by growers.
The rule, in pruning grape-vines, is to shorten the shoots in proportion to their strength; but if the advice we have given in former summer hints has been attended to, there will be little disproportion in this matter, as summer pinching of the strong shoots has equalized the strength of the vine. Those who are following any particular system will, of course prune according to the rules comprising such system. As a general rule, we can only say, excellent grapes can be had by any system of pruning; for the only object of limning in any case is to get strong shoots to push where they may be desired, or to increase, with the increased vigor of the shoot, which pruning supposes will follow the act, increased size in the fruit it bears.
All fruit trees like a rather dry, rich soil. On a cold, clayey bottom, diseases are usually frequent. Do not plant deep; cut oft' tap roots, and do all you can to encourage surface fibres. Surface manuring is the best way of doing this after the tree is planted. Do not allow anything to grow vigorously around your trees the first year of planting, nor allow the soil to become hard or dry. Let trees branch low, and prune a little at transplanting.
Manuring of grapes should be regulated by the nature of the soil. If it be damp - in most cases a bad condition for grape growing - stable manure in great quantities means diseased vines. In dry ground, it has a beneficial effect. Many persons of small places have grapes in damp ground, or can have none. They must take care to keep the roots near the surface; never crop the ground about them to destroy the small fibres, if it can be avoided; and even good may often follow, when the vines seem failing, to carefully follow up the roots, lift near the surface, and encourage, as much as possible, those remaining there. Wood-ashes, bone-dust, and such like fertilizers are best for grape-vines in low ground.
In order to grow good fruit, we need only repeat in a general way, that trees require as much food as a crop of corn, or potatoes; but it is very important to keep the feeding roots at the surface, and therefore that the very best way to mature fruit trees is by surface dressing.