This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V20", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
Flowers in Winter, flowers in Spring, Autumn flowers, all in turn bring their special pleasures; but the first get the heartiest welcome, and chiefly, we suppose, from the difficulty experienced in obtaining them. Yet it is not so difficult if one has plenty of sun-light. If the plants have any tendency whatever to bloom in Winter, sun-light will bring them on. Where windows or greenhouses be so that they can have every ray of sun, from early morning to noon at least, the houses or rooms may not have a high artificial temperature. A house at 45°, with plenty of sun-light, will have more flowers than one at 65° with the same sort of plants, and only general light, without the direct rays of the sun.
This will give a hint to all who are building greenhouses for Winter flowering, to have the roof-pitch very steep. It is almost impossible to get flowers of any consequence in Winter from a very flat-pitched house.
We note, with much interest, the increase of these grateful winter pleasures; but they are not near as common as they might be, through a fear that the expense is more than can readily be borne. But this is generally through the proprietor himself not giving the matter much thought, but depending altogether on the carpenter. It is best always, in this matter to have the advice of an intelligent and experienced gardener. Every twenty-five dollars invested in this way will save hundreds from the carpenter's bill. We note many places rendered worthless for a thousand dollars, which, with a proper understanding of the wants of plants, and proper arrangements, might have been made pleasant places for half that sum.
In the arrangement of plants in the greenhouse, continual change is commendable. Every few weeks the plants may be re-set, and the houses made to appear quite different. In the end where the lowest plants once were set, now the taller ones may be placed; here a convex group, and there presenting a concave appearance. Drooping plants on elevated shelves, and hanging baskets from the roof, make little paradises of variety in what were once unbearable monotony. Gardeners often wish to know the secret of maintaining a continued interest, on the part of their employers, in their handiwork, and this is one of the most potent - continued change and variety in the appearance of every thing. Beautiful flowers, graceful forms, elegant combinations, all developing themselves with a healthy luxuriousness and ever-changing endlessness, will wake up an interest in the most indifferent breast.
The temperature of the greenhouse at this season should be maintained at about 50°, allowing it rise 10° or 15° under the full sun, and sinking 10° or so in the night. Though many of our practical brethren differ from us, men, for some of whose opinions we entertain the highest respect, we do not recommend a very great difference between night and day temperature; we think 10° ample allowance. It is following nature, no doubt; but we would rather strive to beat nature. She cannot make the specimens we do, nor flower them so beautifully or profusely, and in many other respects we think the practical gardener can much improve on her red-tape notions and old-fashioned courses.
The management of a greenhouse fire is worthy of a thought. Few of those who attend them know much about their proper management. In lighting a fire a good jack-knife and a piece of pine wood is as good as an armful of shavings. Shave the piece a little without taking the shavings wholly off. Start these with a match, and, being connected with the main piece, they will fire it. A few pieces crossed over this nucleus, and off the whole goes. This little hint will save considerable time in hunting paper and shavings, or straw. The fire lighted, it must be kept bright or dull according to the probable weather. To do this use wet ashes. If it is desired to keep a body of heat for a long time without burning away, proceed in this wise : Start the fire at noon, for instance, and get the coal thoroughly red hot. Then, say an hour after, put on a shovelful or two of fresh coal, and let it burn about half through. When it has done this, which will be towards evening, cover with three or four shovelsful of wet ashes, leaving a very small opening through to the coal at the far end. If such a fire be properly made in this way, there will be little necessity to look at it again till next day at noon.
Then throw a few shovelsful of coal on the hot mass of ashes, doing no more than this for an hour or so. The coal by that time will be thoroughly warmed, and in that condition readily burns. It is worthy of remembrance at all times, that warm coal will ignite more rapidly than cold coal. Having warmed it on the hot ashes, we may now watch the weather. If we want to get up the fire in a hurry, we now rake out a little ashes from the bottom, so as to induce a little draft, and suffer the coal on the top to drop into the ashes. As soon as it begins to redden, we can rake it more if we want to hurry it, or less if we do not. Of course how much or how little of this raking or ash covering is to be done depends on the weather, the capacity of the furnace to heat the house, and lots of other little things. But one who understands this well will need no dampers in the flues, no ash-pit door, nor any of the usual contrivances for regulating draft. It is surprising what a nice art"stoking" is. There is far more fun in this than playing base ball or the piano, and we are surprised at so few learning to do it well. Besides there is money in it, too.
One who knows the art well will do as much with ten tons of coal as others will do with twenty, or even thirty.