This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V21", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
What is called Botany, has a different meaning from what it had in old times. When the writer of this was a young horticultural student, he and some four or five others added botany, chemistry, some ancient and modern languages, and a few other outside matters to the ordinary garden instruction amidst the derision of the many score of other students, who assured us that they "could grow an apple tree, or raise a crop of potatoes just as well" as we could "for all that bother." It must be confessed that at that time our study of Botany did seem rather dry, and it involved great labor. We had to give eleven good hours of hard work a day, and as soon as this was over, and a hasty snatch of tea taken, we were off - five or six miles before sundown for wild plants, returning by midnight for hard work the next day. Or it might be the eve before some holiday, when we would walk nearly all night, cut down a few branches for a bed for a few hours snatch of sleep, doing forty or fifty miles in some forty hours in search of botanical specimens. Our fellow-students had their laugh at us over their long clay pipes, and mugs of " half-and-half;" and even to us it did sometimes seem that they could " grow an apple tree or raise a crop of potatoes" as well as we.
For at that time our " botany" consisted in little more than in collecting and drying plants, and in studying systems of classification by which we could arrange what we gathered. But even with that hard style of botany they could not raise even a crop of potatoes as well as we; and now that botany means a great deal more than it did then, there is no comparison in the actual cash gain to the one who knows some thing of the science in fruit or vegetable culture over one who simply plods on.
Take for instance what is known of the transpiration of moisture by living plants - for it is such matters as these which now constitute the most inviting features of botanical study. If we take a dead and dry stick, say an inch or two thick, soak it thoroughly with water, and expose it to the full sun of a warm summer day, in a few hours it will be found that the moisture has all gone, and the stick is as dry as ever. Take a living branch of the same size, cut it from its parent tree, expose it side by side with the other, but though it will at once begin to shrink there will be some moisture left for several days to come. There is still some vital power left in the tree, and vital power resists evaporation. So in the winter time, a sudden burst of sunshine will raise the steam from a dead corn-stalk that may have been soaked by snow, and the stalk will soon feel warm; while a live green yucca leaf, or a branch of an evergreen is still cold as ever, and emits no steam. The vital power is equal to maintaining the plant's even temperature, whatever it may be, and simply throws off the water after the vital power has no more use for it.
Now the one who knows this, knows just how to manage a tree that has been injured by frost, or by transplanting. He never allows a twig or branch that is probably going to die, or is actually dead, to remain on the tree, because it helps to kill the living parts of the tree by evaporation. A living branch does not lose much water by evaporation, but a dead one does; and while it is, it is draining the tree of its juices and throwing into the atmosphere just what the living ones need so long as it remains on. So if he plant a tree at this season, and has the remotest idea that the twigs or top shoots will be killed he does not wait for the event, but cuts them off at once. Thousands of trees are saved every year by the one who knows this little of botany, while hundreds of thousands die every year under the hands of those who think they can raise potatoes or grow apple trees without "botherin' their heads about this stuff".
It is little use to attempt to grow vegetables well unless the soil is well treated. They may be and are grown on thin soils, not only at a great expense for manure, and at a great risk of dying out in a dry season, and of having the roots rotted out in a wet one. In those parts where the frost has not yet been severe enough to injure the celery crop, it may have another earthing up. Care must be exercised in the operation not to let the earth get into the hearts of the plants, or they will be liable to rot. "Where the plant has evidently finished its growth for the season, measures should be taken to preserve it through the winter. For family use, it is probably as well to let it stay where it is growing, covering the soil with leaves, litter or manure, to keep out the frost, so that it can be taken up as wanted. Where large quantities are frequently required, it is better to take it up and put it in a smaller compass, still protecting it in any way that may be readily accessible. It always keeps best in the natural soil, where it is cool and moist and free from frost, and whatever mode of protection is resorted to, these facts should be kept in view. Beets, turnips and other root crops, will also require protection.
They are best divested of their foliage and packed in layers of sand in a cool cellar. Parsnips are best left in the soil as long as possible. If any are wanted for late spring use, they may be left out to freeze in the soil, and will be much improved thereby. Cabbage is preserved in a variety of ways. If a few dozen only, they may be hung up by the roots in a cool cellar, or buried in the soil, heads downward, to keep out the rain, or laid on their sides as thickly as they can be placed, nearly covered with soil, and then completely covered with corn stalks, litter or any protecting material. The main object in protecting all these kinds of vegetables is to prevent their growth by keeping them as cool as possible, and to prevent shriveling by keeping them moist. Cabbage plants, lettuce, and spinach sown last September, will require a slight protection. This is usually done by scattering straw loosely over. The intention is principally to check the frequent thawings, which draw the plants out of the ground.
In making new vegetable gardens, a south-east aspect should be chosen, as far as practicable. Earliness in the crops is a very great desideratum, and such an aspect favors this point materially. Too great a slope is objectionable, as inducing too great a run of water in heavy rains. The plots for the crops should be laid off in squares or parallelograms, for convenience in digging, and the edges of the walks set with box edging. If water can be introduced, it is a great convenience.
Sometimes broccoli does not head before there is danger of frosts, especially if growing vigorously. If taken up with small balls of earth, and set in a damp cellar, they will still perfect themselves.
Asparagus beds, after the tops have been cleared off, are better covered with litter or stable manure. The plants shoot easier for it next season.
When the ground becomes frozen, or no other work offers, preparation can always be made for advancing prospective work when it arrives.
Bean-poles may be made; and if the ends are charred, and then dipped in coal tar, the commonest material will be rendered nearly equal to the best cedar.