This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V22", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
There is nothing more certain, from cumulative daily experience, than that a great proportion, of the diseases of fruit trees come from the roots being in overheated soil. Species growing naturally in mountain districts or high elevations, where the summer temperature of the earth is little above 55°, find themselves in places where the sun pours on the soil for eight or ten hours a day, heating it to 80° or 90°, and which results in "enervating" the vital powers and in making the plant a prey to all sorts of diseases. This is one of the great evils of what is known as clean culture in many places, and does as much as the actual mutilation of the roots to injure the prospects of the orchardist. Yet in all discussion about cropping orchards versus clean culture, we rarely see it alluded to. It is owing to this overlooking of an important point that so much differences occur among the " Doctors." One has a clean cultured orchard which does very well, and another one where it does not at all. Possibly the one lies to the full sun, the former on a shady slope.
So one has an English gooseberry which never mildews, while with another it is good for nothing, - neither knowing that a gooseberry never mildews when the soil is not too warm.
But we must to more practical hints, and would say that in choosing a site for an orchard, always, if possible, get a position where the ground is not exposed to the full midday sun if you are living in any warm place. Of course as our readers get towards the north pole they will invite rather than shun the sunny rays.
Besides orchard trees, small fruits in many cases like cool soil. People often complain that their currants drop their leaves early, in which case they don't mature a very large crop the next season. The currant is a native of cool regions, and the coolest ground should always be devoted to it. The leaves do not fall early then. In this section the currant borer is the worst insect pest. About this season the larvae will be found in the pith, and the shoots containing them should be cut off and burned. If the shoots look weak and starved, like on plants, which have some of them very strong and vigorous, it is quite likely they have the larvae of these borers in the weak ones. This can then be determined by examination.
In setting out raspberries and blackberries, remember the hints we have before given,not to set out deeper than the plant grew before. A currant or gooseberry set deep will root from the cane, but a raspberry will not. The new buds have to come up from the roots. Thousands of these plants die every year. In nurseries there are two kinds of plants, - plants which are simply suckers, taken off in winter, and plants taken up as they sprout during summer and set out to grow awhile before fall. These are called transplanted plants, and are worth much more than others. Transplanted plants seldom die. Both raspberries and blackberries should be cut down within six inches or a foot before planting. Transplanted plants may be left longer, and be allowed to bear a little: but if these plants are allowed to produce much the first year after setting out, the suckers for next year are very weak Little is gained by having fruit the first year.
Strawberries, like raspberries, are often destroyed by planting. Only the fibrous roots should be set under the ground, - never the bud.
Sometimes the excuse is that the plant will not set firm in the ground without; in this case, make the ground firm by rolling or beating down before planting.
Grape vines in the open air, on arbors and trellisses, should have their pruning finished before warm spring days set in, or they will bleed. It does not injure them much, but it looks bad. The pruning must be regulated by the condition of the vine. If the vines are young and the shoots weak, cut them all back, to make a new and vigorous growth. If already a fair quantity of strong shoots of last season's growth exists, cut out the weaker ones, so as to leave enough of stronger ones. The cane system, slightly modified, is best for arbors and trellisses in the hands of amateurs generally. This implies a new set of canes every year or two. If, as frequently happens from bad management, all the young and strong-bearing wood exists only at the end of the vines, and these latter have become nothing but long, ropy-looking apologies for what a vine should be, the whole cane may be buried down in the soil to where the strong shoots spring from, and the young wood of last season trained up from this. The plant will then recover its good appearance quite as well as by cutting down, with the advantage of not sacrificing a year's growth of fruit.
Grapes that have become weak from age maybe renewed by layering down a branch some feet just under the surface, and then cut back, so that one good eye only be left at the surface of the soil.
Apple trees in orchards are often so thickly matted with branches, that none of the leaves get their full share of light and air. This should never have been permitted, but as it is, a vigorous thinning out should be effected, though the axe and saw be called in to effect it. Sprouts will come out thick next summer after such pruning, but they should be torn out while green.
Peaches, it is said, grow too strong generally, and should not be pruned; but the same rule holds good as with apples. Thin out all weak or crowded shoots. Our experience is that if a peach tree's constitution is not impaired by bad treatment, it seldom grows too strong for its own good.
This is a busy season south of Pennsylvania in the vegetable garden. Here we must wait till the end of the month, and northward still later. The crops noted will, of course, be dependent on the arrival of the season,which is rather indicated by the ground becoming warm and dry, than by the almanac. It is very important to have crops early; as soon as the ground is, therefore, in good condition, put in the seed. Possibly a cold rain might come and injure them, and you may lose, and have to make a new sowing. Even so, it is but the loss of the seed and labor, while if the seed do not die, the early crop will more than repar that risk.
Deep, rich soil, now so generally condemned for fruit gardens, is of the first importance here. Soil cannot be too rich or too deep, if we would have good vegetables. It is, indeed, remarkable, that in many respects we have to go very differently to work to get good fruits than we have to perfect vegetables. While, for instance, we have to get sunlight to give the best richness to our fruits, our vegetables are usually best when blanched or kept from the light. So, also, as we keep the roots as near the surface as we can, in order to favor the woody tissue in trees, we like to let them go deep in vegetables, because this favors succulence.
In the open ground, peas and potatoes receive the first attention: then beets and carrots: then lettuce, radish, spinach, onions, leeks and parsley. Beyond this, unless in more favored latitudes than Pennsylvania, little can be done until the first week in April. There is nothing gained in working soil until it has become warm and dry.
Celery for the main crop will do about the end of the month, but a little may be sown now. We have never been able to make up our mind whether there is such a thing as an absolute solid variety of celery, and whether pithiness in any degree depends on soil or culture. Certainly we buy all the most improved "solids" every year, and never yet found one satisfactory throughout. We cannot say which is the best of the many candidates.
In the hot-bed, pepper, egg plant, tomato and cucumbers may be sown, and in a cooler hot-bed frame, Early York cabbage, cauliflowers and celery. Those who have not got a hot-bed can sow a few pots or boxes, and keep them near the light in a warm room.
In addition to sowing of the above, onions, leeks, parsnips and parsley must be sown at this season, - not for the main crop, but to have a few in advance of the rest. To keep over the winter, almost all kinds of root crops become tough or coarse if sown too soon, so that for such roots as beets, carrots, etc, only a few early ones should be sown now.