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.
By the time this appears in print the annual meeting of the American Association will have been held at Chicago, and it is to be hoped with a success it deserves. It is composed of the best men in the trade, who are anxious to elevate their business to the social rank it deserves. The writer of this was expected, and hoped to be present, as it is well known the Association has his best wishes; but as he was expected as Botanist to the State Board of Agriculture, to address that body about the same time at Gettysburg, and soon after would have to leave with a party on a botanical, horticultural and agricultural exploration through East and West Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina, it was not possible to be present. At the meeting at Cleveland last year, the remarks of Mr. Henderson on firming the soil, attracted a great deal of attention.
We have desired to give it in full, as it well deserved, but only now have the opportunity of doing so. He said: " It may be useless to throw out any suggestions relative to horticultural operations to such a body of practical men as is now before me. Yet I candidly admit that although I have been extensively engaged in gardening operations for over a quarter of a century, I did not fully realize until a few years ago, the full importance of how indispensable it was to use the feet in the operations of sowing and planting. Particularly in the sowing of seeds, I consider the matter of such vast importance that it cannot be too often or too strongly told, for the loss to the agricultural and horticultural community by the neglect of the simple operation of firming the soil around seed must amount to many millions annually. From the middle of April to nearly the end of May of this year, in many sections of the country there was little or no rain. Such was particularly the case in the vicinity of New York, where we have hundreds of market gardeners who cultivate thousands of acres of cabbage, cauliflower, and celery, but the 'dry spring' has played sad havoc with their seed beds.
Celery is not one-fourth a crop, and cabbage and cauliflower hardly half, and this failure is due to no other cause than that they persist in sowing their seeds without taking the precaution to firm the soil by rolling. " We sow annually about four acres of celery, cabbage and cauliflower plants, which produce probably 5,000,000 in number, and which we never fail to sell mostly in our immediate neighborhood, to the market gardeners, who have many of them even better facilities than we have for raising these plants, if they would only do as we do, firm the seed after sowing, which is done thus: After plowing, harrowing and leveling the land smoothly, lines are drawn by the 'marker,' which makes a furrow about two inches deep and a foot apart; after the man who sows the seed follows another, who with the ball of the right foot presses down his full weight on every inch of soil in the drill where the seed has been sown. The rows are then lightly leveled longitudinally with the rake, a light roller is then passed over it and the operation is done.
By this method our crop has never once failed, and what is true of celery and cabbage seed is nearly true of all seeds requiring to be sown during the late spring or summer months.
" On July 2d, 1874, as an experiment, I sowed twelve rows of sweet corn and twelve rows of beets, treading in after sowing every alternate row of each. In both cases, those trod in came up in four days, while those unfirnied remained twelve days before starting, and would not then have germinated had rain not fallen, for the soil was dry as dust when planted. The result was that the seeds that had been trodden in grew freely from the start, and matured their crops to a marketable condition by fall, while the rows unfirmed did not mature, as they were not only eight days later in germinating, but the plants were also to some extent enfeebled by being partially dried in the loose, dry soil. This experiment was a most useful one, for it proved that a corn crop sown in the vicinity of New York as late as July 2d could be made to produce ' rousing ears' in October, when they never fail to sell freely at high rates, but the crop would not mature unless the seed germinated at once, and which would never be certain at that dry and hot season unless by this method.
"The same season in August I treated seeds of turnips and spinach in the same way. Those trod in germinated at once and made an excellent crop, while those unfirmed germinated feebly and were eventually nearly all burned out by a continuance of dry, hot air penetrating through the loose soil to the tender rootlets. Of course this rule of treading in or firming seeds after sowing must not be blindly followed. Now, if firming the soil' around seed to protect it from the influence of a dry and hot atmosphere is a necessity, it is obvious that it is even more so in the case of plants whose rootlets are even more sensitive to such influence than the dormant seed. Experienced professional horticulturists, however, are less likely to neglect this than to neglect in the case of seeds, for the damage from such neglect is easier to be seen and hence better understood by the practical nurseryman; but with the inexperienced amateur the case is different, when he receives his package of trees or plants from the nurseryman he handles them as if they were glass, every broken twig or root calls forth a complaint, and he proceeds to plant them gingerly, straightening out each root and sifting the soil around them, but he would no more stamp down that soil than he would stamp on the soil of his mother's grave.
So the plant in nine cases out of ten is left loose and waggling, the dry air penetrates through the soil to its roots, the winds shake it and it shrivels up and fails to grow; then come the anathemas on the head of the unfortunate nurseryman who is charged with selling him dead trees or plants.
"About a month ago I sent a package of a dozen roses by mail to a lady in Savannah. She wrote me a woeful story last week saying that, though the roses had arrived seemingly all right, they had all died but one, and, what was very singular, she said, the one that lived was the one that Mr. Jones had stepped on, and which she had thought sure was crushed to death, for Mr. Jones weighs 200 pounds. Now, though we do not advise any gentleman of 200 pounds putting his brogan on the top of a tender rose plant as a practice conducive to its health, yet if Mrs. Jones could have allowed her weight to press the soil against the root of each of her dozen roses, I much doubt if she would now have had to mourn their loss. These improvements loom up from various causes, but mainly from suggestions thrown out by our employees in charge of special departments, a system which we do all in our power to encourage. As a proof of the value of such improvements which have led to simplying our operations, I will state the fact that though my area of greenhouse surface is now more than double that which it was in 1870, and the land used in our florists' business one-third more, yet the number of hands he employed is less now than in 1870, and yet at the same time the quality of our stock is infinitely better now than then.
Whether it is the higher price of labor in this country that forces us into labor saving expedients, or the interchange of opinions from the great number of nationalities centering here that gives us broader views of culture, I am not prepared to state, but that America is now selling nearly all the products of the greenhouse, garden, nursery and farm, lower than is done in Europe, admits of no question, and if my homely suggestions in this matter of firming the soil around newly planted seeds or plants will in any degree assist us in still holding to the front I will be gratified".