A fine strawberry bed is much to be desired. But strawberries, perhaps because they are such an addition to the fruit garden, are more difficult of cultivation, must be more frequently renewed, and, like many rare and beautiful things, require more labor to produce than the other small fruits. The strawberry bed should be as nearly level as possible, should be well enriched with stable manure, and have some bone meal and nitrate of soda, spaded deeply into the ground, which must be finely pulverized.
The Lily garden in Auratum time.
Late in August or early in September is the best time to set out the plants. A neighbor possessing a large strawberry bed isoften willing to give away runners (the young plants formed on the shoots from the parent); if they are to be bought, pot-grown plants are the best. Plants that have a small crown but a good root development, are preferable; the hole for the roots should be amply large and the plants set deeply, so that only the leaves are above ground. I have always found "hill culture" of strawberries to be the most satisfactory. In this method, the plants are set twelve inches apart in rows eighteen inches apart. Each plant is then kept free from weeds, no runners are allowed to form, and larger crops are produced in consequence. The young plants should be mulched with old manure when set out, and if the weather is dry they should be watered twice a week, as drought would be apt to kill many of them.
Late in November the strawberry bed should be covered to the depth of four or five inches with coarse hay, leaves or straw. This should be removed in the Spring as soon as the frost is out, the ground then well tilled and the same material used again as a mulch, close around the plants and over the ground between the rows, or else, if preferred, other hay or straw or clippings of lawn grass used instead. This Summer mulching is important, not only for keeping the berries clean and free from earth, but to prevent the ground from becoming hard and dry.
A strawberry bed will yield two good crops. After it has ceased bearing the second year, allow the runners to grow and prepare a new bed; by the end of August the runners will have become nice little plants, which can be removed and planted in the new bed. The old plants should then be thrown out, the ground where they were, well spaded and left to lie until Spring, when it can be fertilized and used for vegetables. So long as the fruit continues to be satisfactory this process can be continued, but should the quality of the fruit deteriorate, a new stock of plants should be procured from a nurseryman.
There are more differences of opinion as to the variety of strawberries preferred, than in the case of any of the other fruits. Many prefer the enormous berries to smaller ones of finer flavor. The very large berries are of firmer substance than many of the smaller varieties, but seem to lose in flavor. Nor can the cultivated varieties compare in flavor with the little wild berries that one is able to get sometimes in more distant parts of this country, brought in by the farmers' children, and also in the Alps, or Dolomites, where they ripen toward the end of July.
There are two kinds of strawberry plants, - the perfect flowering varieties and the pistillate or imperfect flowering. The pistillate varieties must be planted with or near the perfect flowering, so that the bees and winds may carry the pollen from the perfect to the imperfect flowers. It may be best to plant only strawberries of perfect flowering varieties to insure a crop, for should heavy rains come when the strawberries are in blossom the pollen may be washed away. A row of perfect flowering strawberries should be planted to every two rows of the pistillate or imperfect flowering varieties.
Strawberries are seldom attacked by disease, but occasionally rust or mildew appears. These troubles can be held in check by spraying the young plants with Bordeaux mixture when they are first set out, and again when they have finished blossoming.
Good varieties of strawberries are: Haverland and Bubach, pistillate varieties; Michel's Early and Bederwood, early perfect flowering; Lovett, McKinley, and Brandywine, late perfect flowering.
Melons A melon patch requires considerable room, as the hills for the vines should be at least six feet apart each way, and there should be twenty hills each of water melons and musk melons. The soil should be light and sandy or the melons will not succeed. The ground to receive them must be well cultivated, and the place chosen for the melon patch should be as far removed as possible from cucumbers and squash. It is better also to separate somewhat widely the musk melons from the water melons. The culture of both is alike. Hills should be made six feet apart and ten seeds should be planted in a hill, after all danger from frost has ceased. Some leaf-mould, old manure and a little bone meal, dug into the hills, will be a stimulus to the melon vines, which should be grown in full sun and given every aid to mature rapidly.
Insects are apt to attack the young vines, which should be looked over every morning and the insects destroyed. The vines may also be sprayed with Bordeaux mixture or tobacco water. When the vines are a foot in length, all but four plants should be taken out from each hill. Some vines are generally destroyed by insects, this being the reason for planting an extra quantity to provide for loss.
Netted Gem, Hackensack, Rocky Ford, and Newport are good varieties of musk melon, and Hungarian Honey, White Seeded Ice Cream, and Mountain Sweet are desirable water melons.
The greatest difficulty in raising fruit in the home garden, as we have found it, has been the marauding proclivities of the neighbors' boys. The appetite of the small boy, and sometimes, alas! of the small girl, for apples, pears, and cherries, enables them to overcome all barriers, however high, and circumvent all diligence, however watchful, to procure the coveted fruit, and no pangs are too severe to endure for its sake, often taken when far from ripe, as the child's mother later learns from a wakeful night.
The idea of "mine" seems to be well and clearly developed, but the definition of "thine" is hazy and incomplete. It is strange how badly brought up "other people's children" often appear, while it seems that one's own are generally little white angels! To the birds we willingly give their portion of the fruit, and when the small boy generously allows us a share, even a little fruit garden will amply repay the owner for the time and money spent upon it.