The home vegetable garden is an important feature on practically every American farm. Thousands of village people devote part of their lots to the growing of vegetables for the family table, and a host of people in the suburbs of cities grow at least a portion of their own vegetables. The value of the products grown in the kitchen gardens of the United States amounts to millions of dollars annually. Intensive methods are generally employed, so that the returns for the area cultivated are much larger than from general farming or even from truck farming.
The home garden, however, has other values besides those of a monetary character. It has been termed the "farm drug store." A diet of clean, fresh vegetables counts for good health. There can be no dispute on this point. Again, many a weary business or professional man or a tired housekeeper has found pleasure, comfort and health in the care of a garden. When the work is properly managed, it is equally attractive to boys and girls. The cultivation of vacant lots by the youth in our towns and cities should receive every possible encouragement.
In planning for the home garden the following definite aims should be kept in mind: (1) The production of a liberal, uniform and constant supply of vegetables preferred by members of the family for whom they are grown. (2) Quality is even more important than in commercial gardening. (3) There should be as great variety as possible. The tendency is to restrict the plantings to the most common vegetables. This plan should be broadened so that crops less generally grown could be used to enhance the value of the garden.
In the selection of a location the following factors should be considered: (1) The home garden should be at a convenient distance from the dwelling, for much of the work will be done at odd times; supplies must be gathered daily or several times a day; the garden, when properly handled, is attractive. For these and other reasons, it is desirable to have the garden near the house. (2) A sandy loam is preferred, but any soil may be improved so that it will produce good results. (3) Thorough drainage is essential. (4) A gentle slope to the south is preferable to any other slope. (5) There should be protection, natural or artificial, from north and west winds. A hedge or a grove is ornamental. (6) Close proximity to a supply of water is a great advantage. Water is often needed at seed sowing, transplanting time or for sprinkling. If possible, every home garden should be provided with an above-ground system of watering. See Chapter VIII (Irrigation). (7) The shade of trees or buildings should be avoided.
In the selection of varieties, quality should have first consideration. Vegetables differ greatly in this respect. For example, when one becomes accustomed to Golden Bantam sweet corn there is no desire for the larger, coarser and more insipid varieties. Plant the best for the home table, although it may mean a sacrifice in yield. The time required for various varieties to attain maturity is also worth considering. Again, the vigor or size of growth must be known to determine proper planting distances. The home gardener derives much pleasure in testing the more promising novelties from year to year.
There should be ample equipment in the way of hotbeds and cold frames. A small greenhouse is very useful in starting early plants, and may also be used in forcing crops to maturity during the winter season. See Chapters XI, XII and XIII for information on these subjects.
High fertility and frequent tillage are essential to success in home vegetable gardening. The plot devoted to this work should receive annual dressings of stable manure at the rate of 25 to 50 tons an acre. Rotten manure will be most satisfactory, although fresh manure may be applied before plowing, except for tomato, pepper, eggplant, the cucurbits and the root crops. If manure is used freely enough there will be little necessity for the employment of commercial fertilizers, although these can often be used advantageously in home garden work. Nitrate of soda should be kept on hand for topdressing about growing plants. A complete fertilizer containing about 4 per cent of nitrogen, 8 per cent phosphoric acid and 10 per cent potash will be beneficial under most conditions.
Special attention is usually given to cultivation, hoeing and weeding. A hard surface crust should not be allowed to form, and tillage between the plants should be so thorough that weed seeds will not be permitted to complete germination. Fall plowing is an advantage in some heavy soils. When deferred until spring, plowing should be done at the earliest possible date, so that there will be no delay in starting early crops. A soil deeply and thoroughly fined is essential to complete success.
Economy of labor is one of the most important considerations in making plans for the home garden. The old-fashioned garden, where everything is planted in beds between boarded walks, requires a maximum amount of labor. This plan should not be used unless in the very small plats of town or city. It is much better to plant all classes of vegetables in rows, running lengthwise of the plat. On farms, where there is plenty of available land, the rows should be far enough apart to use a horse cultivator, although some of the smaller vegetables might be planted closer and cultivated with a wheel hoe. Where the area is limited, close planting is necessary, but the rows should seldom be so close as to prohibit the use of hand wheel hoes. This type of tool is not as generally used in home gardens as it should be.
Rotation should be practiced as much as possible in home gardening. It may be the means of avoiding losses, especially from diseases. A change of location, however, is often necessary for the successful cultivation of crops subject to the most serious forms of plant diseases.
There must be more or less succession cropping (Chapter XXIII (Succession And Companion Cropping)) in all well-managed gardens. Many crops as pea, radish, beet, bunch onions and spinach are planted very early in the spring and are harvested in ample time to plant the same ground in late crops, such as sweet corn, cabbage, cauliflower, beans, turnips and many other vegetables. Some vegetables, as parsnip and salsify, require a full season, and this must be taken into account when making plans. Companion cropping (Chapter XXIII (Succession And Companion Cropping)) is very useful when the plat is small. It makes possible the securing of a much greater variety of vegetables than is ordinarily grown on small areas.