Flow to get double pay without doing double work is a problem which has harassed many a working man.
It has likewise exercised the minds of a great many people who are not working men.
It has never worried the gardener, because with him work always comes first, and pay is a detail of entirely secondary importance. He loves the work for its own sake. That is how it is that when you think of any operation which brings a good deal of hard work in its train you do not ask yourself whether you dare discuss such a subject amongst horticulturists or not - you only bethink you of methods of getting it to assume the aspect of a really stiff and solid proceeding, as only then is it worthy of their attention.
After many years' experience, I have come to the conclusion that the visible signs and tokens of interest which gardeners display in operations connected with the cultivation of the soil may be summed up as follow: Plain digging - a sniff; digging with fork versus spade - a slight air of attention; trenching - one ear and one eye wide open; double trenching - both ears and eyes wide open; double trenching with fork versus spade - fierce and excited interest. If it were possible to trench 20 feet deep, the meeting discussing the operation would never break up, but would argue strenuously all night.
The various methods of preparing soil form a theme that never grows old. Political questions, theological polemics, economic theories, have their rise and fall as topics of interest, but tools and the uses of tools remain perennially fresh. Gardeners talked about them in the early days of the last century, when the man in the street was finding fault with the steps that the Government were taking to repel the projected visit of the turbulent Boney. They talked about it when Sebastopol was being hammered. They examined it in all its bearings while Roberts was marching to Cabul; and still the subject is being thrashed out as ardently as ever.
All experienced horticulturists are, I think, agreed as to the benefits of trenching ground; the points of dispute, or perhaps I had better say of discussion, are the best ways of doing it and the best tools to do it with. By deepening the soil we let more air in than was able to penetrate before, and we thereby sweeten it, and enable the nitrifying organisms, without which plant food is of no value, to extend their sphere of influence. Thus the saying, not uncommon in some districts, that a good digging is equal to a coat of manure, is strictly true. In a well-dug soil there are far more nitrifying organisms than in a ploughed soil, and in a trenched soil there are more than in a dug soil. Thus digging would be better than ploughing, even if more manure were put into the ground under plough than under spade culture, because a more extended area of operations would be opened up for the bacteria.
Is trenching equally as good for light as for heavy soil? It is better. You must trench a heavy soil to render it more pervious to air, and you must trench a light soil in order to enable it to hold more moisture.
In trenching, is it wasteful to put the manure underneath the top spit? Decidedly it is not. In light-land districts people are often afraid to put their manure down "because it will all be washed into the subsoil." That is the very best place for it. Manure is not wanted near the surface of soil that has been under tillage for some years; it is wanted down below, where, from want of tillage, the soil is lacking in fertility.
Manure should not be worked into the top soil for two prime reasons: (1) The upper layer of earth is already relatively fertile, and may be made too fat; (2) because it renders the upper soil drier than it would otherwise be. The great thing for the top layer of soil is tillage - trenching in autumn, followed by a light digging in spring. Tillage means pulverisation, pulverisation means plenty of air-cells, plenty of air-cells means food and moisture for the plant.
Fig. 4. Two Ways Of Digging Garden Soil.
References To Fig. 4.
There are two ways of starting to dig a piece of ground: (1) To take out a spit of soil along the whole piece, wheel it to the other end, and there deposit it, c, so that it may be ready to fill in the last space when the plot, begun from the other end, is finished; (2) to divide the plot through the centre, A, take out a trench half-way across, a, e, and deposit it at d, then work up to f, fill the last trench there with soil from the opposite side, g, work back to h, and fill in with soil d. This is a very good plan, and will apply to trenching also.
When should ground be trenched? Decidedly in autumn if it be fallow then. There is nothing gained, but there may easily be something lost, by leaving a considerable task like trenching till spring. In the first place, autumn trenching gives the soil time to settle down before it is cropped: freshly trenched soil is too loose for many crops. In the second place, the soil is usually drier and more workable in autumn than in spring. In the third place, there is generally more labour available. When many urgent jobs are waiting in spring, a stiff one often gets shelved.
What is the best tool for trenching? Is the fork or the spade the more useful? If trenching is trenching - it the trenches are really trenches - if the work is done not only thoroughly but cleanly, every trench being emptied before another is begun, both tools are wanted, but in soil with real body about it the better tool is the fork. It is the better, in my opinion, because with it the average man can shift more soil with a given expenditure of energy than he can with a spade. A man may be able to get through a specified area in a given time, and do his work conscientiously and well; but if another man is able to do the same area equally well in the same time with a slighter expenditure of energy he is working on sounder principles.
Fig. 5. How To Dig Heavy And Light Soil.
References To Fig. 5.
B, heavy, tenacious soil ridged in autumn with a fork.
C, the same not dug till spring; its lumpy condition then.
D, light soil dug with a spade.
E, heavy soil (B) in spring after being pulverised by frost and forked over.
I have heard the fork spoken of as the lazy man's tool. Is it laziness to economise energy? Why should a man waste his muscular power and vitality, when he would deem it foolish to waste his money? The everyday political economist believes in getting the value of twelve pennies for every shilling that he spends; why, therefore, should he only get the value of ten pennies for every shilling's worth of his bodily strength that he expends?
It is because I am a believer in the application of sound economical principles to every a flair of workaday life that I believe in the fork for trenching, but I am not going to quarrel with the person who disagrees with me.
No tool, perhaps, is the best on all classes of soil. You do not see the labourer digging with a fork on the sand-dunes of Holland. You do not even see him digging with a spade. He uses a shovel. The moral is perhaps sufficiently obvious, that circumstances alter cases; that some soils want one tool, and some another, if they are to be dealt with in the most practical and economical way. This is certainly true in my experience.
Fig. 6. How To Dig Sloping Ground
References To Fig. 6.
F, a sharp slope: i, starting with a trench running from top to bottom - the right way; j, starting with a trench along the bottom - the wrong way.
It is a somewhat peculiar fact that every man who has a stiff soil to deal with always thinks that it is stiffer than anyone else's; much on the same principle, I suppose, that each person considers that his particular class of cold in the head is of a far more acute form than other people's cold in the head. After experience with various samples, I am disposed to think that the clays of Knockholt in Kent, of Capel in Surrey, and of Crawley in Sussex, are capable of holding their own with most. The men of Capel will tell you that the fork will not shift their paste, but break up under the strain, and that nothing short of the strongest spade made is of any use to them.
Soil tillage is not completed with the operation of trenching. It is thoroughly well begun, that is all. The soil should be left rough for the winter, and at odd times, when material offers, burnt stuff from the garden fires, or soot, or mortar rubbish, should be thrown on it. Under this treatment the upper spit will break down beautifully in spring with nothing more than an easy forking.
Supposing that trenching cannot be done in autumn, is spring altogether too late? It is never too late to trench. I have done it in April, with the ground so wet that gullies had to be cut to get the water out of the trenches, and failure deep and dire was prognosti cated by everybody except the labourers who were hired for the job. Good results followed. There are drawbacks, to be sure, with spring as compared with autumn trenching, but they do not outweigh the advantages.
It goes without saying, I hope, that the system adopted should be one that shifts at least two spits, and yet keeps them in their relative positions. No turning the top spit down, if you please, and nothing less than 20 inches of soil to be thoroughly moved; 30 inches preferred. As a principle, remember that the lighter the soil the deeper the trenching should be.
There is a fine gusto about the business that proves infectious. Trenching yields the enjoyment of rude health, and the mental exhilaration of a perfect digestive process.
If the reader wants to start a topic of interest at his next "mutual," let him raise the question of left or right-handed digging - I mean, digging with the left or the right hand at the bottom of the tool. The model digger is he who can dig easily and rapidly either way, but how many are there of him? Not many, I fear. It is not to be expected, perhaps. There are great left-handed and great right-handed bowlers, but, in my experience of the summer game, which extends from the days of Jupp and Morley, I have never yet seen a man disporting himself on the cricket sward in first-class matches who could bowl well with either hand. Yet ambidexterity with the spade is an accomplishment well worth learning.
Fig. 7. A Digger's Boot Protector.
References To Fig. 7.
It is made out of an old spade; a, the outline; b, the remaining piece made into a scraper (see 3). 2, straps fixed to the raised edges of the piece after cutting out.