This section is from the book "The Gardener V1", by William Thomson. Also available from Amazon: The New Organic Grower: A Master's Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener.
The last dry season it was exceedingly fine on ordinary soil. All roots, however, do best on deep well-worked soil free from fresh manure. Carrots may be sown for a main crop. A good plot of Carrots is seldom seen in gardens, and many-do not attempt to grow them. We have tried every plan that we have heard or read of to grow Carrots free from the ravages of grubs, but at times only with moderate success. Where Leeks were grown, and a good mulching of grass-mowings given as soon as the Carrots were thinned, and repeated dustings of soot in wet weather, we secured an excellent crop one season, but partially failed the following. We intend this season to sow Leek seed along with the Carrot, and mulch as usual: if Leek is distasteful to the enemy, it will thus have the nuisance always present. Sandy soil, not very rich, grows by far the finest-flavoured Carrots; heavy wet soil gives large roots, but they are coarse. Early Horn, James's Scarlet, and Altringham, are good kinds for general use (early and late).
More Peas may be sown, also broad Beans as formerly advertised. Laxton's Prolific, Champion of England, Essex Rival, Harrison's Glory, and the Prince, are kinds which will do well sown this month. Stake Peas as soon as they are a few inches high; much injury is often done by allowing them to blow about with the wind. Asparagus (to keep up a stock of plants) may be sown on deep light soil, if necessary, in rows; 18 inches apart will do. The seed should be sprinkled in thinly, and covered an inch or two, making the soil fine with a rake. Kidney Beans may be sown in a warm and sheltered position; they often perish in the ground when early sown, and are seldom so strong or much earlier than those sown in the first or second week of May. Scarlet Runners are of a similar nature; we sometimes secure a good early row by covering the plants with flower-pots every night till frost is past. A frame for a few weeks is most useful for protection; when they are required before the usual time, we employ a frame and a spent hot-bed for latest forcing crop of French Beans, making use of the frame for other purposes when done with for Beans. When sowing seeds which are rather tender, it is well to expose the drills to the sun for several hours, sowing and covering up dry and warm.
A full supply of Celery may be sown in a frame, or under hand-lights; keep the temperature even, and prevent the seedlings from becoming either dry or sodden with wet. Prick out those that are fit to handle on a bed (formed on a hard surface) of rotten manure, 3 inches or so deep, and an inch or two of fine soil placed over the surface: put in the seedlings, and water them thoroughly when they require it: shade from hot sun. Hardy herbs and Rhubarb seed may be sown in light soil if required. Salsify and Scorzonera may be sown and treated like Parsnips, but not thinning so severely. Chicory is a useful plant for lifting and blanching, its fresh-grown tops to be used with salad in winter. All seeds sown in the open ground, which are devoured by birds and slugs, should be looked after in due time. Red-lead, sown with the seed, is often used with success against mice and birds; wood-ashes and coal-ashes, free from dust and the rough parts, are useful against slugs. Nets to keep off birds are almost indispensable. If any crops do not make their appearance above ground in due time, fresh sowing should be made without delay: this applies to Onions, Carrots, and Parsnips especially.
If the ground is parched before sowing small seeds, let the drills be watered and the seed sown, covering up at once. Cucumbers for ridges, Vegetable Marrows, and Tomatoes, may be sown, if not already done: let them be shifted to larger-sized pots before they become pot-bound: keep them growing steadily, giving air in fine weather, gradually hardening them till they can be planted out in their permanent quarters. If Cucumber and Melon beds are falling in temperature, give fresh linings with warm stable-dung: train the shoots across the beds, but not crowding them. Pinch the tops out of Cucumbers as soon as the fruit shows itself: do not let too many swell at once; be guided by the strength of the plants. The shorter-growing kinds are most useful when their appearance is not a consideration. When either Melons or Cucumbers are opening their flowers (female), water should be withheld till the Melons are as large as hens' eggs, and the Cucumbers 2 inches long. Though this applies most to Melons, yet it is all the better for Cucumbers in dung-beds; there will then be fewer fruits decaying at their points.
There will not be much to do to fruit-trees this month, except the thinning out of wood and flower-buds. We again offer the caution not to allow overcrowding of the wood - 3 or 4 inches between each shoot would not be too much; and when the bearing-shoots for next year's supply of fruit are the length desired, let the tops be nipped out. Any that are growing too gross and watery require to be frequently topped as they grow, otherwise they would monopolise the whole vigour of the trees, and bear no fruit. Keep all close to the walls, and save all natural spurs, which are always certain to be fruitful. Where time can be spared to separate clusters of flower-buds it would be well-spent work, as thickets of flowers often prevent each other from setting. The petals should have at least room to expand; and the flowers best exposed to light and air, as well as being close to the walls, are the ones which should be left. This applies particularly to Peaches, Nectarines, and Apricots, though Apples, Pears, and Plums can be improved where time can be spared.
Figs which have been protected with strawbands, etc, may be taken down, the dead wood cut out (if any), and the shoots nailed and tied up in their places; but it may be necessary to have a covering to throw over the trees at night, as frost would ruin the young fruit. After the trees have shown what fruit they are to bear for first crop, a little pruning may be done, gradually cutting back long shoots, and otherwise regulating the tree. It is an easy system of training Figs as Pears are generally done, allowing shoots to run from top to bottom, training the side-shoots right and left, and topping each young shoot at fourth or fifth leaf, training to the wall what is required, and cutting clean off what are not wanted. Under glass we allow the trees to have more of their own way; however, spurring so far as we can. When too gross, we either lift the half of the roots or cut some of them in, doing it wholly by degrees if necessary. When there is plenty of fibre any quantity of "feeding," almost, might be given. When the long leading shoots do not break freely we cut a notch half through the wood above each joint, and a string of sturdy shoots soon make their appearance. It may not be out of place, by way of a "reminder," to say that any grafting that is to be done must be seen to at once.
The shoots, though they have their ends in the ground, will soon shrivel. It is unnecessary to go into details here, taking up valuable space, as everything in connection with grafting, etc, is minutely given in the ' Gardener.'
Tender annuals, such as Asters, Marigolds, etc, should be sown in a frame with a very gentle heat, covering them lightly with fine soil. If the beds of any kinds are made up with leaves, slugs may be troublesome; dusting of lime over the surface before the soil is placed will help to keep them down. Red-lead and hellebore powder we use freely for slugs, as well as to prevent woodlice eating young plants; we have had them in thousands this season, devouring young Cucumber plants, Verbena cuttings, etc. Among other traps, flat pans of treacle have caught many. Small flower-pots stuffed with hay and dipped in boiling water has also thinned their numbers. Red-lead, soot, lime, and hellebore powder, laid down the sides of frames, make their quarters uncomfortable. We would suppose syringing plants with Clark's insect-destroyer would be a preventive. Spring flowering bulbs will require attention. Hyacinths in flower, and Tulips coming in early, will require protection from frost and rain, and to be shaded from sun; stir every surface, breaking all lumps, and gently press the soil round the collars of the plants. Sweet Williams, Polyanthuses, Rockets, Hollyhocks, and others of the more hardy kinds of plants, may be planted out where they are to remain.
Auriculas will now be near their blooming period; they will require shading from sunshine, and to be kept protected from heavy rains, with abundance of air, but no check from any cause should be permitted. Carnations and Picotees may now be potted in good-sized pots, using plenty of drainage, and the healthy soil prepared as formerly advised; press it gently round the ball, and water enough to moisten all the soil. Any plants pot-bound must have the roots undone a little, and if the ball is very dry, it should be wetted through by placing it in a pail or tank of water: this treatment is necessary when potting all kinds of plants. A dry hard ball placed in fresh pots, though ever so well attended to, will do very little good, and probably the plants may gradually die off. Moisture through the whole ball of soil in pots is of the greatest importance with pot-culture; water given only to wet the surface, leaving the principal roots dry, is a slow but certain way of killing plants. Watering, when repeated too often, is also very injurious, especially when plants are tender and in cold quarters. It is hardly possible to mention the various soils suitable for all kinds of plants, but we might mention that few things do not thrive in a mixture of loam, peat, charcoal, and sand in equal parts.
Plants becoming too large may be cut back after they have bloomed, and allowed to break; when the shoots have fairly pushed, the plants may be taken out of the pots, the balls carefully reduced, and a fresh coating of soil pressed all round the balls, leaving no vacant space. Watering may be done in proportion to the growth of the plants and the quantity of roots to receive it. If catalogues gave cultural "hints" for plants as well as for vegetables, it would be of great value to amateurs, as it is often difficult to find the kind of soil adapted for various kinds of plants. Window-boxes will now require attention. Mignonette, Stocks, and Geraniums are still favourites for boxes.