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.
If the weather should remain mild, and not too wet, garden operations may be hurried forward as directed last month. We again repeat that the success of vegetable growers mainly results from properly preparing the soil, and doing it early. A leading article in a contemporary has some good practical remarks on this matter. Treading the ground, when very wet, is an evil which should be strictly guarded against. If early Peas are to be sown now or in January, the surface of the soil cannot be made too free; and it is much in favour of the seed if a quantity of old soil from pots, etc, can be placed above and below it in the rows, as growth will then start more freely. Most cultivators are aware of the value of warm dry soil for newly-sown seed. If early-sown Peas should appear through the ground, a covering of dry soil of some kind should be placed over the young tops, or the earth drawn up to cover them. When the weather is frosty, it gives a good opportunity of getting out manure; it should not, however, be left exposed to the weather, but its goodness kept in by a covering of earth. Leaves, turfs, sand, manures, and all kinds of useful garden-material, may be collected when other work cannot be carried on.
Everything in the shape of soil should be harvested dry; some who cannot get it under cover thatch it to keep it dry. Pea-stakes may be made, standing them on their ends, keeping them flat, and placing them compactly together. Making and cleaning off old names of labels may have attention. Stakes for plants may be made or fresh pointed. Trimmings of Thorn hedges, Filbert and Apple trees, tied in straight bundles and stored till required, make useful flower-stakes in absence of better material. All operations, such as draining, improving fences, or other work apart from the garden, may have attention while the season is not so pressing. See that roots of all kinds are not decaying, and also secure plenty of Parsnips, Jerusalem Artichokes, etc, under cover, to have them at hand if severe frost should set in. Broccoli should be looked over frequently, and placed under protection whenever it is fit for use, otherwise frost may destroy the heads. Celery in damp localities will be more easily kept under cover in sand than in the open ground. Turnips of useful size may also be taken in and covered with a little straw, but kept cool; or if they are to be left in the ground, the soil should be drawn over the roots. Some plant early Potatoes at this season, which must give extra trouble and care.
We never practised this system except in frames and other structures; then the best of protection and care are necessary. In damp low-lying localities the early planting of Potatoes is an unnecessary evil. The tubers should not be placed in close heated quarters, as they would soon exhaust themselves with premature growth. Potatoes, when forced early, require very little heat either at top or bottom, as they would grow all to leaf, but plenty of fresh air and light should be admitted. Cold frosty air, when the tops were above ground, would soon put an end to them. The tubers do well when they are sprouted in boxes or pots, covered with light earth, before planting them out. They succeed well on a bed of leaves, with a little dung well mixed to keep a gentle steady heat. A foot of sound healthy loam is necessary to rear good crops.
If early Cucumbers are to be forced with dung heat, well mixed material should soon be in hand to raise the young plants; but where manure, etc, is scarce, it is well to let early forcing alone for the present, as much labour and material is necessary to keep up warmth through the winter. Rhubarb, Seakale, Chicory, and Salads of all kinds, require the same attention as formerly advised, and quantities should be brought forward as demand requires, giving careful attention when heat is supplied by fermenting material. We have seen crowns of Rhubarb and Seakale destroyed when the manure has been neglected for a single day. Rain often cools or suddenly raises the heat of the material. The seed-list may now be got ready, and any kinds of vegetables, however good, which have never done well in the locality, should be kept out, and good useful kinds substituted. We have often gained much information on this matter from cottagers, both in regard to fruits and vegetables. All the seeds left over from last year, which are fresh and good, should have a note made of their quantity, as seeds on hand (especially of the Brassica tribe) are often better than those newly bought. Making out a seed-list, if economy and useful articles are objects, requires practice and forethought to do it with success.
Very "cheap" seeds often turn out very dear in the end, to say nothing of disappointment. However, respectable vendors are careful of their good name, and will not take undue advantage of the inexperienced willingly. Mistakes .often happen with the most careful. Bad seed is what we scarcely ever had supplied to us, except with a double quantity sent, and caution given to "sow thick".
All the leaves will now be off fruit-trees, and pruning may be finished as early as possible. Keeping in mind, however, what birds are likely to do later in the season, the advice formerly given as to keeping up a supply of young wood in both trees and bushes should be carefully borne in mind, as vigorous plants can soon be crippled. Keep roots of newly-planted trees protected from frost, and if litter is objectionable, let it be covered with some of the surrounding earth.
If planting has been neglected till past the middle of the month, and is still to be done this season, let the trees remain till February or March, when the soil will again be kindly, and in order for the roots to be properly placed and covered. Nothing is more injurious to fruit-trees than placing their roots in wet heavy soil, and treading it into a puddle. We often, when planting fruit trees to be kept in narrow limits, firmly ram the soil, mixing it with stones, but never think of attempting the operation when the ground is wet. While speaking of dwarfing trees, we may mention that we have done it to a considerable extent during the last few years, and have found it profitable by bringing the trees into bearing the year after planting, and filling up spaces which would have probably remained empty. When the trees show signs of growing strong and watery, the vigorous roots are found and shortened back, and the soil is again rammed down. We have just received over a dozen of trained plums in fine condition to fill up vacant spaces between larger trees.
The kinds are Victoria, Nectarine, Prince of Wales, Pond's Seedling, Goliah, and Mitchelson's Plum. These kinds can always be brought to bear freely in a short time, and the quantities to be seen in the possession of the market growers around Fulham and elsewhere are a sign that they are useful and of hardy constitution. A friend sent us a box of Cherries about the end of October, which has induced us to plant a few trees of the kind. Belle Agathe is the name given. Wasps are said to keep away from the fruit. Some practical writers strongly advise the extension system of growing fruit-trees, which is no doubt the best when circumstances will allow it; but where variety is wanted and space limited, "dwarfed " trees are necessary to give supplies. Some are in favour of grafting large Pear-trees with a variety of kinds. The practice often answers well, but the kinds chosen should be of as much the same habit as possible, as the strong would rob the weakly growers, and the latter would bear badly, and live only a short time. Grafts and cuttings of fruit-trees should have their ends placed in soil where they would not suffer from dryness.
Raspberries should have all the suckers not required taken up, and the canes trained neatly to wires or wooden rails uprightly, and about 8 inches apart, more or less according to the strength of canes. If the canes are strong, they may be allowed to stand 5 feet high or more. The kinds said to be double-bearing are only worthy of the name from liberal treatment and suitable soil - cool, moist, rich, and deep. "We often get Fastolf in quantities till frost takes them: some have been hanging till lately.
Valuable plants which are in the open ground and not quite hardy should have timely attention with protecting material, as formerly advised, and if the roots can be kept rather dry, so much the better. Roses now require a little protection over their roots and round their collars - some nice rotten dung placed over the surface of the beds, then a little dry litter, answers well, and it can be forked in after the plants are pruned. Newly-planted Roses are most likely to suffer from severe weather. All hardy plants in frames, such as Auriculas, Pansies, Carnations, etc, require careful attention with air, light, water, and cleanliness. Water should never be given except when really necessary. Glass lights should be clean, and in good repair. Confined damp air at this season is a great enemy to all plants. Bedding-plants of all kinds are impatient of confined damp and absence of light and fresh air. Water should be given to the roots with a small-spouted pot, and no water spilt which can be avoided. The Heath tribe and many other hardwooded plants are often destroyed for want of air, and from water being given to moisten the necks of the plants, instead of their roots near the bottom of the pots. Camellia-buds often fall, and bad watering, in some shape, is often the cause.
If drainage is out of order, the buds are sure to fall before they expand; but "dribblings" of water given to the upper portion of the roots, and the principal ones lower down in the pots being allowed to suffer from drought, is a very general cause of the flower-buds dropping. When they come into bloom, weak manure-water may be given liberally. A number of very old plants here have been improved much of late years by our taking the hint from a young neighbour, that manure-water supplied throughout the whole of the year to the starved roots would improve them, and so it has unmistakably. Formerly, fresh surfacings of sheep-dung were given twice yearly, and manure-water allowed only at the flowering and growing season. Large tubs and good soil are what they really want. There are plenty of cut flowers had from October to April. Camellia-roots in plenty of rich soil would be ruined with much manure-water. Soot and sheep-dung, well mixed, make excellent manure - water, and it should be given clear and weak.
Well-washed foliage is of great importance, and the same applies to Orange-trees. M. T.