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.
We may expect soon to receive the usual seed-catalogues, reminding us that we will have to consider our wants for the coming season; and where economy is an object (and it should be in every garden), all seeds which were left over from the past season's supply should be examined, and a note taken of the quantities that are sound and good; and if any doubts arise as to their quality, they can easily be proved by sowing a small pinch in pots among a little light soil of any kind, numbering them, watering and placing in a little heat, where they will soon germinate, and their value can be ascertained. This practice among nurserymen is becoming almost general, as it is to their loss to supply seeds that are unfit for use. It is more difficult to get seeds true to name than of good quality. We like to give a fair price for seeds, and from experience have a wholesome dread of those sold at almost a nominal sum. When seeds arrive, they should be kept free from damp and drying heat. The seed-list should be made out and sent in early, to give as little extra trouble as possible to the seedsman; so much has to be done in the seed-shop during the next few months, so many buyers requiring all their orders at the same time.
We generally give a few novelties a trial, but limit the quantities; and it sometimes turns out that the "new kinds" offered have been well known to us for years, especially with Peas, Cabbage, Onions, Broccoli, and Potatoes. However, we often meet with kinds that are quite new to us, and of excellent quality; and some turn up under a new name -which have almost become extinct in their true character. To do justice to seeds, there should be every attention given to thoroughly preparing the soil in winter, so that a fine dry open surface may be secured at sowing-time.
While manuring, trenching, and otherwise preparing the ground at this season, arrangements should be made as to what the plots are to be occupied with, changing the crops as frequently as possible, and either giving good or limited supplies of manure. Ground for Leeks, all the Brassica tribe, Asparagus, and other gross-feeding plants, may have the heaviest supplies of the rankest manure; and for roots - such as Carrots, Parsnips, and Beet - a deep soil moderately manured with thoroughly rotten material is desirable, otherwise forked and coarse produce may be expected. Celery-ground well trenched makes a good preparation for Onions; Strawberry ground trenched down does well for Cabbage, Cauliflower, or anything subject to "clubbing." However, if the Strawberries have been long on the space, a good coating of manure may have to be dug into the surface after the ridges or rough surface is broken down. Snow should never be dug down, except on hot gravelly ground where cooling and moisture might be an advantage. In severe weather, compost might be turned over, primings charred, along with leaves or other rough material, to form manure to be used soon. Pea-stakes may now be secured and made, and Onions looked over.
When wet overhead, all roots and other stores may be examined, as some may be decaying. Wheel on manure in frosty weather, leaving it in ridges covered over with soil till wanted; and as soon as all prunings, leaves, and other rubbish are cleared off, a good dressing of manure may be given to fruit-bushes, to be dug or forked into the surface where required, not disturbing the roots. This is not necessary, however, for vigorous young bushes which have been planted in well-prepared ground; but keeping the roots near the surface is a great object, and mulching helps this more than anything. Rhubarb and Seakale crowns may be covered over with soil, coal-ashes, or litter, to afford a little protection. Roots of these for forcing may now be lifted and placed in heat. A cellar often does well. An outhouse, or anywhere that the temperature can be kept from 55° to 60°, will bring them on gradually; but 20° higher would bring them on quickly, but more weakly in growth. Seakale requires to be kept close and free from air to blanch it. A number of roots placed in pots among light earth, leaving the crowns at the surface, and taken into warmth and darkness, answers for small supplies. Covering with warm manure placed over pots is still practised, and answers well.
The trimmings of Seakale-roots should be kept for next season's planting.
Rhubarb may be treated in every way the same as Seakale, but it does well with light and air. Mitchell's Early Red and Prince Albert are easily excited, and can be brought on very quickly. With these two for first and second, we can with little trouble get a supply in by the end of December, and after that time Victoria is brought in. The mushroom-house answers well for all forcing of roots except Asparagus, which, is easily forced in a mild dung-frame. The roots placed over the surface, packing the crowns closely together, spreading out the roots, and covering with a few inches of soil, will answer well. Watering with tepid water is necessary, but not to make the soil sodden. Give air when growth appears. Blanched Asparagus is a poor dish. The tops should be green and tender, and used when the stalks are from 4 to 6 inches long. Where dung is used for forcing anything, heat-sticks should be used to know what the temperature is. Drawing them out, and trying them with the hand, will easily show if there is danger to vegetable life; and if too hot, holes should be made to let the heat escape. Mushroom-beds may be made as required. Droppings from the stable, with some straw in them, answer well. Slake it over, mixing the whole well together.
Leave it in a heap to heat; but if left any length of time, burning would take place, and render the dung useless. When making the bed, let it be thoroughly beaten down to make it as firm as possible - 1 foot thick will answer well. Let it heat, and if burning is likely to occur, make holes all over the bed; and when at a temperature of 75° to 85°, let the spawn be placed all over about 9 inches or 1 foot apart, and 2 inches below the surface. Pieces like walnuts, or larger, are generally used. If the spawn is good, the Mushrooms will appear in the course of from five to eight weeks. About a week after spawning, 2 inches of good earth may be placed over the dung, finishing it off smoothly and firmly. Watering is seldom necessary till the Mushrooms appear above the surface, and then only enough should be given to moisten through the surface-soil. 55° to 60° is the temperature generally allowed. WaJ-cheren Broccoli and Granger's Autumn will be supplying heads now. They should be looked over frequently, and taken before frost destroys them. If large quantities turn in, they might be lifted with balls of earth and placed in a shed or outhouse, where they can be protected till used. Salads under protection, such as Lettuce and Endive, should be well looked after.