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.
This month, when weather is fine, cropping of ground may in the smallest garden be fairly commenced. Arrangements, if not already made, as to how the garden is to be cropped, should be decided upon, so that a change may be made from what the ground produced last. The quantity of any kind of vegetable required should be considered, so that a superabundance of one thing may not be grown, and a deficiency of any other crop prevented. Crops which have to be sown early, and to remain on the ground till late in the autumn or winter, should be kept together as much as possible; for instance, ground for Leeks, Parsnips, Celery, Kale, etc, might form one plot or square. When cropping is divided into numerous small plots, much confusion and want of economy must prevail: the more attention given to systematic arrangement, the less difficulty will be experienced. Sheltered positions should at present remain unoccupied, but be well worked, and kept in readiness for early sowings of Cauliflower, Cabbage, Carrot, Lettuce, Radish, and suchlike. Where there is not the shelter of a wall, hedge, or other fence, a sloping bank may be thrown up, and a surfacing of fine dry soil placed so that small seeds may have fair play.
Protection from north and east can be given by placing branches thickly on the cold side; hoops bent over where mats can be thrown across, is a useful practice. Endless are the means used for protecting early sowings and crops. When such as Kale, Cabbage, Broccoli, and Brussel Sprouts are only partially used up, and the remaining portion cannot be disposed of without cutting short the supply, they may be lifted carefully with all their roots, and placed in any spare corner thickly together - but not so much so as to cause rotting - there to remain till they are used; and protection is also easily given if necessary. The remaining refuse can be cleared off and the ground prepared for cropping, otherwise the best opportunities might be lost while the few scattered heads were standing till wanted: where there is plenty of ground, such lifting, etc, is not necessary. A garden rather small for the demand (if not excessively so) we would prefer to one too extensive for the command of labour, manure, and other necessaries.
If placed in the latter circumstances, we would plant up a portion with fruit-trees to be kept dwarf; or if they were not required, it would be better to form collections of shrubs, or turn the space into ornament of some kind, rather than allow it to be a harbour for weeds, which would spread their seed far and near, giving work and vexation when it might be prevented. A pinch of Cauliflower sown in a box of clean light soil will give a supply in close succession to those now under protection. It is a useful practice to lift Cauliflower plants from frames with their roots entire, and pot them, returning them under protection; thus preparing them for planting-out in March, when the roots reach the sides of the pots. A check given at planting-out time often results in premature hearting. Drawing the plants up, making them tender, is another evil to be guarded against, which does more harm than no protection at all. After such a close mild season, sudden changes of cold weather may do irreparable mischief when one is off their guard, the plants never having been fully hardened. Protect Celery in severe weather, as before directed; in wet localities it may be lifted and laid in sand, under the roof of a shed or any outhouse.
A pinch of seed may be sown in a pan, pot, or small seed-box, and placed in a gentle hotbed till it is fairly up; it can be pricked off singly when fit to handle, and grown on steadily, giving no check, either from cold, over-heating, dryness, etc, as it would be sure to "bolt." Where early supplies are not required, sowing may be left till the end of March. Those who wish to grow Kidney-beans early in a frame or other structure, may plant five in a small pot, and, when large enough, they may be shifted into a large size, or planted out in a prepared bed of soil; but forcing heat is necessary till the season is so advanced that sun and covering up at night may give sufficient warmth. Potatoes, which have been placed in boxes on a little soil, or on turfs, etc, to sprout, may now be planted in a frame or pit, keeping the roots entire, and planting them about 3 or 4 inches under the surface of the soil: a crop of Radishes may be taken off before the Potatoes require "earthing-up." We often have a crop of Radishes off the forced Carrot-bed. Radishes, though sown at the same time, come much quicker into use.
Shalots and Garlic may be planted soon; if placed singly on the tops of low ridges, and three-fourths of the bulb covered, they will do well: any dry situation will suit them - 6 inches apart will be wide enough. Chives may be parted and planted in the herb-ground. They are valued by some as a substitute for Onion-flavour. If it is desirable to raise Onion-seed, some of the bestformed bulbs should be selected, and planted in good ground, with a good exposure, so that ripening early seed may be practicable: that which is ripened late is generally inferior, and often much is wasted. The same applies to Leek-seed growing. A bed or a few rows of Onions may be sown about the third week of the month for early use; and if the weather is fine and the ground dry, and otherwise in order, by the last week of the month the main crop of Onions might be sown. When they are got in thus early, and other necessary attention given, they invariably do well; but we avoid sowing, if possible, till we can secure a dry mealy surface, and on stiff ground we use fine dry soil from under cover, treading the whole surface thoroughly, then drawing drills about 9 inches to 1 foot apart. Very little covering is necessary; an inch or less will do. The seed should be sown thinly and regularly along the drills.
It is no loss to leave every sixth row unsown, to prevent breaking the tops when cleaning and surface-stirring are performed. Some still prefer "broadcast" and beds, which is, treading out alleys 4 feet apart, sprinkling the seed regularly over the surface, and covering over with soil from the alleys, throwing it regularly to right and left, then levelling with a rake, and beating the beds firm, or treading them well. We think this old system inferior in every respect to sowing in rows; indeed we seldom use beds for anything now, preferring rows for everything. Young seedlings do not become so quickly drawn up, and cleaning is more easily performed. Parsnips may also be sown at the end of the month. Deep ground is necessary to secure fine straight roots; but we find, when the soil is very rich and heavy, the flavour and keeping qualities are inferior to those grown on poorer and lighter soil. Rows drawn from 15 to 18 inches apart, and about 2 inches deep, will do; sprinkle the seed in thinly, or place it in "pinches" about a foot or 14 inches apart; cover it regularly, tread moderately, and make the surface fine with a rake, but avoid tearing up the newly-sown seed.