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 experience from the past dry season will be profitable to many of us. It should teach us to be. as far as we can, provided against difficulties to be met in future. We have seen many gardens during the past season entirely parched up, and the produce not sufficient to pay for the labour; at other places we have seen vegetables, fruits, and flowers finer than perhaps they ever were on the same places before. In the latter places, means in some cases were more scanty than in the places where failures were everywhere apparent; different methods of cultivation being the cause of success or disappointment. The examples given by the racy writer on the Rose in past numbers are good illustrations of what can be done by perseverance, - in one case an enthusiastic Rose-grower is most successful in cultivating the queen of flowers where he was told that they would not exist; another case of a cottager exchanging a quantity of gravel, stones, etc, for a "pond," which was converted into a productive little garden, in which fruits and flowers were successfully cultivated.
We know a number of cottage gardens which a few years ago produced little more than weeds of the worst kind; but there may be seen in them, every season, flowers and vegetables which would do credit to the leading professional men in the country. Emulation has sprung up among the inhabitants of villas, who some years ago had scarcely a bit of gravel to tread on, but are now far advanced in the arts of gardening, and have in their gardens fruits and flowers of the choicest kinds, and their grounds decorated in the most tasteful manner. Obstacles are overcome which formerly were considered folly to contend with. The same applies to professionals, who are yearly surmounting difficulties. Fruits are cultivated where soil and climate were considered altogether against them, by lifting the roots up to receive the warmth of the sun, freeing them from stagnant and unhealthy moisture, keeping off long naked roots and securing bunches of fibres instead, which give fruit-buds and matured wood instead of wild watery growth, which causes so much cutting that the trees become cankered and worthless.
We were this autumn struck with the excellent Apples and Pears in the gardens at Tynningham, East Lothian, which were more like fine fruit we have seen in the south of England. Though the soil and climate seem to be congenial, there was something more to which success is to be attributed. The trees are lifted, or otherwise attended to, before rank growth has its own way; besides, there is no doing and undoing, no checking, then applying strong manures (a system practised by some, giving a great deal of labour and destroying the constitution of the trees), but fresh clean soil, and only when necessary. When trees are in such productive condition, they require little attention in the way of either summer or autumn pruning. The action of sun and air on the raised soil about the roots, and the free exposure of the branches, by avoiding crowding, are some of the agents which secure fine fruit. Doing everything necessary at the proper time will save much labour and disappointment.
What "hints" we offer to those who have had little experience in the ordinary management of small gardens will be based on experience which has been attended by success, what we can glean from successful growers, and by corresponding with successful professional men.
We may expect changeable weather in January; and when stormy and unsuitable for outdoor operations, let attention be directed towards securing plenty of necessaries for the coming season - such as stakes, pegs, shreds, etc. etc. - all cleaning over plants, preparing of soils, examining for wireworm the turfs which are to be used for potting Pinks, Carnations, etc. There is abundance of work for wet weather in most gardens, however small, and if attended to at this season, the advantage gained will be immense. There is nothing gained by keeping men employed at ground-work in wet weather, though much mischief may be done. All old soil which may have been in use for potting, etc, may be looked over, clearing out any stones, roots, sticks, &c; this we find very useful when sowing small seeds early in the season. The drills can be filled in with this when the soil of the garden may not be in favourable condition. At the same time, we strongly object to sowing small seeds on a damp sour surface. When soils are very heavy, it is almost indispensable to use dry fine soil for covering seeds. We have seen charcoal-dust used with great success. Though heavy strong soils are unwieldy, and require more manual labour, yet in skilful hands the finest crops are grown on such soils.
They require treatment of their own.
Where Peas, Beans, Parsnips, Onions, etc, are to be sown about the end of February or early in March, the ridges may be broken down in frosty weather, and freely turned back and forward with the digging-fork till the whole is well pulverised. Early Peas may, if required, be sown about the middle of the month in boxes, small pots, turfs, etc. It is an object, when planting them out, to have the roots as entire as possible, and they are generally turned out undisturbed. In pots the roots should not be allowed to be bound, which would only give a weakly stunted crop. We prefer boxes with some roughish leaf-mould, or the fibry part of turf well parted and placed in bottom, then a little finer soil. The Peas are then sown thickly, and covered with any soil which will allow the tops to grow through easily. Peas or Beans sown under protection now require all the air and light possible to keep them sturdy. Peas, Beans, and Spinach may be sown to succeed the autumn sowing. Let the drills be exposed to the sun for a few hours, and cover them with any kind of soil, finishing them up in a dry state, which is of great importance to all kinds of seed. Cauliflower, Lettuce, and other things under protection, will require abundance of air when possible.
No dead leaves should appear, and the surface-soil should be kept stirred, and free from anything unhealthy. Keep up supplies of Seakale, Rhubarb, and Chicory by placing small quantities in heat every fortnight or so: the demand will regulate the time. Prince Albert Rhubarb will be giving the supply now, but Victoria can be brought on at this season. Mustard and Cress can be had in fine condition by sowing a small quantity in heat every week in small pans or boxes. We have known this grown successfully in dwelling-houses. It requires to be well exposed to fresh air after it is grown an inch or so, otherwise the flavour will be insipid. Radishes and Early Horn Carrots may be sown on a gentle hotbed if wanted early, using about 8 inches of soil over the bed, and rather fine and sandy on the surface. A warm border, sheltered by a wall, will do for early Carrots and Radishes. Protection with litter in frosty weather will be required; but where frames and other means are limited, it is well to leave such early sowing alone. Potatoes may be placed on small pieces of turf, and covered with a little soil, and sprung in a gentle-growing temperature preparatory for planting in beds or under suitable protection.
Hotbeds may be made for Cucumbers, and the seed sown in small pots, using warm soil, and no water given till the plants are up and growing. If hotbeds are to be made, plenty of stable-manure is necessary; other manure will do, but stable is generally preferred. Let it be thrown up till rankness is reduced before the bed is made; but it need not be wasted, as rank manure may be made up, and then a depth of sweetened material placed on the surface: the whole made firm and smooth, then place the frame. Over the manure place a layer of turf, grassy side down, if it can be had. A ridge of soil may be placed across the bed, and an inch or two over the turfs. The bed is then ready when the heat is right. Cucumbers do well in a temperature of 70° by day and 65° by night, increasing 10° or 15° with sun. Protect Parsley with hoops and mats, etc, so that it can be picked in severe weather. Broccolis will require to be looked to frequently, and protected as formerly advised. Mint and other herbs may be lifted and potted, or planted in boxes, and grown in a little heat if wanted. All other ground operations should be well forward by this time, after such an open season. What is left undone, let it be attended to whenever weather is suitable.
The advice given for these operations, for the last two months, applies to this and next month.
Fruit-trees, whether on walls or standards, if covered with moss, should be gone over with a piece of hoop or similar instrument, and all the bark cleaned, but care taken not to injure it. Lime-wash may then be applied, which will destroy moss and insects; or lime dusted on after rain will save time. The same application may be of great service to Gooseberries and Currants. Some take away the soil round the collars of the bushes annually, and replace it with fresh earth, to prevent the ravages of caterpillar. We use a mulching of decayed manure after scraping away the soil, and cover it over with a little clean soil. The roots should not be interfered with in process of digging. Trees on walls which may be infested with Scale should be well scraped, and a washing of Gishurst's Compound given, about 4 oz. to the gallon of water. All other necessary work connected with hardy fruit-trees left undone should be attended to when weather is fine, as formerly advised. Train Raspberries either to stakes by tying them upright, or in rows 8 inches or so apart. Keep them about 4 or 5 feet high, according to strength. Clear all suckers away, and plant up blanks, or make fresh plantations in deep, rich, cool soil. Rasps do well with plenty of mulching.
Wires fastened in lines to upright stakes make neat training-fences.
Shrubs planted in autumn, and not already mulched with decayed leaves, short, half-rotten manure, or similar material, should be attended to now; this keeps out frost in winter, and drought in summer. Earth placed over the mulching will make all look tidy. Turf-laying and all other improvements should be done whenever weather permits. If heavy falls of snow occur, Conifera and other vaulable trees will require to be shaken clear so far as can be done. Many trees are ruined from not being looked to in time, as they soon break down under their load of snow. All bulbs require some kind of protection from frost, which saves the flowers. In cold pits, frames, or greenhouses, little can be done at present further than attending to cleanliness, keeping everything as dry as possible; not allowing any plant to suffer at the root, however, but giving enough water, when necessary, to moisten the whole ball. Fresh air, and keeping these structures cool, is greatly in their favour; keeping out frost and cutting winds, however. Those who only have windows can only move them away when frosty, and place them in the light and air when weather is fine. Pinks, Auriculas, and similar plants under protection, require to be kept very dry, and have abundance of fresh air. No damp among them should be allowed.
Stir the surfaces of the pots. Keep worms out. Coal-ashes make a good bottom for standing them on. Pinks and Pansies in the open ground may be protected with hoops and mats, which can be uncovered when weather is fine. If frames, etc, get covered thickly with snow, it will afford good protection; but when thaw sets in, it may be swept off as speedily as possible. M. T.