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.
During the past season we have read and heard much of drought, mildew, and failures among many of the principal garden crops - such as Peas, Cauliflowers, Turnips, Spinach, etc. Where manure is scarce, and ground light and shallow, such failures are almost certain; and as a help to meet such difficulties in future, everything should be done during the next few months to secure deep tilth. Harvest all waste vegetation, collect soil, road-scrapings, leaves, parings of walks or road-edges, etc, which make excellent dressing, especially if all liquids from the washing-house and elsewhere have been thrown over the heap. There is still great waste in villages and cottage dwellings of valuable material, which might have done much during a season even like the past to secure good vegetables, as well as keeping impurities within proper limits. Trenching will soon require attention, and that may be done deeply, and the effect will tell favourably on the crops. Where soil may be rich and rather heavy, light sandy earth will be of great advantage to it. Last season we had large quantities of soil at our disposal from Vine and Peach borders.
It was spread on vacant ground instead of manure, and well incorporated with the ground in process of trenching (which was three spades deep), and the effect was excellent. We never had finer crops, except Cauliflowers, supplies of which, after the first plantation, were only kept up by frequently planting successions, thus taking up more ground than we could afford; but as each lot was about its best, Spinach or Turnips were sown, which filled up the ground, and were soon ready for use after the Cauliflowers were cleared off. From the benefit we have had by sowing and planting under the shade of tall fruit-bushes and Raspberries, we believe that much more might be done with dwarf fruit-trees for shade than is generally admitted. Single rows of Jerusalem Artichokes, Scarlet-Runners, and tall-growing Peas are always useful for shading some kinds of vegetables; and where plenty of water is not to be had, it is necessary to strike out of the beaten track if regular supplies of crisp produce are wanted. The system adopted by Mr Speed of Chatsworth, to secure supplies of rain-water at once, tells its own tale of usefulness.
There are few gardens where it, to some extent, cannot be put in practice; and the drought which this island has been subject to for some years past suggests to us that waste surface-water might be turned to much better account than it is. It is an old plan to have carriage - roads, walks, lawns, gardens, etc, drained and led into one or two large tanks for watering plants, etc, but this falls far short of having cisterns in convenient positions to water growing crops of fruit and vegetables. Lifting of roots - such as Carrots, Beet, and Parsnips - will now require attention. The two former, lifted and allowed to become rather dry on the ground, then placed under cover compactly together, and a covering of dry straw over them, will keep them well. Pitting them in a dry position answers well enough when the quantity is bulky. Parsnips keep well in the ground, taking up a few in open weather to keep up the supply as required. Potatoes should not be stored in large quantities while they are wet, as many would rot. Lettuce and Endive may soon be lifted and placed in frames, or where shutters can be placed over to throw off heavy rain and keep out frost. If they are not sufficiently blanched, tying up the heads or placing a board or slate over the Endive will soon make it fit for use.
Cauliflowers under protection, and small Lettuces, should have sifted coal-ashes and a little lime spread through among the plants to dislodge slugs, etc. Where glass is used, the covers should be off at all times except when rain or frost prevails. Spinach for winter supplies, and young Onions, may have a little lime thrown between the drills to keep the worms from throwing out the young plants. Asparagus may be cleaned, cutting off all decayed stems. It is a common practice to put a layer of decayed manure over the roots, but in damp localities, where the crowns do not ripen, the manure helps to destroy them, and often good crops are lost. Where there is danger from damp, it is a good practice to place the soil over the crowns in ridges, forking in what manure is necessary before growth commences. French Beans in full bearing may be protected from frost by hoops and mats, or if a frame can be placed over a few rows, pickings may be had for some time after the main crops are destroyed. In a sunk pit we have a fine lot coming into bearing: wooden shutters are placed over them at night. Tomatoes cover the back, which also may be kept on late in the season.
Cucumbers in frames depending for heat from linings may now require close attention, keeping the heat as steady as possible, cutting out any leaves which are decaying, preventing crowding of shoots, and giving water only when absolutely necessary. Mushroom beds maybe made where droppings can be had from the stables: a little straw mixed with them is not objectionable: turfy loam helps to keep the heat long in the bed. The manure requires to be moderately dried before it is used, and not allowed to evaporate the virtue out of it. Burning of the material by letting it lie in heaps must be strictly avoided. Use a layer of manure about 15 inches or less in depth, thoroughly beaten firm, and when the heat stands about 75° to 85°, the spawn (after being broken up in pieces the size of hen eggs) may be placed regularly over the bed about 9 inches or more apart, and 1 or 2 inches below the surface. When it is certain that the bed will not heat violently, let it be beaten with the back of a shovel, and 2 inches of good healthy loam placed over and made firm and smooth. The bed may then be covered with an old mat or dry hay, and if all is right the Mushrooms will appear in the course of five to eight weeks, according to the heat of the bed.
Water need not be given till the Mushrooms appear, and then it should be tepid, and the soil only moistened.
Fruit-gathering will now require attention: if any are allowed to fall on the hard ground and be bruised, they should be kept separate from those which are to be stored for keeping late. When placed in the store-room, plenty of air should be admitted for a week or two, then the structure may be kept close and dark. When fruit-trees are to be planted, let the pits be made wide, and, if it can be had, a quantity of fresh loam placed in with the roots. If there are any broken roots, let them be cut clean below the break; if any are long and naked, they may be cut well back, so that plenty of fibre may be thrown out. When planting, place the roots on the level of the surrounding soil, and add 8 or 10 inches over them. Stake the tree firmly, if it is a standard, so that it will not move the roots by the force of wind: a quantity of litter placed over the whole is necessary to keep out frost. If planting is done against walls, the stems of the trees should be kept 8 inches or so off the walls, so that in the course of time they may have room to grow. Fruit-trees when planted in firm soil make sturdy growth, and come more quickly into bearing.
Concrete placed in the bottoms of the pits, 2 or 3 feet wide, will cause the roots to turn outwards; and when root-pruning may be necessary, it is easily performed without the necessity of lifting the tree. If trees are to be chosen at the nurseries, those which have been often cut back and have been pruned, with pieces of wood left on, which are known by knife-men as "snags," should not be accepted as a gift, as disease is almost certain to lay hold of them. This hint is most applicable to Peaches, Apricots, and Cherries. It is well to ascertain what kinds of fruits suit the locality before a purchase is made. Apples, Pears, and Plums maybe had as "maidens," or with first season's growth, and planted as cordons on vacant spaces on walls. No portion of wall or fence should remain uncovered; plant against it either fruit-trees or Roses, etc. Some Apples we have used for this purpose, below larger fruit-trees, produced fine high-coloured fruit, especially Ribston Pippin, and Margil, which do little good here as ordinary standards. It is soon enough to begin pruning; but if any cuttings of Currants or Gooseberries are to be saved, it would be well to select them in time, as, when left to be picked up after the general pruning, the different kinds are liable to become mixed.
Tie them in bundles and stick them in the ground till wanted, and the making of them may have attention on a wet day.
Plants to be kept under glass during the winter should now be examined, putting the drainage to rights, surfacing with fresh soil, washing the pots, or anything that is necessary, before arranging them in their winter-quarters. Cinerarias, Primulas, and similar plants, should be placed near the glass, where no drip can reach them, and where plenty of fresh air can be admitted. Frost may now be expected, and all bedding-plants of value should be lifted and placed under, protection. Chrysanthemums coming into flower may be liberally supplied with manure-water, turning them round to the light. Get all bulbs potted or planted as formerly advised: those under cover should have timely attention before they grow under the covering. Plants for forcing, such as Skimmias, Lilacs, Roses, Deutzias, etc, should be under cover soon, and not exposed to much frost. Cleanliness, fresh air, and careful watering, should now be the order of the day for plants under glass. M. T.