This section is from the book "The Gardener V2", 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 present season will bring its own labour, even although every attention has been given during the last few months to forward all manner of groundwork. The cultivator whose aim is success will for some time be fully occupied. Where a little attention to protecting early-sown seeds is no objection, and turf-pits or other contrivances are not at command, a border sheltered and exposed to sun may be prepared for a few early crops, such as Horn Carrots, Radishes, Round Spinach (this crop is often sown between Early Peas), and Bath Cos Lettuce. However, a box sown with the latter will go a far way if it can have a position in an airy glass structure, with plenty of light and no check given. When the soil is dry and well worked, shallow drills will answer well for sowing the seed in; old dry soil, for covering small seeds, is of great advantage. The seed, though ever so good, may be sown more thickly now than later in the season, but not to come up matted. Red-lead will keep birds in check: it requires to be thinly dusted over the seeds before covering them. If there are no south borders, a ridge sloping to the sun is a good substitute.
Newly-sown seeds, which do not stand frost well, may be covered, till growth appears, with straw, fern, or any dry material, and kept in its place with branches, or ties and pegs. The labour of covering and uncovering is the principal barrier to early seed-sowing. Peas may be sown twice in the month, if demand requires. For second sowing Dickson's Favourite is one of the best. Some prefer them sown only 4 feet apart in the rows; others sow them widely, and use the ground between for the main sowings of small seeds. The rows of Peas, when staked, give good shelter. Any coming through the ground should be staked at once, and cold frosty winds will be less severe on the young tops. Mice will now be on the alert, and two of their favourite morsels at this season are Peas and Crocuses. Beans may be sown as demand requires. Early Mazagan is often used as first crop, but the beans are small.
Grouud will soon require to be ready for Onions. After the usual preparation of the soil, a fine, dry, well-broken surface is necessary. Onions do best on firm, rich, and deep soil which has been well turned up. This being an important crop in most gardens, every little matter at seed-sowing should have attention. With many this crop is a failure, and in some cases it would be a wonder if it were otherwise. The end of the month to middle of March is a good time to sow either in Scotland or England. In the latter country we have had fine Onions sown as late as May, but few cultivators would run such a risk if it could be avoided. Drills drawn from 8 inches to a foot apart (according to richness of ground) answer well for Onions. Soot and red-lead dusted over the seed before covering it helps for some time to keep off vermin; but free vigorous growth is the best security for Onions. On heavy wet land it is a useful practice to leave every sixth row unsown, which saves treading among the rows. Broadcast sowing for any seeds is wasteful both of seeds and labour. Parsnips, where large roots are wanted, may be sown soon after the Onions. Good deep soil, well broken and in good condition, but not incorporated with rank manure, will suit.
If manure is necessary, it should be thoroughly rotten, and placed two spades or more deep. Parsnips may be sown in drills about 2 inches deep, and 15 to 20 inches apart. (We often find 2 feet not too much.) Some roll or tread the ground as for Onions, but that depends much on its nature. Heavy wet land, when trodden, is not suitable for Parsnips. Parsley, when severely picked in winter, is very slow at starting into growth, and often runs to seed before it is of much use. To have early plants to keep up a supply, a good sowing should be made soon, and every attention afterwards given to encourage free growth. A sowing in a frame or box, for planting out when it is well hardened, is a good practice. Celery may now be sown in heat, and brought forward steadily; sudden changes will cause it to "bolt." Cold water should not be used till the plants are advanced and pricked out, then the hardening process will be going on; thus early, a box, seed-pan, or pot sown will do for any ordinary demand: it requires plenty of light and air when weather is not severe. Frosty winds should be guarded against for all tender seedlings, and they should never be sown so thickly as to destroy one another.
Capsicums may be sown now, if good-sized plants are wanted: when grown early, hardened carefully, and planted out in a favourable position, either in or out of the pots, they bear plenty of fruit with little trouble. In cold northern districts, however, this system is not so easily carried out. Tomatoes sown now will require careful attention to keep them from being drawn up weakly. All Salads in pots or boxes should have plenty of air for some time before they are used; supplies may be regular, if timely sowing is attended to. Potatoes for planting in cold frames or pits may be sprouted by placing the tubers on 2 inches of soil. To have Potatoes large, the tops should be kept thin, and plenty of space left between the plants. Much planting of Potatoes, Cabbage, and other things, is done this month; but except where circumstances are favourable, it is well to let the soil be warmed by sun; and March is generally early enough. Seakale, Rhubarb, Asparagus, and other vegetables which are forced, require little labour and attention now, compared with the last few months, as growth is so easily excited. Keep up supplies by taking roots into heat, or covering them in quantities not likely to give a glut at one time and scarcity at another.
Where manure for heat has to be used, it should be kept steady and not high. If Radishes and Carrots come up thickly, let them be thinned as soon as they can be handled, or large tops and small roots will be the result.