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.
In a quiet country village about 16 miles from London may be seen a small garden devoted to Cucumber-growing for market. Having frequently visited this place, we are always forcibly struck with the simple means employed and the results obtained. From a study of these we think some highly practical lessons may be learned. The structures, or houses as they may perhaps be called, are primitive indeed, erected chiefly by the owner, who was a few years ago a gentleman's gardener, but a working gardener, where the charge was limited. For several years past he has devoted himself to Cucumbergrowing for the London trade. His first house for this purpose, if house it may be called, was an ordinary lean-to against a brick wall; it is about 20 yards long and 10 feet wide. In front of this is another of the same length and width, but with a span-roof, also a little glass under the front plate. These structures are low, but to get headroom a pathway is sunk along the middle, perhaps a yard deeper than the ground-level. On either side of this pathway is a long wooden trough from end to end of the house. These troughs are the most noticeable feature of the whole affair.
They are of rough inch boards, from 2 feet 6 inches to 3 feet wide, and 10 inches deep; the soil used being decayed turf, full of vegetable fibre, mixed with decayed horse-droppings. The troughs are not quite filled at planting out, and as the mass gets filled with roots, a slight top-dressing is from time to time applied of nothing more than road-grit and well-decomposed horse-droppings. The idea is a proper one, that slight dressings, frequently applied, maintain health without over stimulating. The point most noticeable is the small modicum of soil allowed the plants to grow in: they stand about two feet apart; they are grown with straight stems, about a foot or eighteen inches long; and trained on temporary trellises, one foot from the glasses, which is evidently not far enough, as both cold and sun affect them a little at that distance. The heat is supplied by flues - that is, 9-inch socket pipes put together with cement do duty as brick-flues. A row of these pipes is carried along on either side under the middle of the troughs. In excavating the path the side earth is left ; on the top of this run these pipe-flues, almost close to the bottom of the troughs in which the plants grow.
This flue is the only means of heat; in severe weather straw mats are put on, and found of great service. The cubical contents of one of these structures is very little. The objects to be heated are all suspended free from the ground; and limited as the surface is, it can readily be covered up to economise the heat given off inside. The plants which have been in bearing all spring and summer were put out in the early part of winter; the object being to have plenty when the demand is good. It is curious to note how one thing affects another. This season salmon has been at times moderately cheap, and consequently cucumbers have sold well. The quantity of fruit produced in these small houses is something marvellous. We shrink from a statement lest we should be charged with exaggeration. They are cut three times a-week, and supplied direct to the consumers, only the rough ones are sent to the market for what they will bring. The sort this grower prefers above all others is Sutton's Perfection. Telegraphs and various other esteemed sorts are grown, but no sort is equal with him to Sutton. At our last visit, August 12th, the plants were exceedingly healthy.
The construction of the houses tends to prevent evaporation, though air is given at the top, and the plants do not suffer as they do under a large exposed surface of glass - neither disease, gouty plants, nor insect was to be seen in the place.
We could not help ruminating how the social fabric hangs together: here is a deserving industrious man getting bread for his family in a quiet way, when, lo ! he is pretty nigh brought to a stand-still by the price of coals; and there does not appear any signs of relief, while the returns for produce are entirely dependent on the demand and supply.
Various important lessons may be learnt from this Cucumber-grower's practice, but for the present we must leave him. S. X.