This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
EGETABLES, and their cultivation, are now attracting much Mention; information is eagerly sought, as we have abundant evidence in the number of inquiries we are almost daily receiv-ing. The hints we now propose to offer are intended for ama-teurs, and have reference particularly to open ground culture. Whoever wishes to make his kitchen garden a profitable and pleasant investment of care and labor, must remember - First, That it be free from stagnant moisture, either in surface or sub-soil, - a cold, sour bottom is a deadly foe to a rapid, luxuriant growth, which is indispensable. A drain or two of stone or pipe tile, that a good laborer will make in a couple of days, may remedy defects of this kind in many a garden now suffering. A garden with a perfectly dry bottom, is two or three weeks earlier than one from which water cannot find easy drainage; it is much more healthy, more agreeable to work in, and more productive.
Second, That the ground be deeply spaded or trenched, or if of large extent, subsoil plowed. In any case it ought to be thoroughly loosened and pulverized to the depth of eighteen inches at least, that the roots of plants may have ample sources of food and nourishment at all times, and especially in dry times. This should have been done in the autumn; but if overlooked then, it should be done now, for it is indispensable. In spading and trenching, the subsoil should not be thrown on the top, for that would make a bad bed for the seeds, but it should be well loosened. In connection with this operation, abundance of well decomposed manure should be added, and it should be placed in the bottom of the trench as the work proceeds. Some of the coarser crops, such as potatoes, will do as well on partially decomposed manures, and these for early spring crops are desirable on account of the bottom heat to be derived from their fermentation.
Third, The garden must be laid out in plots, and each one should be designated by letters or numbers and have a certain crop or succession of crops assigned it, as the fanner arranges beforehand the mode of cropping the various divisions of his farm Be the garden ever so small, a well defined system will add greatly to the facility and success of its management. Good gardeners and men whose gardening habits have become orderly and systematic from long practice and experience, may consider these hints superfluous, but we know they are needed, and if followed might work great reformation in many of what are called good gardens. We all know how common it is for garden work to be deferred until an advancing season, or an active neighbor suggests the necessity of immediate action. Then the plot that is most available is put hastily in order and sown or planted with the most pressing article. A week or two more and another plot is taken up in the same way, and so it goes on at random as the season advances.
Fourth, A timely provision of an ample and well selected stock of seeds should be made. The amateur who is not familiar with the best varieties of vegetables, should consult some reliable treatise on the subject, or go to an honest, well informed seeds-man, and select such an assortment as will be sufficient for an uninterrupted succession during the entire season. No one should be satisfied with a poor assortment of suspicious seeds, merely because they are at hand. Conveyances now offer such facilities that a package can be transmitted one thousand miles in as short a period as it could twenty a few years ago. Therefore send a thousand miles, if need be, to secure good reliable seeds of the very best articles. You may depend upon it this will be economy in the end! The practice of running to the nearest seed vender to-day, for an ounce of this, and next week for an ounce or a paper of that, can result only in loss of time, and labor, and land.
About selecting varieties we must say a word or two more. This point in kitchen gardening does not seem to be appreciated. A thousand people will inquire the best varieties of apples, and pears, and peaches, before one will ask the best kind of radish, of lettuce, or pea; and yet the question has an equally mportant bearing on success in the one case as in the other. The varieties of garden vegetables are participating to some extent in the general improvement of all branches of horticulture. A very small number of those who have gardens look into these matters. They are not aware of the introduction of new and improved varieties; they imagine that the seedsman will be able to meet their wants: but the seedsman provides such seeds as he can sell, and he seldom lays in a stock of new or rare things until the taste of his customers demands it. We are not to be understood as recommending people who aim at sure and abundant crops, to dabble in novelties merely because they are such, but simply that they should secure the very best that can be had, availing themselves of every improvement that has been made, as people do in other pursuits.
Another matter that requires special consideration in the selection of seeds, is their adaptation to certain seasons of the year, and to other circumstances. For the early spring crops we want such as accomplish their growth in the shortest possible period of time. One variety of pea will be fit for use a fortnight before another sowed at the same time and on the same bed. So it is with radishes, lettuce, cabbage, cauliflower, and indeed all the leading articles. Many people say a few days, or a week, is of so little importance that their very early varieties are not worth the trouble - that they are generally not very productive, and it is better to wait the maturity of the more prolific sorts. This spirit deprives many people of much of the gratification which the garden might afford.
The next most important thing is to arrange the different sowings, in regard to quantity and time, in such a way that there will be continually a full supply in a proper condition for the table. This is a point in regard to which we know from experience, neither gardeners nor amateurs give sufficient attention. For instance, in the case of radishes. These are very seldom seen in a fit state for the table; they are allowed to attain their full size, when they are so tough and pungent as to be wholly uneatable. They are only good when very young and tender; and if those who go to the markets, knew what a radish ought to be, they would not choose the largest, which strange to say they generally da The great error is in sowing too much seed at once. The amateur who merely looks to a family supply, should sow a very small quantity at a time, and repeat it every week, or oftener as long as radishes are wanted. Then they should be used the moment they are fit When a large bed is sown at once, three-fourths of them have to be thrown away; in fact only two or three dishes are secured in a proper state. This point, we repeat, deserves the utmost attention.