Thyme, Common (Thymus vulgaris).—An aromatic herb, well known in every garden, and in constant demand for the house. Seedlings are easily raised from a sowing in April, or the plant can be grown from division of the roots in spring. Thyme makes a very effective edging, and is frequently employed for this purpose on dry, well-kept borders.
Thyme, Lemon (Thymus Serpyllum vulgaris).—This plant cannot be grown from seed; only by division of the roots in March or April. It is an aromatic herb, generally regarded as indispensable in a well-ordered garden.
Wormwood (Artemisia Absinthium).—An intensely bitter herb, used for medicinal purposes. The plant is a hardy perennial, and is usually propagated in spring by taking cuttings or dividing the roots.
This vegetable is highly prized as a condiment to roast beef, but as a rule it is badly grown. The common practice is to consign it to some neglected corner of the garden, where it struggles for existence, and produces sticks which are almost worthless for the table. In the same space a plentiful supply of large handsome sticks may be grown with as little trouble as Carrots or Parsnips. Choose for the crop a piece of good open ground, and in preparing it place a heavy dressing of rotten manure quite at the bottom of each trench. Early in the year select young straight roots from eight to twelve inches long, each having a single crown, and plant them one foot apart each way. By the following autumn these will become large, succulent sticks, which will put to shame the ugly striplings grown under starving conditions. The roots may be dug as required; but we do not advocate that method. It is better practice to clear the whole bed at once, and store the produce in sand for use when wanted. This plan should be repeated each year, and a fresh piece of land ought always to be found for the crop.
KALE—see== BORECOLE==, page 27
KOHL RABI (KNOL KOHL)
Brassica oleracea Caulo-rapa
Kohl Rabi, or Knol Kohl, is comparatively little grown in this country, because we can almost always command tender and tasty Turnips. On the Continent it is otherwise. There Kohl Rabi may be seen in every market, and on many a good table, where it proves a most acceptable vegetable. For all ordinary purposes the green variety is better than the purple. A small crop of this root should be annually grown in every garden. In case of failure with Turnips, Kohl Rabi will take their place to tide over an emergency. When. served it has the flavour of a Turnip with a somewhat nutty tendency, and may be prepared for table in the same manner.
Kohl Rabi is cultivated in much the same way as Turnips. Seed may be sown at any time from March to August in rows one and a half to two feet apart. As soon as possible thin the seedlings to three inches apart in the rows, and, as the leaves develop, to six inches apart. By drawing every other plant some small roots may be obtained early, and the remainder will be left to mature at twelve inches in the rows. The seedlings may be transplanted, if desired. Keep the ground clean and the surface open, but care should be taken not to damage the leaves, or in the least degree to earth up the roots. Any animal that can eat a Turnip will prefer a Kohl Rabi, and when substituted for the Turnip in feeding cows, it does not affect the flavour of the milk. The plant is hardy, and as a rule may stand, to be drawn as wanted, until the spring is far advanced, when the remnant should be cleared off for the benefit of the animals on the home farm, or be dug in as manure.
The leek is not so fully appreciated in the southern parts of England as it is in the North, and in Scotland and Wales. It is a fine vegetable where it is well understood, and when stewed in gravy there is nothing of its class that can surpass it in flavour and wholesomeness. One reason of its fame in Scotland and the colder parts of Wales is its exceeding hardiness. The severest winters do not harm the plant, and it may remain in the open ground until wanted, occasioning no trouble for storage.
Times of Sowing.—To obtain large handsome specimens of the finest quality a start must be made in January or early February, and this early sowing is imperative for the production of Leeks for exhibition, as the roots must be given a longer season of growth than is generally allowed for ordinary crops. It is usual to sow in pans or boxes of moistened soil, placed in a temperature of about 55 deg.. The seeds need only a very light covering of fine soil. When the seedlings are about two inches high transfer to shallow boxes of rich soil, spacing them three inches apart each way, or the finest may be placed in pots of the 32-size, taking care not to break the one slender root on which the plant depends at this stage. Grow on in the same temperature until mid-March, when they may be transferred to a cold frame to undergo progressive hardening in readiness for planting out at a favourable opportunity in April.
There may be three sowings of Leek made in the open ground in February, March, and April, to insure a succession, and also to make good any failures. But for most gardens one sowing about the middle of March will be sufficient. From this sowing it will be an easy matter to secure an early supply, a main crop, and a late crop, for they may be transplanted from the seed-bed at a very early stage, and successive thinnings will make several plantations; and finally, as many can be left in the seed-bed to mature as will form a proper plantation.
General Cultivation.—The Leek will grow in any soil, and when no thicker than the finger is useful; indeed, in many places where the soil is poor and the climate cold it rarely grows larger, but is, nevertheless, greatly valued. A rich dry soil suits the plant well, and when liberally grown it attains to a great size, and is very attractive, with its silvery root and brilliant green top. The economical course of management consists in thinning and planting as opportunities occur, beginning as soon as the plants are six inches high, and putting them in well-prepared ground, which should be thoroughly watered previously, unless already softened by rain. The distance for planting must depend upon the nature of the soil and the requirements of the cultivator. For an average crop, eighteen inches between the rows and six to nine inches between the plants is sufficient; but to grow large Leeks, they must be allowed a space of twelve to eighteen inches in the rows. In planting, first shorten the leaves a little (and very little), then drive down the dibber, and put the plant in as deep as the base of the leaves, and close in carefully without pressure. Water liberally, occasionally stir the ground between plants, and again cut off the tops of the leaves, when the roots will grow to a large size. If the ground is dangerously damp or pasty, make a bed for the crop with light rich soil, plant on the level and mould up as the growth advances. On light land, however, it is advisable to grow them in trenches, prepared as for Celery. The largest and whitest should not be left to battle with storms, but those left in the seed-bed will take no harm from winter weather, and will be useful when the grandees are eaten. The finest roots that remain when winter sets in may be taken up in good time and stored in dry sand, and will keep for at least a month. Any that remain over in spring can readily be turned to account. As the flower-stems rise nip them out; not one should be left. The result of this practice will be the formation on the roots of small roundish white bulbs, which make an excellent dish when stewed in gravy, and may be used for any purpose in cookery for which Onions or Shallots are employed. They are called 'Leek Bulbs,' and are obtainable only in early summer.
Blanching.—The edible part of the root should be blanched, and this may be effected in various ways. Drain-pipes not less than two and a half inches in diameter, and from twelve to fifteen inches in length, answer well for large stems. Tubes of stiff brown paper are also very serviceable. Drawing up the earth to the stem as growth develops is a simple method of blanching, and the edible portion may easily be increased according to the amount of earthing-up given. Perfect blanching is of first importance when specimens are wanted for the exhibition table, and a commencement must be made as soon as the plants may be said to have thoroughly recovered from the effects of transplanting.
The lettuce is the king of salads, and as a cooked vegetable it has its value; but as it does not compete with the Pea, the Asparagus, or the Cauliflower, we need not make comparisons, but may proceed to the consideration of its uses in the uncooked state. Scientific advisers on diet and health esteem the Lettuce highly for its anti-scorbutic properties, and especially for its wholesomeness as a corrective. It supplies the blood with vegetable juices that are needful to accompany flesh foods when cooked vegetables are unattainable. Our summers are usually too brief and too cool to permit us to acquire a knowledge of the real value of the Lettuce, but in Southern Europe and many parts of the East it becomes a necessary of life, and those large red Lettuces that are occasionally grown here as curiosities are prized above all others because of their crisp coolness and refreshing flavour under a burning sun.
The numerous varieties may, for practical purposes, be grouped in two classes—Cabbage and Cos Lettuces. They vary greatly in habit and are adapted for different purposes, the first group being invaluable for mixed salads at all seasons, but more especially in winter and early spring; the second group is most serviceable in the summer season, and is adapted for a simple kind of salad, the leaves being more crisp and juicy. A certain number of the two classes should be grown in every garden, both for their great value to appetite and health, and their elegance on the table, whether plain or dressed. In the selection of sorts, leading types should be kept in view. Some of the varieties which have been introduced have no claim to a place in a good list, because of their coarseness. Although they afford a great bulk of blanched material, it is too often destitute of flavour, or altogether objectionable. The best types are tender and delicately flavoured, representing centuries of cultivation, and the sub varieties of these types should retain their leading characteristics, though perhaps they are more hardy and stand longer, and are therefore much to be desired.
Preparation of the Soil.—The Lettuce requires a light, rich soil, but almost any kind of soil may be so prepared as to insure a fair supply, and in places where fine Cos Lettuces are not readily obtained, it may be possible to grow excellent Cabbage varieties in place of them. A tolerably good garden soil will answer for both classes, and fat stable manure should be liberally used. The best way to prepare ground for the summer crop is to select a piece that has been trenched, and go over it again, laying in a good body of rough green manure, one spade deep, so that the plant will be put on unmanured ground, but will reach the manure at the very period when it is needed, by which time contact with the earth will have rendered it sweet and mellow. By this mode of procedure the finest growth is secured, and the plants stand well without bolting, as they, are saved from the distress consequent on continued dry weather. As regards drought, it must be said that the red-leaved kinds stand remarkably well in a hot summer, and although they do not rank high as table Lettuces in this country, were we to experience a succession of roasting summers they would rise in repute and be in great demand. Cabbage Lettuces bear drought fairly well, more especially the diminutive section; but where water is available Lettuces have as good a claim to a share of it in a dry, hot season, as any crop in the garden.
Blanching.—A first-class strain of White Cos Lettuce will produce tender white hearts without being tied, and, as a rule, therefore, the labour of tying may be saved. The section of which Sutton's Superb White Cos is the type may be said to produce better samples without tying than with this imaginary aid to blanching. The market grower is still accustomed to tie Lettuces because they are more easily packed and travel better when tied, but when tying is practised it need not be done until one or two days before the Lettuces are cut. The coarser market kinds certainly are improved by tying, and in this case the operation must be performed when the plants are quite dry, and not more than ten days in advance of the day on which it is intended to pull them. The Bath Cos must be tied always, and when well managed the heart is white, with a pretty touch of pink in the centre.
Spring-sown Lettuces may be forwarded under glass from January to March, from which time sowings may be made successively in the open ground. In any and every case the finest Lettuces are obtained by sowing in the open ground, and leaving the plants to finish in the seed-bed without being transplanted. It will, of course, occur to the practical cultivator that the two systems may be combined, so as to vary the time of turning in, and thus from a single sowing insuring a longer succession than is possible by one system only. We will suppose small sowings made of three or four sorts in January or early in February, and put into a gentle heat to start them. A very little care will keep them going nicely, and of course they must have light and air to any extent commensurate with safety. When about three weeks old, it will be advisable to prick these out into a bed of light rich earth in frames; or if the season is backward, and they need a little more nursing, prick them into large shallow boxes, containing two or three inches of soil, which will be sufficient provided it consists in great part of decayed manure, kept always moist enough for healthy growing. The next step will be to plant them out about six inches apart, with a view to draw a certain number as soon as they are large enough to be useful, leaving the remainder at nine to twelve inches, taking care to thin out in time to prevent any leaves overlapping. If Peas are being grown under glass, a few plants of an early Cabbage variety may be put out between the rows, or they may be pricked out on the borders of a Peach-house, in either case spacing the plants nine inches apart. Successive sowings made in February and March will be treated in the same way, and will need less nursing. In planting out, it is important to have the seedlings well hardened, for they are naturally susceptible to wind and sunshine, and if suddenly exposed to either will be likely to perish. Again, when first planted out their delicate leaves will attract all the slugs and snails in the garden, and the discreet way of acting is to regard a plantation of Lettuce as an extensive vermin trap, and thus, knowing where the marauders are, to be ready to catch and kill, or to destroy them by sprinklings of lime, salt, or soot, in all cases being careful to keep these agents at a reasonable distance from the plants.
Sowings in the open ground from the end of March onwards should be made, not on an ordinary seed-bed, but on a plot loaded with rich manure at one spit deep, and the seed should be put in shallow drills one foot apart. From the time the young plants are two inches high they must be drawn freely for 'Cutting Lettuce,' or for planting out elsewhere; this thinning to proceed until a sufficient crop remains to finish off on the ground. The value of 'Cutting Lettuce' is better understood on the Continent than in this country. The small tender plants are in daily use, and appear in the salad bowl with Water Cress and Corn Salad, delicately dressed with delicious flavourings. After this brief digression it is necessary to add that a crowded Lettuce crop is an encumbrance to the ground; and one of the evils of the best system, that of sowing where the crop is to finish, is the tendency of the cultivator to be timid in the thinning, which should be done with a bold hand, and in good time.
July and August Sowing.—From sowings made during these months the supply of Lettuce from the open ground may be extended throughout the autumn, and even into December or January should the weather prove favourable. The main conditions essential to success are, the use of quick-growing varieties, sowing in good soil where the heads are to mature, and early and severe thinning. The thinnings may be transplanted if required.
Winter Lettuces are produced and provided for in various ways. In some places Lettuces stand out the winter without covering, and turn in early in the spring. But in other districts they seldom survive the winter without protection, even when the sparrows spare them. The summer sowings will afford supplies to a late season of the year, and the crop that remains when frost sets in may be preserved with slight and rough protection. But for the profitable production of Winter Lettuces frames are a necessity, and care must be taken not to promote a strong growth, for after a term of mild winter weather a sudden and severe frost will probably annihilate those that are in a too thriving condition. In the least likely places, however, it is well to have a small plantation of Winter Lettuces in the open, and to give some rough protection in bad times, as these often prove of great advantage, and even outlive frame crops which have been allowed to get too forward by the aid of warmth and a rich soil.
For winter and spring use sowings should commence in August and be continued, according to requirements, until the middle of October, after which it is waste of time and seed to sow any more. The August and September sowings may be made partly on an open border and partly in frames, but the October sowings must be in frames only, for winter may overtake them in the seed-leaf. The seedlings must in all cases be thinned and pricked out as soon as large enough, and should be planted in fine soil, free from recent manure, being carefully handled to avoid needless check. Some should be planted in frames on beds of light soil near the glass, at three inches apart, and when these meet they must be thinned for the house as may be necessary: the remainder of the thinnings may be put out on warm borders at six inches, and, if quite convenient, a crop should be left in the seed-bed at six inches. From the frames, the supplies will be ready in time to follow those from late summer sowings, and thus through the winter until the frames are cleared out for the work of the spring. The frame crop must have plenty of air, and be kept as hardy as possible, but with moisture enough to sustain a steady healthy growth. If roughly handled in the planting, or a little starved in respect of moisture, the plants will rise from the centre just when they ought to begin to turn in, and the first few days of warm sunshine will start them in the wrong way. As to those wintered out, there are many ways of protecting them, and when success has crowned the effort there will be a crowded plant. It will be necessary, therefore, to transplant at least half the crop by lifting every other one. This must be done with care, as though they were worth a guinea each. By transplanting early in March to a piece of rich light ground in a warm spot, and doing the work neatly and smartly, the result will be a valuable crop of early Summer Lettuce, while those that remain will help through the spring.
Forcing.—Lettuces do not force well; but as they are so constantly in demand, it is a matter of importance to grow them in every possible way. Nice promising plants from August and September sowings may be selected from the frames, and planted on gentle hot-beds from November to January, and will do well if tenderly lifted. The Commodore Nutt and Golden Ball are the best of the Cabbage varieties for forcing. The Cos varieties do not differ much as to forcing, none of them being well adapted for the purpose; but the Superb White Cos may be brought to fine condition by taking time enough, so as to make a very moderate warmth suffice. On sunny days the heat should not exceed 75 deg.; but 65 deg. is sufficient, with a night temperature of 45 deg.to 50 deg..
One other method of providing small delicate salading may be adopted to meet emergencies. On the barrows of itinerant greengrocers in Paris the thinnings of Lettuce crops form part of the general stock, and in this country we do not sufficiently utilise this young tender stuff. But we have now in view the use of Lettuce in a still earlier stage of growth. By sowing rather thinly in boxes, kept under glass, a dense growth is produced in a short time which can be cut in the same manner as Mustard. For this purpose Sutton's Winter Gathering is especially valuable, or one of the best White Cos varieties should be sown.
MAIZE and SUGAR CORN
Maize is a tender plant of great beauty that may be grown as a table vegetable, a forage plant, or a corn crop; but in the last-named capacity it is rarely profitable in this country, owing to the brevity of our summers. As an ornamental plant it is entitled to consideration, and the more so because, while adorning the garden with its noble outlines and splendid silken tufts, it will at the same time supply to the table the green cobs that are so much valued when cooked and served in the same manner as Asparagus.
There is a simple rough and ready way of growing Maize, the first step towards which is to prepare a deep rich soil, in a sunny and sheltered situation. Late in April or early in May dibble the seeds two inches deep, in rows two feet asunder and one foot apart in the rows. When the plants have made some progress, remove every other one, these thinnings to be destroyed or planted at discretion. Plants may also be started under glass by sowing seeds in gentle heat in April. Prick off into pots and gradually harden for transfer to the open. The crop will almost take care of itself when the weather is warm enough to suit it. But a deluge of water may be given during the hottest weather. In its native country, and indeed wherever Maize thoroughly thrives, it is dependent on frequent storms.
The popularity of this cool and delicious fruit has in recent years been greatly enhanced by increased knowledge as to the best method of treating the plant, and also by the introduction of several varieties which are attractive in form and superb in flavour. It would shock a modern Melon eater to be advised to cook a Melon, and flavour it with vinegar and salt, as in the early days of English gardening. A good Melon of the present day does not even need the addition of sugar; the beauty, aroma, and flavour are such that it is not unusual for the epicure to push the luscious Pine aside in order to enjoy this cool, fresh, gratifying fruit that delights without cloying the palate. The newer varieties are remarkable alike for fruitfulness and high quality, and are somewhat hardier than the favourites of years gone by.
The Melon is grown in much the same way as the Cucumber, but it differs in requiring a firmer soil, a higher temperature, a much stronger light, less water, and more air. It may be said that no man should attempt to grow Melons until he has had some experience in growing Cucumbers. As regards this point, the hard and fast line is useless, but Cucumber-growing is certainly a good practical preparative for the higher walk wherein the Melon is found. But Cucumbers are grown advantageously all the winter through; Melons are not. The former are eaten green, and the latter are eaten ripe; this makes all the difference. Melons that are ripened between October and May are seldom worth the trouble bestowed upon them; therefore we shall say nothing about growing Melons in winter.
The Frame Culture may with advantage begin about the middle of March by the preparation of a good hot-bed. It is best to use a three-light frame, as the heat will be more constant than with one of smaller size. There should be six loads of stuff laid up for the bed, and the turning should be sufficient to take out the fire, without materially reducing the fermenting power. Begin a fortnight in advance of making up the bed, and be careful at every stage to do things well, as advised for the cultivation of frame Cucumbers. The best soil for Melons is a firm, turfy loam, nine inches of which should be placed on top of the manure. In a clay district, a certain amount of clay, disintegrated by frost, may be chopped over with turfy loam from an old pasture. If the soil is poor, decayed manure should be added, but the best possible Melons may be grown in a fertile loam without the aid of manures or stimulants of any kind. It is good practice to raise the plants in pots, and have them strong enough to plant out as soon as the newly-made beds have settled down to a steady temperature of about 80 deg., but below 70 deg. will be unsafe. If plants cannot be prepared in advance, seed must be sown on the bed, and as a precaution against accidents and to permit of the removal of those which show any sign of weakness, a sufficient number of seeds should be sown to provide for contingencies.
As regards the bed, it may be made once and for all at the time of planting, a few days being allowed for warming the soil through. But we much prefer to begin with smallish hillocks, or with a thin sharp ridge raised so as almost to touch the lights, and to plant or sow on this ridge, which can be added to from time to time as the plants require more root room. The soil, coming fresh and fresh, sustains a vigorous and healthy root action. The high ridge favours the production of stout leaves, and the absorption by the soil of sun-heat is to the Melon of the first importance.
The practice of pruning Melons as if the plants were grown for fodder, and might be chopped at for supplies of herbage, must be heartily condemned. Melons should never be so crowded as to necessitate cutting out, except in a quite trivial manner. A free and vigorous plant is needed, and under skilful attention it will rarely happen that there is a single leaf anywhere that can be spared. We will propose a practical rule that we have followed in growing Melons for seed, of which a large crop of the most perfect fruits is absolutely needful to insure a fair return. The young plants are pinched when there are two rough leaves. The result is two side shoots. These are allowed to produce six or seven leaves, and are then pinched. After this, the plants are permitted to run, and there is no more pinching or pruning until the crop is visible. Then the fruits that are to remain must be selected, and the shoots be pinched to one eye above each fruit, and only one fruit should remain on a shoot; the others must be removed a few at a time. All overgrowth must be guarded against, for crowded plants will be comparatively worthless. It is not by rudely cutting out that crowding is to be prevented, but by timely pinching out every shoot that is likely to prove superfluous. From first to last there must be a regular plant, and not a shoot should be allowed to grow that is not wanted. Cutting out may produce canker, and crowding results in sterility.
As the Melon is required to ripen its fruits, and the Cucumber is not, the treatment varies in view of this difference. It is not necessary to fertilise the female flowers of the Cucumber, but it is certainly desirable, if not absolutely necessary, to operate on those of the Melon to insure a crop. The early morning, when the leaves are dry and the sun is shining, is the proper time for this task, which is described in a later paragraph. And the necessity for ripening the crop marks another difference of management, for Cucumbers may carry many fruits, and continue producing them until the plants are exhausted. But the production of Melons must be limited to about half a dozen on each plant, and good management requires that these should all ripen at the same time, or nearly so, fully exposed to the sun, and with plenty of ventilation.
The requisite supply of water is an important matter. The plant should never be dry at the root, and must have a light shower twice a day over the leafage, but the moisture which is necessary for Cucumbers would be excessive for Melons. It is a golden rule to grow Melons liberally, keeping them sturdy by judicious air-giving, and to give them a little extra watering just as they are coming into flower. Then, as the flowers open, the watering at the root should be discontinued, and the syringe should be used in the evening only at shutting up. If discontinued entirely, red spider will appear, and the crop will be in jeopardy, for that pest can be kept at a distance only by careful regulation of atmospheric moisture.
Melons in frames do better spread out on the beds than when trained on trellises. When so grown, each fruit must be supported with a flat tile or an inverted flower-pot, and means must be taken, by pegs or otherwise, to prevent it from rolling off, for the twist of stem that ensues may check the fruit or cause it to fall. When the fruits are as large as the top joint of a man's thumb, watering may be resumed, and the syringe used twice a day until the fruit begins to change colour, when there must be a return to the dry system, but with care to avoid carrying it to a dangerous extreme.
The Melon-house, heated by hot water, is adapted to supply fruit earlier than is obtainable by frame culture, and is entirely superior to any frame or pit. It appears, however, that in Melon-houses red spider is more frequently seen than in frames heated by fermenting material; but this point rests on management, and there can be nothing more certain than that a reasonable employment of atmospheric humidity may be made effectual for preventing and removing this pest. For the convenient cultivation of the crop a lean-to or half-span is to be preferred. The width should not exceed twelve feet, and ten to twelve feet should be the utmost height of the roof. A service of pipes under the bed will be required; but as Melons are not grown in winter, the heating of a Melon-house is a simple affair, and, indeed, very much of the cultivation as the summer advances will be carried on by the aid of sun-heat only. The treatment of the plants in a house differs from the frame management, because a trellis is employed, and the plants are taken up the trellis without stopping until they nearly reach the top, when the points are pinched out to promote the growth of side shoots. In setting the fruit, the same principles prevail as in frame culture, and it is advisable to 'set' the whole crop at once; if two or three fruits obtain a good start, others that are set later will drop off. As the fruits swell, support must be afforded to prevent any undue strain on the vine, and this should be accomplished by nets specially made for the purpose, or by suspending small flat boards of half-inch deal with copper wires, each fruit resting on its board, until the cracking round the stem gives warning that the fruit should be cut and placed in the fruit room for a few days to complete the ripening for the table. In houses of the kind described Melons and Cucumbers are occasionally grown together. But although this may be done, and there are many cultivators expert in the business, the practice cannot be recommended, for ships that sail near the wind will come to grief some day. The moisture and partial shade that suit the Cucumber do not suit the Melon, and it is a poor compromise to make one end of the house shady and moist, and the other end sunny and dry, to establish different conditions with one atmosphere. A glass partition pretty well disposes of the difficulty, because it is then possible to insure two atmospheres suitable for two different operations. (See also pages 157, 175, and 184.)
The Pollination of Melons is performed by plucking the mature male blooms, and after the removal of the petals, transferring the pollen of the male flower to the stigma of the female flower.
This perfectly hardy vegetable, known also by the name of Good King Henry, is much grown in Lincolnshire. The leaves are used in the same way as Spinach, and by earthing up the shoots they may be blanched as a substitute for Asparagus. Sow the seeds during April in drills twelve inches apart, and in due course thin the seedlings to one foot apart in the rows.
The Mushroom has many friends among all classes, few benevolent neutrals, and fewer still who are absolutely hostile to it as an article of food. Those who find, or imagine they find, that this delicacy does not agree with them, might possibly arrive at another conclusion were a different mode of preparation adopted, or were the consumption of it accompanied with a full persuasion that the Mushroom is not merely delicious in flavour, but thoroughly wholesome, rich in flesh-forming constituents, and, for a vegetable, possessed of more than the average proportion of fat-formers and minerals. These facts have been clearly established by chemical analysis, and may dispose of timid misgivings, always supposing the true edible Mushroom, Agaricus campestris, to be in question.
Hitherto the artificial production of Mushrooms has never been equal to the demand. Notwithstanding the enormous quantities sent to Covent Garden by the growers around London, many tons are imported from France, although it is generally admitted that they are neither so fine nor so rich in flavour as those produced in this country. If, however, the large centres of population are inadequately supplied, the scarcity of Mushrooms is more keenly felt in the provinces, except, perhaps, in certain favoured districts, where, after a few warm days in autumn, an abundant crop may be gathered from the neighbouring pastures. Then there is a brave show in the greengrocers' windows for a brief period, followed by entire dearth for weeks, and perhaps months. Obviously, therefore, the demand, large as it already is, might be immensely augmented by a commensurate supply. Yet it is not only possible but quite easy to grow Mushrooms for the greater part of the year in very small gardens, even when such gardens are entirely destitute of the appliances usually considered necessary for the higher flights of horticulture. The idea that Mushroom-growing is somewhat of a mystery, forbidden to all but the strictly initiated, has happily been dispelled. If we examine the conditions under which Mushrooms grow freely in pastures, it is surprising how few and simple are the elements of success. The crop generally appears in September, when temperature is genial and fairly equable, with sufficient but not superabundant moisture. The artificial production of Mushrooms in the garden needs only reliable spawn, a sweet fertile bed, and some means of maintaining a steady temperature under varying atmospheric conditions. When the principles of Mushroom culture are thoroughly mastered, they may be successfully applied in many different ways, and they render the practical work easy and tolerably certain.
The Spawn.—Although the Mushroom may be grown from seed, it is seldom done except for strictly scientific purposes. The seeds are, however, largely disseminated by Nature, and, having found a suitable home, they germinate and produce an underground growth which at a hasty glance resembles mildew. It really consists of white gossamer-like films, which increase in number and distinctness as they develop, until they push their way towards the surface, and give rise to the growth above ground of the Mushroom. It follows that if we do not begin the cultivation with seeds or spores, we must resort to the white films or 'mycelium,' that the growth of the plant may begin in Nature's own way below ground. What is called 'Mushroom Spawn' consists of certain materials from the stable and the field, mixed and prepared in such a manner as to favour the development of the mycelium of the Mushroom. When dried, the cakes have the appearance of an unburnt brick. The preparation of the spawn, though a very simple matter, demands the skill and care of experienced operators. If the work is not well done, the spawn will be of poor quality, and will yield a meagre crop, or perhaps fail to produce a single Mushroom. Whether the cakes or bricks are impregnated in the manner long practised in this country, or direct from the tissue of the Mushroom, the culture remains the same. Provided that the spawn is good, it has but to be broken into lumps of a suitable size, and inserted in the bed, to impregnate the entire mass with the necessary white films. These will take their time to collect from the soil the alkalies and phosphates of which Mushrooms principally consist, and this part of their work being done, the fruits of their labours will be displayed above ground in the elegant and sweet-smelling fungus that few human appetites can resist when it is placed upon the table in the way that it deserves. Experts can readily form an opinion as to whether a cake of Mushroom spawn is or is not in a fit state for planting, and it will be a safe proceeding for the amateur to buy from a Firm which has a large and constant sale; otherwise, spawn may be purchased which was originally well made and properly impregnated, but has lost its vitality through long keeping.
Soil.—As to soil, it is well known that in a favourable autumn Mushrooms abound in old rich pastures, and those who have command of turf cut from a field of this character have only to stack the sods grass side downwards for a year or two, and they will be in possession of first-class material for Mushroom beds either in the open or under cover. But small gardens, particularly in towns, have no such bank to honour their drafts, and for these it becomes a question of buying a load or two of turfy loam, or of making the soil of the garden answer, perhaps with a preliminary enrichment by artificial manure. In the general interests of the garden, the money for a limited quantity of good loam would probably be well spent, independently of the question of Mushrooms. No great bulk is necessary to cover a moderate-sized Mushroom bed, but the quality of the soil will certainly have an influence on the number and character of the Mushrooms. As a proof of the exhaustive nature of the fungus, it almost invariably happens that when the soil is used a second time it tends to diminish the size and lower the quality of the crop.
Manure.—In the management of the manure two essentials must be borne in mind. Not only is nourishment for the plant required, but warmth also. Probably a large proportion of the failures to grow Mushrooms might, if all the facts were known, be traced to some defect in the manure employed, or to some fault in its preparation. It must be rich in the properties which encourage and support the development of Mushrooms, absolutely free from the least objectionable odour, for the plant is most fastidious in its demand for sweetness, although it can dispense with light; and there must remain in the manure when made into a bed a sufficient reserve of fermentation to insure prolonged heat, no matter what the temperature of the atmosphere may be. Of course, the duration of the heat will depend very much on the care with which it is conserved by suitable covering and management. These requirements, formidable as they may seem, can be insured with extreme ease; indeed, the work is apparently far more difficult and complicated on paper than it proves to be in practice.
Preparation of the Bed.—The manure should come from stables occupied by horses in good health, fed exclusively on hard food. The most suitable store is the floor of a dry shed, or under some protection which will prevent the loss of vital forces. Ammonia, for example, is readily dissipated in the atmosphere or washed away by rain. The manure should neither be allowed to become dust dry, nor to waste its power in premature fermentation. Operations may be commenced with three or four loads. A smaller quantity increases the difficulty of maintaining the requisite temperature when fermentation begins to flag. The first procedure is to make the manure into a high oblong heap well trodden down. If the stuff be somewhat dry, a sprinkling of water over every layer will be necessary. In a few days fermentation will make the heap hot all through, and then it must be taken to pieces and remade, putting all the outside portions into the interior, with the object of insuring equal fermentation of the entire bulk. This process will have to be repeated several times at intervals of three or four days until the manure has not only been fermented but sweetened. When ready it will be of a dark colour, soft, damp enough to be cohesive under pressure, but not sufficiently damp to part with any of its moisture, and almost odourless; at all events the odour will not be objectionable, but may be suggestive of Mushrooms. Make a long bed, having a base about four feet wide, and sides sloping to a ridge like the roof of a house, with this difference—the narrow part of the ridge is useless, and the top should, therefore, be rounded off when about a foot across. Some growers prefer a circular bed of six or eight feet diameter at the bottom and tapering towards a point, after the shape of a military tent; but here again the point will be worthless, and the bed may terminate abruptly. Either the long bed or the round heap answers admirably. Tread the manure down compactly, and for the sake of appearances endeavour to finish it off in a workmanlike manner. During the first few days there will be a considerable rise in the temperature, which will gradually subside, and when the plunging thermometer shows that it has settled down to a comfortable condition of about 80 deg. the bed must be spawned. Experienced men can determine by the sense of touch when the temperature is right, but the inexperienced should rely entirely on the thermometer. The question will arise as to the period of the year when operations should be commenced. Well, the experts who grow Mushrooms in the open ground for market gather crops almost the year round; but a beginner will do wisely to start under the most favourable natural conditions, and these will be found about midsummer, because the bed will commence bearing before winter creates difficulty as to temperature.
Spawning and After-management.—Break each cake of spawn into eight or ten pieces, and force every piece gently a little way into the manure at regular intervals of six to nine inches all over the bed, closing the manure over and round each piece of spawn. The practice of inserting spawn by means of the dibber is to be strongly condemned, for it leaves smooth, hollow spaces which arrest the mycelium; and very small pieces of spawn should be avoided because they generally result in small Mushrooms. Immediately the spawning is completed, a thick and even covering of clean straw or litter of some kind should be laid over the bed, secured from wind by canvas, mats, hurdles, or in some other way. From good spawn the films of mycelium will begin to extend within a week. In the contrary case an examination of the pieces will show that they have become darker than when put into the bed, which means that they have perished. Then the question will arise as to whether the bed or the spawn is at fault, and the former must either be spawned again or broken up. Supposing the spawn to show signs of vitality, the time has come for covering the bed with a layer of rather moist soil, pressed lightly but firmly on to the manure with the spade or fork, so that the earth will not slip down. At once restore the covering of litter, &c., and wait patiently for about seven or eight weeks for the crop. Meanwhile the plunging thermometer ought to be consulted daily. Until the Mushrooms appear the instrument should not indicate less than 60 deg., and while in bearing not less than 55 deg.. Experience proves that the most violent alternations of temperature may be combated by regulating the thickness of the covering. Although it may possibly be necessary to resort to eighteen inches of litter or more during hard frost or the prevalence of a cutting east wind, a much thinner covering will suffice in milder weather.
Should the temperature of the bed, through inexperience in the management of it, sink below the point at which Mushrooms can grow, we advise the exercise of a little patience. We have known several instances of beds made in autumn producing no crop at the expected time, but which have borne fairly in the following spring or summer. But in the event of the first effort failing outright there is no great loss. The manure, which is the most costly item, will still be available for the garden, and an observant man will pretty well understand in what respect he must amend his course of procedure.
Water.—Moisture is of great consequence, for a dry Mushroom bed will soon be barren also; but whenever water is given it must be applied tepid and from a fine rose. To slop cold water over a Mushroom bed is about as reasonable a procedure as putting ice into hot soup. Water is best administered in the afternoon of a genial day, and should be sufficient to saturate the bed. Immediately it is done the covering of litter and canvas must be promptly restored to prevent the temperature from being seriously lowered by rapid evaporation. A couple of stakes driven from the crown to the bottom of the bed at the time of making up the heap are useful as indicators of moisture, and may occasionally be drawn out and examined.
In gathering the crop, only a small portion of the bed should be uncovered at a time. This should be the rule at all seasons, and the strict observance of it will prevent a mistake in cold weather, for then, if the bed is carelessly uncovered and much chilled, the crop will come to an end, when perhaps it would, if properly handled, be at high tide and full of profit. Another rule should be enforced, to this effect, that every Mushroom must be taken out complete, and if the root does not come with the stem, it must be dug out with a knife. Any trifling with this rule will prove a costly mistake. The stem of a Mushroom, if left in the ground, will produce nothing at all. But it may attract flies, and it certainly will interfere with the movements of the mycelium at that particular spot, and actually prevent the production of any more Mushrooms. The old practitioners were accustomed to leave the stem in the ground, and they were content with about one-third of the crop now produced on beds that are, perhaps, not better made than were theirs. But they had a notion about the powers of the root which increased knowledge of the subject has shown to be fallacious.
In Pastures.—As already indicated, Mushrooms are often to be found in abundance in well-stocked pastures during the late summer months, and where favourable conditions exist it is an excellent plan to insert pieces of spawn two inches deep in the turf in June and July.
Turf Pits.—The facility with which Mushrooms may be raised under simple methods is illustrated by the practice of growing them inside the turf walls of cool pits. In the country turf walls are common, and they offer the advantage of growing Mushrooms in addition to the purpose they usually serve. After determining the size of the pit, and accurately marking it on the ground, cut the turf into narrow strips, say three or four inches wide, and of exactly eighteen inches length. The strips should be closely laid, grass side downwards, across the width of the walls—not longitudinally—except at the corners, where the layers should cross each other. The front and back walls to be rather above the required height, because the turf always scales down a little, and the two ends must gradually rise from front to back. The top layer may be right side up, when it will keep green for a long time. As the work proceeds insert lumps of spawn at intervals in every layer, about three or four inches from the inside edge. A wooden frame will be requisite on the top to carry the glass lights. This structure makes a useful cool pit and a Mushroom bed from which supplies may sometimes be gathered for years. In the summer it will be necessary to keep the walls moist by means of the syringe, or they will cease bearing.
Indoor Beds.—Mushrooms may be grown almost anywhere, evenly in a cellar, or on the wall of a warm stable, provided only that the mode of procedure is in a reasonable degree adapted to the requirements of the fungus. Ordinary pits and frames are also serviceable, and many gardeners obtain good crops in autumn by the simple process of inserting a few lumps of spawn in a Cucumber or Melon bed while the plants are still in bearing. Between spawning and cropping a period of six or eight weeks usually elapses, so that if the plan just mentioned be adopted, the spawn should be introduced in the height of summer, both to insure it a warm bed and to allow time for the crop to mature before the season runs out. Sheds and outhouses not only afford shelter and space for beds on the floor, but the walls can be fitted with shelves on which Mushrooms may be plentifully grown. In all cases the shelves should be two feet apart vertically, and each shelf should have a ledge nine inches deep. The walls of a house may be quickly and cheaply fitted with woodwork for the purpose, but brick is so much better than wood that whenever it is possible to employ brick it should have the preference. As regards the ledges, they should be of stout planking in any case, and should not be fixed, because of the necessity for clearing the shelves and renewing the soil periodically. The details of cultivation are the same within doors as without, but the roof gives valuable protection, and helps to maintain the beds at a suitable temperature.
A proper Mushroom-house for production during winter should be heated with hot water, and have an opaque roof. There is nothing so good for the crop as a roof of thatch, but there are many objections to it, and usually slate is employed. A double roof will pay for its extra cost by promoting an equable temperature. A few side lights fitted with shutters are necessary, as there should be a good light for working purposes; but the crop does not need light, and a more steady temperature can be maintained in a dark house than in one which has several windows. The most convenient dimensions for a Mushroom-house are: length, twenty-five feet; width, twelve feet; height at sides, six feet, to allow of a bed on the floor, and a shelf four feet above it; the ridge rising sufficiently for head room, and to shoot off water. There will be room for a central path of four feet, and a bed of four feet on each side. An earth or tile floor and a slate or stone shelf will, with one four-inch flow and return pipe, complete the arrangements. The less wood and the less concrete the better; there is nothing like porous red tiles for the floor and stone for the shelves, with loose planks on edge to keep up the soil, a few uprights being sufficient to hold them in their places.
Temperatures at every point are of great importance. The bed should be near 80 deg. when the spawn is inserted. The air temperature requisite to the rising crop is 60 deg. to 65 deg., which is the usual temperature of the season when Mushrooms appear in pastures. While the bed is bearing a temperature of 55 deg. will suffice, but at any point below this minimum production will be slow and may come to a stop. When giving water, take care that it is at a temperature rather above than below that of the bed.
Sinapis alba, and S. nigra
Mustard is much valued as a pungent salad, and for mixing in the bowl it may take the place of Water Cress when the latter is not at command. Mustard is often sown with Cress, but it is bad practice, for the two plants do not grow at the same pace, and there is nothing gained by mixing them. The proper sort for salading is the common White Mustard, but Brown Mustard may be used for the purpose. Rape is employed for market work, but should be shunned in the garden. As the crop is cut in the seed leaf, it is necessary to sow often, but the frequency must be regulated by the demand. Supplies may be kept up through the winter by sowing in shallow boxes, which can be put into vineries, forcing pits, and other odd places. Boxes answer admirably, as they can be placed on the pipes if needful; they favour the complete cutting of a crop without remainders, and this is of importance in the case of a salad that runs out of use quickly and is so easily produced. From Lady Day to Michaelmas Mustard may be sown on the open border with other saladings, but as the summer advances a shady place must be found for it.
The onion has the good fortune to be generally appreciated and well grown almost everywhere. It enhances the flavour and digestibility of many important articles of food that would fail to nourish us without its aid, while to others it adds a zest that contributes alike to enjoyment and health. Although there are but few difficulties to be encountered in the cultivation of the Onion, there is a marked difference between a well-grown crop and one under poor management. There is, moreover, what may be termed a fine art department in Onion culture, one result being special exhibitions, in which handsome bulbs of great weight are brought forward in competition for the amusement and edification of the sight-seeing public. Thus, when the first principles have been mastered, there may be, for the earnest cultivator of this useful root, many more things to be learned, and that may be worth learning, alike for their interest and utility.
Treatment of Soil.—The Onion can be grown on any kind of soil, but poor land must be assisted by liberal manuring. A soil that will not produce large Onions may produce small ones, and the smallest are acceptable when no others are to be had. But for handsome bulbs and a heavy crop a deep rich loam of a somewhat light texture is required, although an adhesive loam, or even a clay, may be improved for the purpose; while on a sandy soil excellent results may be obtained by good management, especially in a wet season. In any case the soil must be well prepared by deep digging, breaking the lumps, and laying up in ridges to be disintegrated by the weather, and if needful its texture should be amended, as far as possible, at the same time. A coat of clay may be spread over a piece of sand, to be thoroughly incorporated with it; on the other hand, where the staple is clay, the addition of sand will be advantageous. All such corrective measures yield an adequate return if prudently carried out, because it is possible to grow Onions from year to year on the same ground; and thus in places where the soil is decidedly unsuitable a plot may be specially prepared for Onions, and if the first crop does not fully pay the cost, those that follow will do so. But the plant is not fastidious, and it is easy work almost anywhere to grow useful Onions. The first step in preparing land is to make it loose and fine throughout, and as far as possible to do this some time before the seed is sown. For sowing in spring, the beds should be prepared in the rough before winter, and when the time comes for levelling down and finishing, the top crust will be found well pulverised, and in a kindly state to receive the seed. Stagnant moisture is deadly to Onions, therefore swampy ground is most unfit; but a sufficient degree of dryness for a summer crop may often be secured by trenching, and leaving rather deep alleys between the beds to carry off surface water during heavy rains.
Manures.—As almost any soil will suit the Onion, so also will almost any kind of manure, provided that it be not rank or offensive. This strongly flavoured plant likes good but sweet living, and it is sheer folly to load the ground for it with coarse and stimulating manures. Yet it is often done, and the result is a stiff-necked generation of bulbs that refuse to ripen, or there may be complete failure of the crop through disease or plethora. But any fertiliser that is at hand, whether from the pigstye, or the sweepings of poultry yards or pigeon lofts, may be turned to account by the simple process of first making it into a compost with fresh soil, and then digging it in some time in advance of the season for sowing, and in reasonable but not excessive quantity. All such aids to plant growth as guano, charcoal, and well-rotted farmyard manure, may be used advantageously for the Onion crop; but there are two materials of especial value, and costing least of any, that are universally employed by large growers, both to help the growth and prevent maggot and canker. These are lime and soot, which are sown together when the ground is finally prepared for the seed, and in quantity only sufficient to colour the ground. They exercise a magical influence, and those who make money by growing Onions take care to employ them as a necessary part of their business routine.
Spring-sown Onions require to be put on rich, mellow ground, the top spit of which is of a somewhat fine texture, and at the time of sowing almost dry. Having been well dug and manured in good time, the top spit only should be dug over when it is finally made ready for the seed. The work must be done with care, and the beds should be marked off in breadths of four feet, with one-foot alleys between. Break all lumps with the spade, and work the surface to a regular and finely crumbled texture. Light soil should be trodden over to consolidate it, and then the surface may be carefully touched with the rake to prepare it for the seed. March and April are the usual months for spring sowing, although in mild districts seed is sometimes put in as early as January. Space the rows from nine to twelve inches apart, according to the character of the sort and the size of bulbs required. The drills must be drawn across the bed, at right angles to the alleys, for when drawn the other way it is difficult to keep the ground properly weeded. For a crop of Onions intended for storing, the seed should be only just covered with fine earth taken from the alleys and thrown over, after which the drills must be lightly trodden, the surface again touched over with the rake, and if the soil is dry and works nicely, the business may be finished by gently patting the bed all over with the back of the spade. If the ground is damp or heavy, this final touch may be omitted, as the Onion makes a weak grass that cannot easily push through earth that is caked over it. But speaking generally, an Onion bed newly sown should be quite smooth as if finished with a roller. To the beginner this will appear a protracted and complicated story, but the expert will attest that Onions require and will abundantly pay for special management.
As soon as possible after the crop is visible the ground between should be delicately chopped over with the hoe to check the weeds that will then be rising. Immediately the rows are defined a first thinning should be made with a small hoe, care being taken to leave a good plant on the ground. The next thinning will produce young Onions for saladings, and this kind of thinning may be continued by removing plants equally all over the bed to insure an even crop, the final distance for bulbing being about six inches. Keep the hoe at work, for if weeds are allowed to make way, the crop will be seriously injured. When Onions are doing well they lift themselves up and sit on the earth, needing light and air upon their bulbs to the very axis whence the roots diverge. If weeds spread amongst them the bulbs are robbed of air and light, and their keeping properties are impaired. But in the use of the hoe it is important not to loosen the ground or to draw any earth towards the bulbs. When all the thinning has been done, and the weeds are kept down, it will perhaps be observed that in places there are clusters of bulbs fighting for a place and rising out of the ground together as though enjoying the conflict. With almost any other kind of plant this crowding would bode mischief, but with Onions it is not so. Bulbs that grow in crowds and rise out of the ground will never be so large as those that have plenty of room, but they will be of excellent quality, and will keep better than any that have had ample space for high development. It is almost a pity to touch these accidental clusters, for the removal of a portion will perhaps loosen the ground, and so spoil the character of those that are left. Really fine Onions are rarely produced in loose ground, hence the necessity for care in the use of the hoe. Watering is not often needed, and we may go so far as to say that, in a general way, it is objectionable. But a long drought on light land may put the crop in jeopardy, unless watering is resorted to, in which case weak manure water will be beneficial. Still, watering must be discontinued in good time, or it will prevent the ripening of the bulbs, and if a sign is wanted the growth will afford it, for from the time the bulbs have attained to a reasonable size the water will do more harm than good.
The harvesting of the crop requires as much care as the growing of it. If all goes well, the bulbs will ripen naturally, and being drawn and dried on the ground for a few days with their roots looking southward, may be gathered up and topped and tailed or bunched as may be most convenient. But there may be a little hesitation of the plant in finishing growth, the result, perhaps, of cool moist weather, when dry hot weather would be better. In this case the growth may be checked by passing a rod (as the handle of a rake for example) over the bed to bend down the tops. After this the tops will turn yellow, and the necks will shrink, and advantage must be taken of fine weather to draw the Onions and lay them out to dry. A gravel path or a dry shed fully open to the sun will ripen them more completely than the bed on which they have been grown; but large breadths of Onions must be ripened where they grew, and experience teaches when they may be drawn with safety.
As to keeping Onions, any dry, cool, airy place will answer. But if a difficulty arises there is an easy way out of it, for Onions may be hung in bunches on an open wall under the shelter of the eaves of any building, and thus the outsides of barns and stables and cottages may be converted into Onion stores, leaving the inside free for things that are less able to take care of themselves. During severe frost they must be taken down and piled up anywhere in a safe place, but may be put on their hooks again when the weather softens, for a slight frost will not harm them in the least, and the wall will keep them comparatively warm and dry. When the best part of the crop has been bunched or roped, the remainder may be thrown into a heap in a cool dry shed, and a few mats put over them will prevent sprouting for at least three months. But damp will start them into growth, and the only way to save them then is to top and tail them again, and store as dry as possible in shallow baskets or boxes.
To grow large Onions the principles already explained must be carried into practice in a more intense degree. It will be necessary to devote extreme care to the preparation of the ground, and to give the plants more time to mature; much greater space must also be allowed than is usual for an ordinary crop. A good open position is imperative, and where the soil is sufficiently deep, trenching is desirable. Shallow soil ought to be thoroughly dug down to the last inch, and it will be an advantage to break up the subsoil by pickaxe and fork. Cover the subsoil with a thick layer of rotten manure before restoring the top soil. For light land farmyard manure is excellent, but stable manure is preferable for stiff cold soil. The usual time for trenching is October or November, leaving the surface rough for disintegration during winter. Nothing more need be done until the following March. Early in that month break the soil down to a fine tilth and make it quite firm by treading, or by rolling. Then broadcast over the plot a liberal dressing of ground lime and soot, using about three pounds of each per pole. Rake both in and leave the bed until the time arrives for planting out: this will depend on the weather.
Those who are accustomed to exhibit Onions at horticultural shows almost invariably sow very early in the year under glass and in due time transplant either from seed-pans or boxes. Of the two, properly prepared boxes are usually found most convenient. The dimensions are optional, but boxes about two feet long, one foot wide, and five inches deep answer admirably. Several holes are perforated in the bottom to insure efficient drainage. In every box place a thick layer of rotten manure and then fill with thoroughly rich soil firmly pressed down, leaving the surface quite smooth. One of the most successful growers sows seed in rather small boxes early in January, and about the middle of February the young Onions are pricked into boxes of the size we have named. Only the finest and most promising seedlings are used. When transferred, each Onion is allowed a space of three inches. The boxes are kept in a greenhouse, as near the glass as possible, in a temperature of about 50 deg.. After sowing, very little water is given; but when transplanted, finish with a sprinkling from a fine rose. Every morning the plants will require spraying, but this must never be done at night or damping off may follow. All through their time in the greenhouse it is important to keep the boxes near the glass. Towards the end of March remove to cold frames, keeping the lights rather close for a few days, but gradually giving more air until the lights can be taken off for a short time daily.
In the south, about the middle of April is generally a suitable time for transplanting to open beds, but in the event of a cold east wind prevailing a brief delay is advisable and it is always an advantage to plant out on a dull day or in showery weather. Space the rows twelve to eighteen inches apart, and allow about fifteen inches between plants in the rows. In the actual work of transplanting take care to insert only the fibrous roots in the soil. To bury any portion of the stem results in thickened necks. Finish with a dusting of soot over the entire bed, including the Onions, and then well spray from a fine rose to settle the soil around the roots. Until the plants are established continue the spraying daily. After the middle of May renew the dusting of the bed with soot and repeat at fortnightly intervals. About the 20th of June feeding the Onions must commence. Peruvian guano and nitrate of soda are both excellent, but these powerful artificials need using with discretion, or the crop may be scorched instead of stimulated. It is often safer to employ them in liquid form than dry, and ten ounces of either, dissolved in ten gallons of water, will suffice for thirty square yards. Use the two articles alternately at intervals of ten days and cease at the end of July. If continued longer, some of the finest bulbs will split. The use of soot can, however, be regularly maintained. Should bulbs be required for autumn exhibition carefully lift them a week or ten days in advance of the show date. This has the effect of making the bulbs firm and reducing the size of the necks.
Supposing an attack of mildew to occur, a dusting of flowers of sulphur will prove effective if applied immediately the disease appears. Sulphide of potassium, one ounce to a gallon of water, is also a reliable remedy.
July and August Sowing.—During these months seed of the quick-growing types of Onion may be sown for producing an abundant supply of salading and small bulbs during the autumn and onwards. It is important to thin the plants early in order that those left standing in the rows may have every opportunity of developing rapidly.
Autumn-sown Onions, intended for use in the following summer, may also be sown in the same way as advised for spring sowing. The time of sowing is important, as the plants should be forward enough before winter to be useful, but not so forward as to be in danger of injury from severe frost. On well-drained ground all the sorts are hardy, and the finest types, which are so much prized as household and market Onions, may be sown in autumn as safely as any others. It may be well in most places to sow a small plot: in the latter part of July, and to make a large sowing of the best keeping sorts about the middle of August—say, for the far north the first of the month, and for the far south the very last day. Thin the plants in the rows and transplant the thinnings, if required, as soon as weather permits in February. In places where spring-sown Onions do not ripen in good time in consequence of cold wet weather, autumn sowing may prove advantageous, as the ripening will take place when the summer is at its best, and the crop may be taken off before the season breaks down.
Pickling Onions may be obtained by sowing any of the white or straw-coloured varieties that are grown for keeping, but the large sorts are quite unfit; the best are the Queen and Paris Silver-skin, as they are very white when pickled and are moderately mild in flavour. A piece of poor dry ground should be selected and made fine on the surface. Sow in the month of April thickly, but evenly, cover lightly, and roll or tread to give a firm seed-bed, and make a good finish. Be careful to keep down weeds, and do not thin the crop at all. If sown very shallow the bulbs will be round: if sown an inch deep they will be oval or pear-shaped.
The Potato or Underground Onion is not much grown in this country, in consequence of occasional losses of the crop in severe winters. In the South of England the rule as to growing it is to plant on the shortest day, and take up on the longest. It requires a rich, deep soil, and to be planted in rows twelve inches apart, the bulbs nine inches apart in the row. Some cultivators earth them up like Potatoes, but we prefer to let the bulbs rise into the light, even by the removal of the earth, so as to form a basin around each, taking care, of course, not to lay bare the roots in so doing. When the planted bulbs have put forth a good head of leaves, they form clusters of bulbs around them, and the best growth is made in full daylight, the bulbs sitting on and not in the soil.
The Onion Grub (Phorbia cepetorum) is often very troublesome to the crop, especially in its early stages, and its presence may be known by the grass becoming yellow and falling on the ground. It will then be found that the white portion, which should become the bulb, has been pierced to the centre by a fleshy, shining maggot, a quarter of an inch in length, this being the larva of an ashy-coloured, ill-looking, two-winged fly. Where this plague has acquired such a hold as to be a serious nuisance, care should be taken to clear out all the old store of Onions instantly upon a sufficiency of young Onions becoming available in spring, and to burn them without hesitation. If left to become garden waste in the usual way, these old Onions do much to perpetuate and augment the plague. A regular use of lime and soot will be found an effectual preventive. Other remedies are suggested in the article on Onion Fly, Page 420.
PARSLEY—see HERBS, page 68
The Parsnip is one of the most profitable roots the earth produces. Probably its sweet flavour imposes a limit on its usefulness, but bad cooking doubtless has much to answer for, the people in our great towns being, in too many instances, quite ignorant of the proper mode of cooking this nourishing root. When cut in strips, slightly boiled and served up almost crisp, it is a poor article for human food; but when cooked whole in such a way as to appear on the table like a mass of marrow, it is at once a digestible dainty and a substantial food that the people might consume more largely than they do, to their advantage.
The Parsnip requires only one special condition for its welfare, and that is a piece of ground prepared for it by honest digging. Rich ground it does not need, but the crop will certainly be the finer from a deep fertile sandy loam than from a poor soil of any kind. But the one great point is to trench the ground in autumn and lay it up rough for the winter. Then at the very first opportunity in February or March it can be levelled down and the seed sown, and the task got out of hand before the rush of spring work comes on. A fine seed-bed should be prepared either in one large piece or in four-feet strips, as may best suit other arrangements. Sow in shallow drills eighteen inches apart, dropping the seeds from the hand in twos and threes at a distance of six inches apart; cover lightly, and touch over with the hoe or rake to make a neat finish. As soon as the plants are visible, ply the hoe to keep down weeds and thin the crop slightly to prevent crowding anywhere. The thinning should be carried on from time to time until the plants are a foot apart; or if the ground is strong and large roots are required, they may be allowed fifteen inches. Good-quality roots may be grown on the worst types of clay and on stony soils by boring holes and filling them in with fine earth, in the manner described for Beet and Carrot. The holes for Parsnip, however, should be rather larger and deeper, with more space allowed between. It may be well to lift some of the roots in November, a few spits of earth being removed first at one end or corner of the piece to facilitate removal without breaking the roots: these may be put aside for immediate use, but the general bulk of the crop should remain in the ground to be dug as wanted, because the Parsnip keeps better in the ground than out of it, and in the event of severe frost a coat of rough litter will suffice to prevent injury. Whatever remains over in the month of February should be lifted and trimmed up and stored in the coolest place that can be found, a coat of earth or sand being sufficient to protect the roots from the injurious action of the atmosphere.
Thanks to the skill and enterprise of enthusiastic specialists, we have now the wrinkled as well as the round-seeded Peas for the earliest supply of this favourite vegetable. Not only can we commence the season with a dish possessing the true marrowfat flavour, but in the new maincrop varieties dwarf robust growth is combined with free-bearing qualities, while the size of both Peas and pods has been increased without in the smallest degree sacrificing flavour. On the contrary, there has been a distinct and welcome advance in all the special characteristics which have won for this vegetable its popular position, and so highly is the crop esteemed that it is usually regarded as a criterion by which the general management of a garden is judged.
As an article of food Peas are the most nutritious of all vegetables, rich in phosphates and alkalies, and the plant makes a heavy demand on the soil, constituting what is termed an exhausting crop. For this reason, and also because the time that elapses between sowing seed and gathering the produce is very brief, it is imperative that the land should be well prepared to enable the roots to ramify freely and rapidly collect the food required by the plant.
Treatment of Soil.—The soil for Peas must be rich, deep, and friable, and should contain a notable proportion of calcareous matter. Old gardens need to be refreshed with a dressing of lime occasionally, or of lime rubbish from destroyed buildings, to compensate for the consumption of calcareous matters by the various crops. For early Peas, a warm dry sandy soil is to be preferred; for late sorts, and especially for robust and productive varieties, a strong loam or a well-tilled clay answers admirably, and it is wise to select plots that were in the previous year occupied with Celery and other crops for which the land was freely manured and much knocked about. Heavy manuring is not needed for the earliest Peas, unless the soil is very poor, but for the late supplies it will always pay to trench the ground, and put a thick layer of rotten manure at the depth of the first spit, in which the roots can find abundant nutriment about the time when the pods are swelling. In all cases it is advisable not to enrich in any special manner the top crust for Peas. When the young plant finds the necessary supplies near at hand, the roots do not run freely but are actually in danger of being poisoned; but when the plant is fairly formed, and has entered upon the fruiting stage, the roots may ramify in rich soil to advantage. Hence the desirability of growing Peas in ground that was heavily manured and frequently stirred in the previous year, and of putting a coat of rotten manure between the two spits in trenching. As regards the last-named operation, it should be remarked that as Peas require a somewhat fine tilth, the top spit should be kept on the top where the second spit will prove lumpy, pasty, or otherwise unkind. In this case bastard trenching will be sufficient; but when the second spit may be brought up with safety, it should be done for the sake of a fresh soil and a deep friable bed. The use of wood ashes, well raked in immediately in advance of sowing, will prove highly beneficial to the crop, for the Pea is a potash-loving plant.
Method of Sowing.—It will always pay to sow in flat drills about six inches wide, but the V-shaped drill in which the seedlings are generally crowded injuriously is not satisfactory. Two inches apart each way is a useful distance for the seed, although more space may be given for the robust-growing maincrop and late varieties. It is wise policy, however, to sow liberally in case of losses through climatic conditions, birds or mice; and if necessary superfluous plants can always be withdrawn. The depth for the seed may vary from two to three inches: the minimum for heavy ground and the maximum for light land.
Early Crops (sown outdoors).—Early Peas are produced in many ways. The simplest consists in sowing one or more of the quick-growing round-seeded varieties in November, December, and January, on sloping sheltered borders expressly prepared for the purpose, and provided with reed hurdles to screen the plants from cutting winds. Where the assaults of mice are to be apprehended, it is an excellent plan to soak the seed in paraffin oil for twenty minutes, and then, having sown in drills only one inch deep, heap over the drill three inches of fine sand. If this cannot be done, sow in drills fully two inches deep, for shallow sowing will not promote earliness, but it is likely to promote weakness of the plant. It is not usual to grow any other crop with first-early Peas, but the rows must be far enough apart to prevent them from shading one another, and, if possible, let them run north and south, that they may have an equable enjoyment of sunshine. As soon as the plant is fairly out of the ground, dust carefully with soot, not enough to choke the tender leaves, but just sufficient to render them unpalatable to vermin. When they have made a growth of about three inches, put short brushwood to support and shelter them, deferring the taller sticks until they are required. Then fork the ground between, taking care not to go too near to the plant. Sticks must be provided in good time, lest the plant should be distressed, for not only do the sticks give needful support, but they afford much shelter, as is the case with the small brushwood supplied in the first instance.
On fairly warm soils the first opportunity should be taken to sow one of the early dwarf marrowfat varieties in the open ground. This may be in February or early March, but it will be useless to make the attempt until the ground is in a suitable condition. Sow in flat drills as already described, the distance from row to row depending upon future plans. If no intercropping is to be done, eighteen inches between the rows will generally suffice for dwarf-growing Peas, but many gardeners prefer to allow three feet and to take a crop of Spinach on the intervening space.
Early Crops (sown under glass.)—We now come to the modes of growing early Peas by the aid of glass. The surest and simplest method is to provide a sufficiency of grass turf cut from a short clean pasture or common. There is in this case a risk of wireworm and black bot; but if the turf is provided in good time and is laid up in the yard ready for use, it will be searched by the small birds and pretty well cleansed of the insect larvas that may have lurked in it when first removed. Lay the turves out in a frame, grass side downwards, and give them a soaking with water in which a very small quantity of salt has been dissolved. This will cause the remaining bots and slugs to wriggle out, and by means of a little patient labour they can be gathered and destroyed. In January or February sow the seed rather thickly in lines along the centre of each strip of turf, and cover with fine earth. By keeping the frame closed a more regular sprouting of the seed will be insured; but as soon as the plants rise, air must be given, and this part of the business needs to be regulated in accordance with the weather. All now depends on the cultivator, for, having a very large command of conditions, it may be said that he is removed somewhat from the sport of the elements, which wrecks many of our endeavours. There are now three points to be kept in mind. In the first place, a short stout slow-growing plant is wanted, for a tall lean fast-growing plant will at the end of the story refuse to furnish the dish of Peas aimed at. Give air and water judiciously, and protect from vermin and all other enemies. A little dry lime or soot may be dusted over the plants occasionally, but not sufficient to choke the leaves. All going well, plant out in the month of March or April, on ground prepared for the purpose, and laying the plant-bearing turves in strips, without any disturbance whatever of the roots. Then earth them up with fine stuff from between the rows, and put sticks to support and shelter them.
A more troublesome, but often a safer method, is to raise plants in pots, or in boxes about four and a half inches deep and pierced at the bottom to insure free drainage. Old potting soil will answer admirably, and the seeds should be put in one inch deep and two inches apart. Place the pots or boxes in any light cool structure as near the roof-glass as possible, but make no attempt to force either germination or the growth of the plants. When fair weather permits, transfer to the open in March or April. A good succession may be obtained by sowing a first-early dwarf variety and a second-early kind simultaneously.
Main crops require plenty of room, and that is really the chief point in growing them. Supposing the ground has been well prepared as already advised, the next matter of importance is the distance between the rows. The market gardener is usually under some kind of compulsion to sow Peas in solid pieces, just far enough apart for fair growth, and to leave them to sprawl instead of being staked, because of the cost of the proceeding. But the garden that supplies a household is not subject to the severe conditions of competition, and Peas may be said to go to the dinner table at retail and not at wholesale price. Moreover, high quality is of importance, and here the domestic as distinguished from the commercial gardener has an immense advantage, for well-grown 'Garden Peas' surpass in beauty and flavour the best market samples procurable. To produce these fine Peas there must be plenty of space allowed between the rows, and it will be found good practice to grow Peas and early Potatoes on the same plot, and to put short sticks to the Peas as soon as they are forward enough. By this management the first top-growth of the Potatoes may be saved from late May frosts, and the Peas will give double the crop of a crowded plantation. The general sowings of Peas are made from March to June, but as regards the precise time, seasons and climates must be considered. Nothing is gained by sowing maincrop Peas so early as to subject the plant to a conflict with frost. It should be understood that the finest sorts of Peas are somewhat tender in constitution, and the wrinkled sorts are more tender than the round. Hence, in any case, the wrinkled seeds should be sown rather more thickly than the round to allow for losses; but robust-habited Peas should never be sown so thickly as the early sorts, for every plant needs room to branch and spread, and gather sunshine by means of its leaves for the ultimate production of superb Green Peas.
Late Crops.—To obtain Peas late in the season sowings may be made in June and July, and preference should be given to quick-growing early varieties. Ground from which early crops of Cauliflower, Carrot, Cabbage, Potatoes, &c., have been removed is excellent for the purpose. In dry weather thoroughly saturate the trench with water before sowing, and keep the seedlings as cool as possible by screening them from the sun.
Staking.—This important operation must not be unduly deferred, as the plants are never wholly satisfactory when once the stems have become bent. Commence by carefully earthing up the rows as soon as the plants are about three inches high. In the case of early varieties, light bushy sticks of the required height, thinly placed on both sides of the row, will suffice. Maincrop and late Peas, however, should first be staked with bushy twigs about eighteen inches high, these to be supplemented with sticks at least one foot taller than the variety apparently needs, as most Peas exceed their recognised height in the event of a wet season. No attempt should be made to construct an impenetrable fence, for Peas need abundance of light and air. Neither should the stakes be arched at the top, but placed leaning outwards.
General Cultivation.—On the first appearance of the plant, a slight dusting of lime or soot will render the rising buds distasteful to slugs and sparrows, but this is more needful for the early than the later crops. When maincrop Peas have grown two or three inches, they are pretty safe against the small marauders. As the plant develops, frequently stir the ground between the rows to keep down weeds and check evaporation. The earthing up of the rows affords valuable protection to the roots of the plants, and a light mulch of thoroughly decayed manure will prove very helpful in a dry season. In the event of prolonged dry weather, however, measures must be taken to supply water in good time and in liberal quantity. The advantage of deep digging and manuring between the two spits will now be discovered, for Peas thus circumstanced will pass through the trial, even if not aided by water, although much better with it; whereas similar sorts, in poor shallow ground, will soon become hopelessly mildewed, and not even water will save them. In giving water, it will be well to open a shallow trench, distant about a foot from the rows on the shady side, and in this pour the water so as to fill the trench; by this method water and labour will be economised, and the plant will have the full benefit of the operation.
The enemies Of Peas are fewer in number than might be expected in the case of so nutritive a plant. Against the weevil, the moth, and the fly, we are comparatively powerless, and perhaps the safest course is occasionally to dust the plants with lime or soot, in which case the work must be carefully done, or the leaf growth will be checked, to the injury of the crop. Light dustings will suffice to render the plant unpalatable without interfering with its health, but a heavy careless hand will do more harm than all the insects by loading the leafage with obnoxious matter. The great enemy of the Pea crop is the sparrow, whose depredations begin with the appearance of the plant, and are renewed from the moment when the pods contain something worth having. Other small birds haunt the ground, but the sparrow is the leader of the gang. Ordinary frighteners used in the ordinary way are of little use; the best are lines, to which at intervals white feathers, or strips of white paper, or pieces of bright tin are attached. In the seedling stage the plants may be protected by wire guards, and even strands of black thread tied to short stakes will prove serviceable. We have found the surest way to guard the crop against feathered plunderers is to have work in hand on the plot, so as to keep up a constant bustle, and this shows the wisdom of putting the rows at such a distance as will allow the formation of Celery trenches between them. We want a crop to come off, and another to be put on while the Peas are in bearing; and early Potatoes, to be followed by Celery, may be suggested as a rotation suitable in many instances. Even then the birds will have a good time of it in the morning, unless the workmen are on the ground early. However, on this delicate point, the 'early bird' that carries a spade will have an advantage, because the sparrow is really a late riser, and does not begin business until other birds have had breakfast, and have finished at least one musical performance.