Early Peas under Glass.—So greatly esteemed are Peas at table that in many establishments the demand for them is not limited to supplies obtainable from the open ground. Sowings may be made from mid-November to mid-February, according to requirements and the extent of accommodation available, from which the crops may be expected to mature from mid-March onwards. Where a large glass-house, such as is used for Tomatoes, &c., is at command, early Peas may be grown without prejudice to other crops. Assuming that a good depth of soil exists, thoroughly trench and prepare it as for outdoor Peas. Select a tall-growing variety, of which there are a number that do well under glass. Sow in a triple row, placing the seeds about three inches apart each way, and in due course support the plants with stakes. A cool greenhouse or a frame will also carry through an early crop of Peas, but for these structures pots should be used and only dwarf-growing varieties sown. A ten-inch pot will accommodate about eight seeds, and these should be planted one and a half inches deep. When a few inches high insert a few bushy stakes to carry the plants. A compost consisting of two parts loam, one part leaf-soil or well-decayed manure, with a small quantity of wood ashes, will suit Peas admirably. At no time is a forcing temperature needed. From 50 deg. to 55 deg. at night, with a rise of about 10 deg. by day will suffice, and free ventilation must be given whenever possible with safety. Apply water carefully, but never allow the roots to become dust-dry.
Peas for Exhibition.—On the exhibition table handsome well-grown Peas always elicit unstinted admiration, and the magnificent pods of the newer varieties are certainly worthy of the utmost praise bestowed upon them. In all cases where vegetables are grown for competition at Shows the amount of success achieved depends largely on the intensity of the cultivation adopted, and in this respect no other subject will respond more readily to liberal treatment than will the Garden Pea. Deep digging, generous manuring, and copious watering during dry weather, in the manner already described, are fundamental essentials. Another matter of no less importance is the selection of suitable varieties. It is now the general custom to start the early sorts in pots or boxes under glass (see page 104), and some growers treat mid-season Peas in the same manner. Of this system it may be said that it offers the fullest opportunity of giving attention to the young plants and allows of the strongest specimens being selected for transfer to open quarters. The number of sowings will, of course, depend on individual requirements. At the time of transplanting give each plant plenty of space for development, and it will be well to stake the rows immediately. Keep the plants under constant observation, especially while quite young, when they are liable to destruction by garden foes. The flowering should be limited to the fourth spike, and from the time the pods appear assistance must be given in the form of liquid manure or a mulching of well-rotted dung. Remove all lateral shoots and promote vigorous healthy growth at every stage. Some means should be adopted to prevent injury of any kind to the pods, which when gathered should be well filled, carrying a fine bloom free from blemish.
The potato has been designated the 'King of the Kitchen Garden,' and perhaps 'the noble tuber' should be so regarded. Of its importance as an article of food it is impossible to speak too highly, and the dietetic value of the Potato appears to be always advancing. The known deficiency of flesh-forming constituents naturally associates this vegetable with meat of various kinds, poultry, game and fish, and in this proper association the root is probably capable of superseding all other vegetable foods, bread alone excepted. It is far from our intention to recommend abstention from Asparagus, Cauliflower, Peas, and Sea Kale, and to regard Potatoes as a sufficient substitute for these and other table delicacies; but it is well to remember that by virtue of its starchy compounds the Potato has a direct tendency to promote health and that freshness of complexion that generally prevails among well-fed people.
Forcing Potatoes.—The demand for new Potatoes exists long before the first of the outdoor crops grown in this country can be lifted. To meet such a demand is not a difficult matter where the necessary amount of glass is at command, and by adopting the method here given supplies may be maintained through the winter and onwards until the first-earlies from the open ground are available. It may be said at once that for culture in pots and boxes under glass a high temperature is neither requisite nor desirable. Sturdy healthy growth is essential to the formation of a crop of tubers, and if the plants be forced into an attenuated condition the labour will have been in vain. Another matter which needs to be specially mentioned is the choice of suitable varieties. Only dwarf-growing kinds, thoroughly adapted for forcing, should be considered. The date of planting will necessarily be regulated by the time at which the crop is required. But a few weeks in advance of planting, the sets should be sprouted by placing them on end in shallow boxes, packed with damp light soil and stood near the light in a slightly warm pit or house. When the sprouts are formed rub off all but the two strongest. Good turfy loam, a small quantity of manure from a spent Mushroom bed, and a little bone meal, will make an excellent compost for the pots or boxes. Two sets will suffice for a ten-inch or twelve-inch pot, or five tubers may be placed in a box measuring about four feet long by one foot wide. Perfect drainage must be insured. Plant the sets with care, taking up as much soil as possible with the mass of fibrous roots which will have formed during the period of sprouting. The operation may best be accomplished by only half filling the pots or boxes at first, and when the sets are in position add a further two inches or so of soil. Water sparingly, especially at the outset. As root growth increases add more soil and give the plants an occasional application of tepid liquid manure. At all times avoid excessive heat, and if the crop can be finished off gradually in a cool house so much the better.
Where sufficient accommodation cannot be found for forcing Potatoes in pots or boxes, an excellent crop may be grown on a gentle hot-bed made up in the usual manner, and covered to a depth of at least nine inches with a compost of three parts light loamy soil to one part leaf-mould. After putting on the frame, keep the lights closed for a few days. But a great heat is not wanted, and undue forcing at any stage will lead to disaster. Partially exhausted hot-beds which have been used for other purposes will also be found to answer admirably. Prepare the sets in the manner already advised for pots and boxes, and plant them with the least possible disturbance to the fibrous roots, three inches deep, in rows fifteen inches apart, allowing twelve inches between the tubers in the row. Whenever the weather is fine afford the plants a little air. Increase the amount gradually as growth develops, but close the frames early in the afternoon and give them the protection of mats at night should the outside temperature be low. Water must be given in moderation. It should always be of the same temperature as the frame, and as soon as the haulm commences to turn yellow watering must be discontinued. Little earthing up is needed, but when the foliage is about nine inches high the addition of a small quantity of warm soil along the rows will be beneficial.
Early Potatoes outdoors are produced in various ways, and by very simple appliances. The Potato will not bear the slightest touch of frost. It is a sub-tropical plant, and will endure considerable heat if at the same time it can enjoy light, air, and sufficient moisture. In some respects it may be likened to the Lettuce, for if crowded or overheated, or subjected to sudden checks, it bolts—in other words, it produces plenty of top and no bottom, just as Lettuces similarly treated produce flowering stems and no hearts. We will here propose a very simple and practical procedure for obtaining a nice crop of Potatoes in the month of June. This system fairly mastered, endless modifications will be easily effected as circumstances and judgment may suggest.
Begin by selecting an early variety of the best quality. Some time towards the end of January the sets are packed closely in shallow boxes, one layer deep only, and these are placed in full daylight safe from frost, but are not subjected to heat in any way. Having started the sets into growth in full daylight, proceed with the preparation of the ground. This must be light, warm, dry and rather rich without being rank. If a length of wall is available, and perplexity arises concerning suitable soil for the early Potatoes, seize all the sandy loam that has been turned out of pots, and having mixed it with as much leaf-mould and quite rotten manure as can be spared, lay the mixture in a ridge at the foot of the wall. As walls do not anywhere run in such lengths as to provide for all the early Potatoes that are wanted, select a plot of ground lying warm and dry to the sun, and having spread over it a liberal allowance of decayed manure, and any light fertilising stuff, such as the red and black residue from the burning of hedge clippings, turf, and weeds, dig this in. The ground being ready, it is lined out in neat ridges two feet apart, running north and south. These ridges must be shallow, rising not more than six inches above the general level. On every fourth ridge sow early Peas that are not likely to grow more than two and a half to three feet in height. This being done in February, the land is ready for Potatoes in the first week of March. Plant on the fine stuff laid up next the wall in the first instance, and then on the ridges, where there is room for three rows of Potatoes between every two rows of Peas. In the process of planting, it will be advisable to rub off all the weak eyes and thin out those on the crown, two or three strong eyes being quite sufficient. This can easily be accomplished as the sets are laid into their places in a shallow drill opened on the top of the ridge. The sets may be put a foot apart, and have four inches of fine soil over them. Prick the ground over with a fork between the rows, leaving it quite rough, but regular and workmanlike. The Peas will soon be visible and require attention. Draw a little fine earth to them, and stake them carefully with small brushwood. If snails and slugs appear, give dustings of lime or soot, and as soon as possible supply stakes of sufficient height and strength to carry the crop. By the time the Potatoes begin to show their shaws the Peas will constitute an effectual shelter for them against east winds, and it will be found that the morning frosts that are often so injurious to Potatoes in the month of May will scarcely touch a crop that has the advantage of this kind of protection. But to that alone it is not wise to trust. One serious freezing that blackens the shaws will delay and diminish the Potato crop. Therefore, as the green tops appear, cover them lightly with fine earth from between the rows, and if necessary repeat this, always allowing the leaves to see daylight. When a sharp frost occurs, it will be advisable to cover the tops with a few inches of light dry litter in just the same way that a bed of Radishes is protected. There are many other methods of saving the rising shaws. A plank on edge on the east side of a row will suffice to tide through an ordinary white frost. Mats or reed hurdles laid on a few stout pegs will also answer admirably, but care must be taken that the plant is not pressed down, and the covering must be removed as soon as the danger is over.
Crops grown under walls will be ready first, and those in the beds will follow. Spaces between the trees of a fruit wall may be planted with Potatoes, without injury to the trees. Those grown on the south face of a good wall will be ready for table three weeks in advance of the earliest crops in the open quarters. But east and west walls may be made to contribute, and even north walls are useful, if planted a week later and a little deeper. In all cases the sets should be put close to the wall to enjoy the warmth, and dryness, and shelter it affords. When the crop is lifted, the soil specially laid up for it may be taken away, or scattered over the border. But the bulk will be so slight that it will not matter much what becomes of it. However, in a new place with a clay soil it may be prudent to remove it, and keep it ready as an aid in seed sowing, for there are times and places where a little fine stuff is worth a great deal to give a crop of some kind a proper start.
The main crop, as the source of supply for fully nine months out of twelve, deserves every attention. Potatoes are grown with advantage on so many diverse soils, and in such unlikely climates, that the plant appears, on a casual consideration, to be altogether indifferent to its surroundings. But it is none the less true that for the profitable cultivation of this crop certain conditions are absolutely essential. Among these an open situation and a well-drained soil are perhaps the most important. To this might be added favourable weather, because a bad season frustrates every hope and labour. Having an open situation and a well-drained soil, it is much to be preferred that the soil be of a deep, friable, loamy nature; in other words, a good medium soil, suitable for deep tillage, but neither a decided clay, chalk nor sand. A fertile sandy loam, lying well as regards sunshine and drainage, may generally be considered a first-rate Potato soil, and excellent crops have also been grown on thin soils overlying chalk and limestone. So again, fine crops are often taken from poor sandy soils, and from newly-broken bog and moss, as well as from clay lands that have had some amount of tillage to form a friable top crust. But when all is said the fact remains that the ideal soil for Potatoes is a deep mellow loam, and, failing this, preference should be given to calcareous and sandy soils rather than to clays or retentive soils of any kind.
Manures.—Much prejudice prevails against manuring land for Potatoes, and where the soil is good enough to yield a paying crop, it will be prudent to do without manure, and to dress generously for the next crop to restore the land to a reasonable state. Still it is the practice of many of the most successful growers for the early market to manure for this crop, and in some instances the manure is laid in the trenches at the time of planting. Generally speaking, land intended for Potatoes should be deeply dug, and, if needful, manured in the autumn. About twenty to thirty cartloads of half-rotten manure per acre may be dug or ploughed in to as great a depth as possible, consistent with the nature of the subsoil and the appliances at command. In breaking up pasture with the spade, bastard trenching will as a rule prove advantageous. The land is lined off in two-feet breadths, and the top spit of the first piece is removed to the last piece, which will often be close at hand by the rule of working a certain distance down and back again. The under spit will then be well broken up, the manure thrown in, and the top spit of the next piece will be turned in turf downwards, making a sandwich of the manure. If this is done in autumn, there will be a mellow top crust produced by the spring, and the best way to plant will be in trenches, unless the land is very light, in which case the dibber may be used.
As light lands are often profitably devoted to Potato culture, and more especially to the production of first-class early Potatoes for the markets, a few words on their management may be useful here. If on the light land there is a choice of aspects, by all means select the plots that slope to the south-west; the dangerous aspects are north and east. The ground should be ploughed up in autumn and left rough, but it is not economical to manure light lands in autumn. At the time of planting, the furrows should be cut with a plough fitted with a double mould-board, and the manure spread evenly along them previous to laying in the sets. A good dressing per acre will consist of fifteen loads of farmyard manure, and four cwt. of artificials, consisting of one and a half cwt. of guano, two cwt. of superphosphate of lime, and half a cwt. of muriate of potash. When the sets are laid, cover them by splitting the ridges with the plough. If planted early in March, the crop should come off in time for Turnips, for which the land will be in good heart, and the seed should be sown as quickly as possible after the clearing of the Potatoes.
Preparing the Sets.—Among the many subjects that open out before us at this point are the selection and preparation of the sets. Why are smallish tubers chosen in one case and planted whole? and why, in another case, are large tubers chosen and divided before planting, to make two or more sets of each? Because there is a principle on which sound practice rests, and it is this: the number of shoots starting from any one growing point must be limited, for if they become crowded the crop will be less than the land is capable of producing. Keeping this principle in view, we proceed to remark, in the first place, that carefully selected seed of moderate size may be planted as it comes from the store without any preparation whatever, and with a fair prospect of a profitable result. But certain varieties produce few tubers of seed size, and when large they must be divided in such a manner as to insure at least two eyes in each set. As a matter of fact, profitable crops are grown in the most simple way; the seed is neither sprouted nor disbudded, and with a well-made soil and a favourable season, the return is ample, and all claims are satisfied. Potato-growing entails much labour, therefore it is important to distinguish between tasks that are necessary and those that are optional.
But where the time and strength can be found for first-class cultivation, it should have the preference over the rough and ready methods that are satisfactory on a large scale. Exhibitions of Potatoes are for the most part sustained by persons who can find the time to do things with extra care, and they have their reward in their crops as well as in their prizes, for what may be styled Exhibition culture consists simply in growing the crop in the best possible way, and planting many sorts where in any other case a few would suffice. Here, then, on the best plan, we begin with sets most carefully selected, to insure true typical form and colour, and these are, some six weeks or so before planting time, put in shallow boxes or baskets, one layer deep, to sprout in full daylight, but quite safe from frost. In the first instance a number of sprouts appear, and a large proportion are rubbed off. The object of the cultivator is to secure two or three stout, short shoots of a green or purple colour; the long white threads that are often produced in the store being regarded as useless. When large sets are employed, they are allowed to make three or four stout shoots, and at the time of planting—not before—these sets are cut so as to leave to each large piece only one or two good sprouts or sprits. As for the smaller sets that are not to be divided, it is common practice to cut a small piece off each of these at the time of planting to facilitate the decay of the tuber when it has accomplished its work, for having nourished the first growth the sooner it disappears the better. Thus, with a little extra trouble, sound tubers have been prepared for planting, and the main reasons for taking this extra trouble are doubtless fully apparent. The best seed possible is wanted and the most suitable soil; these two items forming the first chapter. By sprouting the seed time is gained, which is equivalent to a lengthening of the season. By limiting the number of shoots an excess of foliage is prevented. Where the shoots are crowded the tubers will not be crowded, a few strong shaws with all their leaves exposed to the air and light being capable of producing better results than a large number contending for air and light that are insufficient for them all. And finally, by cutting the sets, whether to divide them, or simply to hasten their decay, we insure that they will not reappear with the young crop as useless, ugly things.
Distances for Planting.—The distance at which the sets are planted is of importance, for a crop too crowded will be of little value. But the ground must be properly filled. By wasting only a small space in each breadth, or in the spaces between the sets, the total crop will be many bushels short of the possible quantity. The guiding principle must be to allow to each plant ample room to spread, and absorb the air and sunshine, in accordance with the character of the sort and the condition of the soil. A considerable proportion of the losses from disease may be traced to overcrowding in the first instance; the tangled haulm being rendered weak through want of air, and then becoming loaded with water, and in contact with wet ground, the disease has made havoc where, had the management been founded on sound principles, there might have been a vigorous healthy growth. If a doubt arises, it is safer to allow too much rather than too little space, and in this respect the exhibition growers are very liberal. They often place the rows of strong-growing varieties four feet or more apart, and allow a space of three and a half feet for the more moderate growers. Even then, with good land, in a high state of preparation, the shaws sometimes meet across the rows, and enormous crops are lifted. For a very comprehensive rule, it may be said that the distance between the rows may vary from fifteen inches for the early sorts of dwarf growth, to forty inches for the vigorous-growing late sorts. Between these measurements, for varieties producing medium haulm, a distance of twenty-six to thirty-six inches may be allowed on good ground. The distance between the sets must in like manner be determined by the growth, and will range from nine inches for crops to be dug early, to sixteen or twenty inches for the robust kinds. The medium maincrop Potatoes will generally do well at twelve inches apart. Much, however, depends on the season, for when great space is allowed, and the season proves warm and showery, there will be more large tubers than the grower will care for; whereas, if planted somewhat closer, the crop would be smaller and more uniform in size. When planted, the tops of the tubers should be about four inches below the surface.
Time of Planting.—Under favourable conditions, it is possible to plant on a warm dry border as early as mid-February in very sheltered districts, but a supply of protecting material must be instantly available in the event of severe weather. As a rule, however, the opening of March is soon enough to plant early crops out of doors, always provided that the soil is light and the situation warm, but where these conditions do not exist it will be safer to wait until the middle of the month. Maincrops may be got in at the end of March and during April, according to the locality and the character of the soil. In any case, it is better to defer the operation for a week or so than to plant in heavy wet ground which quickly consolidates, making it impervious to air and unsuitable for root-penetration. Excellent crops may also be obtained by planting in July, preference being given to quick-growing early varieties. Old tubers only should be used and these must be carefully stored until required for planting.
Method of Planting.—On light soils, in a sufficiently dry condition, the dibber or planting stick may be used, but on heavy ground it is not satisfactory. A good method of planting for all classes of soil is to draw out a V-shaped drill of the requisite depth, place the sets into position and lightly return the earth. Another plan which is largely adopted is to insert the sets in the trenches as made during the operation of digging the ground in spring, a garden line being used to obtain the accurate alignment of the rows.
General Cultivation.—As soon as the shaws appear the ground should be hoed between the rows, and if there is any fear of frost the shaws should be lightly moulded over. As the growth advances the crop must be earthed up, care being exercised not to earth up too much, for, taking six inches as the best average depth, the crop will be diminished by an increase beyond this depth. One urgent reason for early work between the rows is that a prosperous crop will soon put a stop to it. The moment it becomes likely that the shaws will be bruised by traffic between the rows they must be left to finish their course in their own way, because the formation of tubers below will be in the ratio of the healthy growth above ground. The Potato may be said to be manufactured out of sunshine and alkaline salts. The green leaves constitute the machinery of the manufacture, for which the solar light from above, and the potash, phosphate of lime, phosphate of magnesia, and phosphoric acid from below are the raw materials.
Change of Ground and Seed.—In common with all other crops, the Potato needs as often as possible a fresh soil, and a renewal of seed from some distant source. The need for a change of soil is made apparent by an analysis of the root, which contains large proportions of potash, phosphorus, and sulphur, with smaller proportions of magnesia and lime, without which the plant cannot prosper. A succession of heavy crops of Potatoes on the same land may be said to take from the soil its available potash and phosphates, and this crop will not, like some others, take soda instead of potash when the last-named alkali runs short. Here then is a chemical reason for change of soil. Another reason is found in the history of the species of fungi that prey on the Potato when its growth is checked by heavy rains and a low temperature. These leave their spores in the soil, like wolves hiding in ambush, to destroy the next crop. They are powerless to attack any other crop; therefore a suitable rotation gives them time to die out and leave the land clean as regards the Phytophthora and other parasites that destroy Potato crops. The necessity for an occasional change of seed rests on old experience, and should scarcely need enforcing. One word may be said here by way of explanation, and it is this: the seed house that aims to put a good article in the market adopts measures which altogether differ from those followed by the majority of persons who have not been trained to the business. It is a common experience to find that those who save their own seed from year to year have as a result a constantly declining strain, so that every year the growth is weaker, less true, and less profitable. It is so all through, but is especially the case with Potatoes. We do not say that all who save their own seed act unwisely, for some are most expert in the business. But we do say that seed saving is not learned in a day, and many who think they save shillings when they save seeds, actually lose pounds by burdening themselves with a bad article. The art of 'roguing'—the elimination of plants which are untrue to type—is but one part of the seed-saving process. There is the proper storing, the selecting and sorting operations, to which eyes and hands must be trained, and there must be no scruple about the sacrifice of false, immature or diseased samples. The point we have in view is to advise the Potato grower to be sure of his seed, and when a doubt arises as to the purity and healthiness of the sample at command, it may be remembered that the seed merchant practises methods of purgation for insuring perfectly true stocks, while by growing in many different districts, and on diverse soils, he can furnish an admirable change of seed for any description of land.
The Potato Disease.—The culture of Potatoes cannot be dismissed without allusion to the destructive fungus which is never absent in dry seasons, and in wet summers does its deadly work on a vast scale. Scientific men have acquainted us with the history of the Potato fungus, and this may eventually result in as efficient a remedy as that which renewed the vineyards of France. Such a remedy for the Potato murrain has yet to be discovered. Meanwhile, we must continue to resist the foe with the plough, spade, draining tool, and above all with a wise selection of sorts. It is an acknowledged fact that many Potatoes that have been cultivated for a long time appear to have lost their vigour, and are liable to succumb to the disease; but several kinds that have been raised from seed in recent years possess a constitution which almost defies the virulent assaults of the Phytophthora infestans. Since the introduction of Sutton's Magnum Bonum Potato there has been a disposition to believe in 'Disease-proof Potatoes.' There is no such thing absolutely, and perhaps there never will be, any more than there is a disease-proof wheat, or dog, or horse, or man. But some varieties of Potatoes are known to be more susceptible to the ravages of disease than others, and it has been one of our aims to secure seedlings which combine the highest cropping and table qualities with the least tendency to succumb in seasons when conditions favour the spread of the fungus. Scientific men have not yet explained why the varieties differ in this respect, but practical men have discovered that initial vigour of growth is the main defence against the plague, and as the growing of a good Potato costs no more than the growing of a poor variety, the cultivator should bestow his care on the very best he can obtain. A little extra cost for seed in the first instance is as nothing to the multiplied chances of success a good variety carries with it. To sum up this subject, then, we say that disease may be avoided in the early crops by cultivating sorts which may be lifted before the plague generally appears; and on soils which will not produce an early crop, only such varieties should be grown for the main crops as have been proved to be most capable of standing uninjured until late in the season. Let there be a dry, warm bed, sufficient food, the fullest exposure to the life-giving powers of light, and conditions favourable to early ripening.
The Wart Disease (Black Scab) of Potatoes (Synchytrium endobioticum, Percival) is dealt with in the chapter on 'The Fungus Pests of certain Garden Plants.'
PUMPKIN—see GOURD, page 63
The Radish is often badly grown through being sown too thickly, or on lumpy ground, or in places not favourable to quick vegetation. Radishes grown slowly become tough, pungent and worthless. On the other hand, those which are grown quickly on rich, mellow ground are attractive in appearance, delicate in flavour, and as digestible as any salad in common use. It should be understood that earliness is of the very first importance, and that large Radishes are never wanted. To insure a quick growth and a handsome sample the ground must not only be good, but finely broken up.
Frame Culture.—For the earliest crops it is advisable to make a semi-hot-bed, by removing a portion of the surface soil, and laying down about two-feet depth of half-rotten stable manure, on which spread four inches of fine earth, and then cover with frames. Sow the seed thinly, and put on the lights. When the plants appear, give air at every opportunity to keep the growth dwarf, and cover with mats during frost, always taking care to uncover as often as possible to give light, for if the tops are drawn the roots will be of little account. Where the plants are crowded, thin them, allowing every plant just room enough to spread out its top without overlapping its neighbour. Sowings made in this way in December, January, and February will supply an abundance of beautiful Radishes in early spring, when they are greatly valued. To follow the outdoor crops frame culture will again be necessary in autumn.
Outdoor Culture.—The second crop (which in many gardens will be the first) may be sown on warm, dry borders in February. Within a few days after sowing, collect a quantity of dry litter, and lay it up in a shed ready for use. It happens often that we have warm, bright weather in February, and the Radishes start quickly and make good progress, and then may come a severe frost, when the litter must be spread as lightly as possible, three or four inches thick. These open-ground sowings will bear cold well, but they should not be allowed to get frozen, and therefore semi-hot-beds may be employed. If time and materials appear excessive for such a purpose, it should be remembered that this is a capital way of preparing for the next crop, whatever it may be, and is a particularly good method of preparing for Peas that are to be sown in the month of April, by which time the earliest sown Radishes will be off the ground. Successive sowings should be made from March to September in the coolest place that can be found for them, and the usual practice of four-feet beds will answer very well. In many gardens sufficient supplies of Radishes are obtained by sowing in the alleys between seed-beds, but care must be taken that this plan does not interfere with the proper work of hoeing, weeding, thinning, &c. When seed is sown on light soils a moderate firming with the back of the spade may be desirable, but generally speaking it is sufficient to cover the seed lightly, and so leave it. To thin the crop early is, however, of great importance, no matter how wasteful the process may seem, for wherever the plants are crowded they will make large useless tops, and small worthless roots, and prove altogether unprofitable. For the earliest sowings we have choice of many sorts, round, oval, and long; but the long Radishes are not well adapted for late sowing, whereas the round and oval sorts stand pretty well in hot weather, if on good ground in a cool situation, with the help of a slight amount of shade. As the year advances we return to the practice recommended for the earliest crops.
Winter Radishes.—These large-growing kinds are much prized by those who use them in winter in the preparation of salads. Seed may be sown in the open from June to August, in drills nine inches apart, and the plants thinned to six inches in the rows. The roots may be left in the ground and dug as required, or taken up and stored in sand. These Radishes may also be cooked in the same manner as Turnips and they make an excellent dish.
RHUBARB is so much valued that we need not recommend it. There are some remarkably fine sorts in cultivation, adapted for early work, main-crop, and late use.
Although an accommodating plant, Rhubarb requires for profitable production a rich deep soil, well worked, and heavily dressed with rotten manure, and a situation remote from trees, but in some degree sheltered. It will be observed that the markets are supplied from sheltered alluvial soils, that have been much cultivated, and kept in high condition by abundant manuring. On the other hand, the coarser kinds will make a free and early growth on a damp clay, if sheltered from the east winds that so often damage early spring vegetation. The shortest way to establish a plantation is to purchase selected roots of first-class named varieties, and plant them in one long row, three to four feet apart, or in a bed or compartment four feet apart each way. The smaller kinds will do very well at two and a half feet each way, but for large-growing sorts this would be injuriously close. Plant with the top bud two inches deep, tread in moderately firm, then lightly prick the ground over, and so leave it. Rhubarb may be planted at any time in spring or autumn but of the two the spring is preferable. In any case where a special cultivation is determined on, it will be found that bone manure has a wonderful effect on the growth of Rhubarb.
It is not sufficient to say that the plantation must be kept free from weeds, but the plant should be allowed to make one whole season's growth before a single stalk is pulled. And the pulling in the second season, and every season thereafter, should be moderate and careful, for every leaf removed weakens the plant, and it must be allowed-time to regain strength for the next season. Some people know not when to leave off pulling Rhubarb, but appear unwilling to cease until there is none to pull; and it is a pity this should happen, especially as after the delicate supplies of early spring are past, Rhubarb is a comparatively poor thing, and to ruin a plantation to get stalks for wine is great folly. For wine-making a special plantation should be made, from which not one stick should be taken for table use. The summer stalks will then be of a suitable character.
Rhubarb is easily forced in any place where there is a moderate warmth, and it is only needful to pack the roots in boxes with moss or any light soil, or even rough litter. The roots will push into any moist material and find sufficient food. If entirely exposed to the light, forced Rhubarb has a full colour; but the quality is better, and the colour quite sufficient, if it is forced in the dark; hence when put under the stage in a greenhouse, or any other place where there is a fair share of daylight, it is well to put an empty box or barrel over to promote a certain degree of blanching.
When raising Rhubarb from seed sow in spring in light soil, and the young plants should have frame culture until strong enough to plant out. If a great number are grown, they should all be kept in pots until the end of the season, and then the common-looking and unpromising plants should be destroyed, reserving the others for planting out in the following spring. A new type of Rhubarb which is readily raised from seed will remain in bearing continuously if put out on good ground and given protection during severe winter weather. Seed of this strain should be sown in March or April, in pots or boxes placed in a cold frame. Plant out the seedlings in May and these will generally yield sticks in the autumn. Seed may also be sown in the open ground in spring.
Although the art of making Salads is to some extent understood in this country, it must be admitted that much has yet to be learned from the masters of Continental cookery, who utilise more plants than are commonly used on this side of the Channel, and who impart to their Salads an endless variety of flavourings. Here, however, we are only concerned with the plants that are, or should be, in requisition for the Salad-bowl at different seasons of the year. But it will not be irrelevant to allude to the fact, admitted by medical men of high reputation, that the appetite for fresh, crisp, uncooked vegetables is a really healthy craving, and that free indulgence in Salads is a means of supplying the human frame with important elements of plant-life. In the process of cooking, certain minerals, such as salts of potash, are abstracted from vegetables, while in Salads they are available, and contribute both to the enjoyment and the benefit of the consumer.
Our present object is to offer a reminder of the plants that must be grown in order to supply such a variety of Salads as will fairly meet the requirements of a generous table during the changing seasons of the year. The culture of all the following subjects will be found under their proper headings.
Beet.—For its distinct flavour and splendid colour Beet is highly valued as a component of Salads. As the roots are easily stored they are available for several months after the growing season has passed.
Celeriac is much used in French Salads, and some appreciation is now shown for it in this country. The roots or bulbs are trimmed, washed, and cooked in the same manner as Beet.
Celery.—This delicious Salad is in such general favour that no comment on its virtues is necessary.
Chervil.—The curled is far handsomer than the common variety, and is available for garnishing as well as for Salads.
Chicory.—The common Chicory (Barbe de Capucin) and the Brussels variety (Witloof) have attained to great popularity. Both are agreeable and wholesome, and a supply should be maintained from October to May.
Chives find acceptance at times when the stronger flavour of Onion is inadmissible.
Corn Salad.—The leaves should be gathered separately in the same manner as they are collected from Spinach.
Cress should be in continual readiness almost or entirely through the year.
Cucumber.—Everybody appreciates the value of this fruit, which is almost startling in its crisp coolness.
Dandelion.—The cultivated forms of this familiar plant are increasingly grown for use in the Salad-bowl.
Endive has a distinct flavour which is highly appreciated; and in winter the plant occupies the important position that Lettuce fills in summer and autumn.
Lettuce.—All the Cabbage varieties are in great demand for Salads, because they readily assimilate the dressing. But for delicious crispness the Cos varieties cannot fail to maintain their position of assured popularity.
Mustard needs only to be named. Like Cress, it is in continuous demand.
Nasturtium.—A few flowers may always be employed to garnish a Salad, for they are true Salad plants, and may be eaten with safety by those who choose to eat them.
Onion imparts life to every Salad that contains it; but for the sake of the modest people who do not fail to appreciate the advantage of its presence, although they scruple to avow their love, there must be discretion in determining the proportion.
Purslane.—The leaves and shoots are used for Salads, and the former should be gathered while quite young.
Radish finds a place on the tables of the opulent and of the humblest cottager.
Rampion.—The fleshy roots are employed in Salads in the natural state, and also when cooked.
Salsify is commonly known as 'Vegetable Oyster,' and is an excellent component of a Salad. The roots may also be allowed to put forth leaves in the dark to furnish blanched material.
Shallot.—A delicate substitute for Onion.
Sorrel possesses a piquant flavour that can be used by the skilful with most agreeable results.
Tomato has fought its way to popularity in this country, and now holds a commanding position.
Water Cress.—When the tender tops can be had they are seldom allowed to be absent from first-class Salads.
Salsify may be sown from the end of March to May, but two sowings will in most cases be sufficient. Drill the seed in rows fifteen inches apart and one inch deep. Thin from time to time until the plants stand nine, ten, or in an extreme case twelve, inches apart. In ordinary soil nine inches will be sufficient. Hoe between frequently, but do not use a fork or spade anywhere near the crop, for the loosening of the ground will cause the roots to branch.
A deep sandy soil with a coat of manure put in the bottom of the trench will produce fine roots of Salsify. But there should be no recent manure within fifteen inches of the surface, or the roots will be forked and ugly. In a soil that produces handsome roots naturally the preparation may consist in a good digging only, but generally speaking the more liberal routine will give a better result.
In November dig a portion of the crop and store in sand, and lift further supplies as required. Some roots may be left to furnish Chards in spring. These are the flowering-shoots which rise green and tender, and must be cut when not more than five or six inches long. They are dressed and served in the same way as Asparagus.
Salsify is a root of high quality, the growing of which is generally considered a test of a gardener's skill. Perhaps the after-dressing and serving of Salsify may be a test of the skill of the cook, but upon that point we will not insist. It is a less troublesome root than Scorzonera, and superior to it in beauty and flavour—in fact, it is often dressed and served as 'Vegetable Oyster,' having somewhat the flavour of the favourite bivalve.
Salsify roots require to be prepared for use by scraping them, and then steeping in water containing a little lemon juice or vinegar. They are boiled until tender, and served with white sauce. To prepare them as the 'Vegetable Oyster' the roots are first boiled and allowed to get cold, then cut in slices and quickly fried in butter to a light golden brown, being dusted with salt and white pepper while cooking. Serve with crisped Parsley and sauce made with butter, flour, and the liquor from tinned or fresh oysters.
SAVOY—see page 38
Scorzonera is not much grown in this country, but as it is prized on the Continent, it might be introduced to many English tables with advantage. The main point in the cultivation is to obtain large clean roots, for carelessly grown samples will be small, forked, and fibrous. Trench a piece of ground, and mix a good dressing of half-rotten manure with the bottom spit, taking care that there is none in the top spit. Make a nice seed-bed, and sow in the month of March in shallow drills fifteen inches apart, and as the plants advance thin them until they stand a foot apart in the drill. Keep the crop clean, and it will be fit for use in September. Lift as wanted in the same manner as Parsnips. Seed may also be sown in April and May.
To cook the roots they must first be scalded, then scraped and thrown into water in which there are a few drops of lemon juice. Let them remain half an hour; boil in salted water in the same way as Carrots until quite tender, and serve with white sauce. If left to get cold they can be sliced and fried in butter to make a good side dish.
Many persons prefer Sea Kale to Asparagus, but the two differ so widely in flavour and general character that no comparison between them is possible. On two points, however, the advantage certainly rests with Sea Kale. It can be more easily grown, and, regarded solely as an article of food, it is the more profitable crop. This comparison has therefore a practical bearing. In forming a new garden, and in cases where it may not be possible to grow both these esculents satisfactorily, Sea Kale should have attention first, as a thing that will require but a small investment, and that will surely pay its way, with quick returns, to the general advantage of the household.
Outdoor Culture.—Sea Kale requires strong ground, fully exposed to the sun, and enriched with any good manure, that from the stable being undoubtedly the best. The most satisfactory way to begin is with well-grown roots, as they make a return at once with the least imaginable trouble. Let the ground be well dug two spits deep, and put a coat of manure between; or if it is a good substantial loam, plant without manure, and the results will be excellent. As the thriving plant covers a considerable space, and there must be a certain amount of traffic on the ground to manage it, there should be one row in the centre of a four-feet bed, with a broad alley on one side; or, better still, mark out a ten-feet space, with a three-feet alley on each side, and in this space plant three rows two and a half feet apart, and the roots one and a half to two feet apart. The planting may be done at any time after the leaves have fallen, late in autumn, and during winter and early spring. On warm, dry ground, winter planting answers perfectly, and enables the gardener to complete the task, for there is always enough to do in the spring months. But on damp ground and in exposed situations the best time to plant is the month of March. Put down the line, and open a trench one foot deep; plant the roots with their crowns two inches below the surface, filling in and treading firmly as each trench is planted. The precaution may be taken to pare off all the pointed prominent buds on each crown, as this will prevent the rise of flower-stems; but if this is neglected, the cultivator must take care to cut out all the flowering-shoots that appear, for the production of flowers will prove detrimental to the crop of Sea Kale in the following season. Our custom, when a plantation has been thus made, is to grow another crop with it the first season. The ground between the rows is marked out in narrow strips, and lightly forked over, and if a coat of rotten manure can be spared it is pricked in, and a neat seed-bed is made of every strip, eighteen to twenty-four inches wide. On this prepared bed sow Onions, Lettuces, and other light crops, and as the Sea Kale advances take care to remove whatever would interfere with their expansion, for the stolen crop should not stand in the way of that intended for permanent occupation. A crop of early Cauliflower, small Cabbage, or even Potatoes, may be taken, in which case there will be room for only one row alternately with each row of Kale, and perhaps one row also in the alleys.
The growth of the Kale should be promoted by all legitimate means, and in high summer it will take water, liquid manure, and mulchings of rich stuff, to almost any extent, with advantage. The irrigation that suits the Kale will probably also suit the stolen crop, but irrigation is not good for Onions or Potatoes; where these crops are grown care must be exercised to bestow the fluid on the Sea Kale only.
As the leaves decay in autumn they should be removed, and the ground kept thoroughly clean. When finally cleaned up, let it be forked over, but with care not to put the tool too near the plants; and if manure is plentiful, lay down a coat for a finish, or fork it in at the general clear up. There should now commence a systematic saving of clean leaves. Mere vegetable rubbish is not to be thought of. Proceed to cover the ground with leaves in heaps or ridges sufficient to make a coat finally of about one foot deep, or say nine inches at the very least. If there is any store of rough planking on the premises, let the planks be laid on the ridges of leaves on whichever side the prevailing wind may be. This will prevent the leaves being blown away, and the planks will be handy for the next stage in the business.
At the turn of the year put the planks on edge by driving posts down in any rough way that will hold them firmly for a brief season, and then spread the leaves equally. If there are not sufficient leaves to cover the bed for the requisite thickness, raise a good heap over each crown, and sprinkle a little earth to keep the heap together. But a better mode of procedure is to have a sufficiency of Sea Kale pots with movable covers, or in place of these large flower-pots, or old boxes. Put these over the crowns, and then heap the leaves over and around, and the preliminaries are completed. A very early growth will be the result, and the quality will be finer than that of forced Sea Kale. Uncover occasionally to see how the crop goes on, remembering that perfect darkness is needed to blanch it completely, and to produce a plump and delicate sample. Cut close over, taking a small portion of the woody part of the crown, and when all the growth of a crown is taken, remove the pot or box, but leave a thin coat of leaves on the cut crown to protect it, as at the time of cutting Sea Kale keen east winds are prevalent, and it is unfair to the plants to expose them suddenly. When the crop has been taken, remove the leaves and the planks, and dig in between the rows a thick coat of fat manure. The growth will be too strong now for a stolen crop, and will so continue for many years. After the crop has been secured, each crown will throw out a number of buds or shoots. These should all be removed except two or three of the strongest, which will form the crowns for cutting in the following year. At the same time take away any small blanched shoots that may have been left because they were too small or insignificant for table use. This proceeding will prevent the production of flower-stems, which is injurious to the plant, and there never need be any fear that the crop will be diminished, because plenty of buds around the crowns, that do not show themselves in the first instance, will come forward in due time.
Forcing.—It is so easy to force Sea Kale that the cultivator may safely be left to his own devices. But it will be well, perhaps, to say that perfect darkness is requisite, and the temperature should not exceed 60 deg. at any time, this being the maximum figure. A rise above 60 deg. will produce a thin or wiry sample. It is sufficient to begin with a temperature of 45 deg., and to rise no higher than 55 deg., to insure a really creditable growth. The market growers are not very particular as to temperature, but then they do not eat the crop, or know much of it after it has left their hands. With the gardener in a domestic establishment the case is different; and we venture to advise young men—to whom book advice is often valuable as entailing no obligations—that Sea Kale slowly forced may be nearly as good as that grown under pots in the open without any heat at all; better it cannot be. Any spare pits or odd places may be made use of for this crop, provided only that the heat is not too great. Pack the roots in mould or leaves, or even half-rotten manure, and shut them up to exclude light, and the crop will be ready in five or six weeks, unless forcing is commenced very early, in which case seven weeks at least must be allowed from the time of planting to that of the first cutting. Roots that have been lifted for forcing should be thrown away when the crop has been secured, but roots forced in the open ground suffer so little by the process that they may be forced for several years in succession ere it becomes necessary to renew the plantation, provided, of course, that the work is well done. The outdoor forcing is accomplished in the way described for growing the crop, with the aid of leaves only, but with certain differences. In the first place, care must be taken to let the plants feel the cold, but at the same time to prevent the ground becoming frozen. A touch of frost will render them more ready to grow when the cultivator brings his persuasions to bear by heaping hot manure over the pots, and covering the bed with a thick coat of the same. This is all that can be done, but it is sufficient. In cases where leaves and other suitable materials are not available, good Sea Kale may be grown by simply raising over each crown a heap of sand or sifted coal ashes, provided some clean material be interposed to keep the sand or ashes from actual contact with the plant. When this heap begins to crack at the top it will be worth while to examine it at the bottom, when there will be found a fine head of blanched Sea Kale, and the mound will have served its purpose.
To grow Sea Kale from seed is a simple matter enough, but there is a loss of a year as compared with growing it from roots. The ground should be rich and well worked, and the seed sown in March or April in drills one foot asunder if for planting out, or in patches about two and a half feet apart each way if to remain. It is believed by many that Sea Kale should stand where sown, and we admit that analogies are in favour of the proposal. But every year such fine produce is obtained from transplanted roots that we have not the courage to condemn a course of procedure which may not be theoretically correct. The fact is, the root is tough and enduring, and suffers but little by moderate exposure to the atmosphere if handled in a reasonable manner. But to return to the seeds: they sprout quickly, and, soon after, the plants make rapid progress. Let them have liberal culture, keep them scrupulously clean, and thin in good time. If quite convenient, give a light sprinkling of salt occasionally in the summer: they will enjoy it, and the leaves will not be injured in the least.
The old-fashioned mode of culture is to plant on the shortest, and lift the crop on the longest, day; but that is only applicable to the milder parts of the country. As a rule, spring is the best time for planting, and it should be done as early as the ground can be got into working order—certainly not later than the middle of April. The soil should be in a friable condition, and it must be trodden firmly, after the manner usual for an Onion bed. Merely press the bulbs into the soil to keep them in position, and put them in rows one foot apart, and nine inches apart in the rows. They should not be earthed up, but, on the contrary, when approaching maturity the soil should be drawn away so as to expose the bulbs, for this facilitates the ripening process.
To store the roots for any length of time it will be necessary to have them well ripened, and this point demands consideration. If dry weather could be insured for harvesting the crop, it might be allowed to finish in the ground; but as this cannot be relied on, it is a wise precaution to lift the crop on some suitable opportunity before it is quite ready, and allow the ripening to be completed in a protected airy place.
Spinach plays an important part in the economy of the dinner table. There are unfortunate beings who cannot eat it, for they describe it as bitter, sooty, and nauseous. Probably an equal number of persons entertain a very high opinion as to its value. The rest of mankind proclaim it a wholesome, savoury, and acceptable vegetable. Spinach will grow anywhere and anyhow; but some little management is needed to keep up a constant supply of large, dark green leaves, that when properly cooked will be rich in flavour as the result of good cultivation. To produce first-class Spinach a well-tilled rich loam is needed, but a capital sample may be grown on clay that has been some time in cultivation.
Summer Spinach.—The early sowings of Round or Summer Spinach should be in a sheltered situation, but not directly shaded. Sow in drills twelve to fifteen inches apart, and one inch deep, beginning in January, although the first sowing may fail, and continue to sow about every fortnight until the middle of May. The earliest sowing should be on dry ground, but the later sowings will do well on damp soil with a little shade from the midday sun. It is important to thin the crop early, as it should not be in the least drawn. This is the only essential point in securing a fine growth, for if the plant cannot spread from the beginning it will never become luxuriant, and will soon run up to seed. Thin at first to six inches, and if large enough for use, send the thinnings into the house. Before the leaves overlap thin finally to twelve inches. Every plant will cover the space, and it will suffice to take the largest leaves, two or three only from each plant, and thus a basket may be filled in a few minutes with really fine Spinach.
As the heat of the summer increases, the crop will be inclined to bolt. The starved plant will bolt first; the plant in rich moist soil, with plenty of room to spread, will be more leisurely about it, and will give time for the production of a succession crop to take its place. The sowings from May to July should be small and numerous, and on rich moist land, to be aided, if needful, with water. In many gardens there is a sufficient variety of vegetables after the middle of June to render it unnecessary to keep up the supplies of Spinach, and it is best to dispense with it, if possible, during July and August.
Winter Spinach.—The sowing of Winter Spinach should commence in July, and be continued until the end of September, subject to the capabilities of the place. In gardens near towns, where the land is at all heavy, it is generally useless to sow after August, as the autumnal fogs are likely to destroy a plant that is only just out of the seed-leaf. But in favoured localities, with a warm soil and a soft air, seed may be sown up to the very end of the year with but little risk of loss. The winter crops are sometimes sown broadcast, but drilling is to be preferred, and the rows may be twelve to fifteen inches apart. Thin at first to three inches, and afterwards to six inches, and leave them at this distance, for Winter Spinach may be a little crowded with advantage, because the weather and the black bot will now and then remove a plant. Should ground vermin claim attention, the best way to proceed will be to scratch shallow furrows very near the plants, taking care not to injure them. This may be done with the hoe, but if time can be spared it will be better to do it with a short pointed stick, having at hand, as the work progresses, a vessel into which to throw the grubs as they come to light when the earth is disturbed. Where small birds are in sufficient numbers, they will observe the disturbance of the earth, and diligently search for the grubs at hours when the cultivator is no longer on the search himself.
The July sowings will be useful in the autumn and throughout the winter, as the weather may determine; the later sowings will be useful in spring. Plants may be drawn where they can be spared to make room for the remainder, but leaves only should be taken when the plant is large enough to supply them. When symptoms of bolting become visible in the spring, cut the plants over at the collar, and at once prepare the ground for another crop.
New Zealand Spinach (Tetragonia expansa).—Gardeners are only too well acquainted with the difficulty of maintaining an unbroken supply of true Spinach during the burning summer months. But the weather which makes it almost impossible to produce a satisfactory crop of Spinacia oleracea brings New Zealand Spinach to perfection. The latter is prized by some persons because it lacks the peculiar bitterness of the former. The plant is rather tender, and therefore to obtain an early supply the seed must be raised in heat. It may be sown in pots or pans at the end of March or beginning of April. Transfer the seedlings to small pots immediately they are large enough, and gradually harden in preparation for removal to the open ground towards the end of May. They should be put into light soil in a sunny position, and be allowed three or four feet apart each way. It is not unusual to grow them on a heap of discarded potting soil, where they can ramble without restraint. The growth is rapid, and there must be no stint of water in dry weather. In five or six weeks the first lot of tender shoots will be ready for pinching off. Those who do not care to incur trouble under glass may sow in the open in the early part of May, and thin the plants to the distance named.
Perpetual Spinach, or Spinach Beet (Beta Cicla).—A valuable plant for producing a regular supply of leaves which make an excellent Spinach at a period of the year when the ordinary Summer Spinach is past its prime. Although it is a true Beet, the roots are worthless, and there should be liberal treatment to insure an abundant growth of leaves. Seed may be sown from March to the end of July or beginning of August, in rows one foot apart. Thin the plants to a distance of six or eight inches in the rows. When the leaves are ready for gathering, they must be removed, whether wanted or not, to promote continuous growth.
Orache is frequently used as a substitute for Spinach where the ordinary variety fails. Seed should be sown during the spring months, and as the plant frequently attains a height of five feet allow a distance of at least three feet in each direction for development. Red Orache is useful for growing in ornamental borders, but it is not so suitable for culinary purposes as the white variety. The leaves only are eaten.
This vegetable is commonly known as the Chinese Artichoke, and from the peculiar form it is also called Spirals. A wide difference of opinion exists as to its value, but in its favour the fact may be stated that tubers are often exhibited in the finest collections of vegetables staged for competition.
The time for planting is early spring, in rows eighteen inches apart, allowing a distance of nine inches in the rows. The proper depth is four inches. The roots are quite hardy and the crop gives no trouble. After planting it is only necessary to keep the plot free from weeds.
The tubers do not mature until late in autumn, and as far as possible it is advisable to lift them when they are wanted. Should it be necessary for any reason to clear the ground, the Stachys must be covered with soil. When exposed to light and air they soon become discoloured and are then unfit for cooking. It is usual to boil them in the same manner as Potatoes, but the finish must be by steam alone. An agreeable variation consists in frying the boiled roots with butter until slightly brown, when the dish is considered by many connoisseurs to be very delicious and suitable for serving with poultry or joint.
Probably the first thought will be that the Strawberry is a fruit, and that the consideration of its treatment is out of place in a series of articles on the culture of vegetables. The answer is that the plant forms an essential feature in every good Kitchen Garden, and the general routine of work has to be arranged with due regard to this crop, so that we need make no apology for alluding to it here.
When to Plant.—The Strawberry is the most certain of all our hardy fruits, and is much valued both for eating fresh as a summer luxury and as a preserve for winter use. Although it deserves the best of cultivation, its demands are few, for under the poorest system of management it is often extremely prolific, and not unseldom the most profitable crop in the garden. We have choice of seeds, divisions, and runners in making a plantation of Strawberries. The universal way is the best way, and it consists in planting rooted runners of named sorts in an open sunny spot in well-prepared ground any time during spring or autumn, when fresh and good runners are obtainable; but late planting is undesirable, for when the plants have not time to establish themselves before winter sets in many are lost. If, therefore, the planting cannot be accomplished at the latest by the beginning of October, it is better to defer the task until the spring. Plants put in at the latter time should have the flower-stems removed, and will then yield a heavy crop in the succeeding season.
Treatment of Soil.—The best soil for Strawberries is a rich, moist, sandy loam, but a heavy soil will answer perfectly if it is well prepared. The ground should be trenched and liberally enriched with rotten manure placed between the top and bottom spits, where the plants will reach it when they are most in need. In a new soil that is rather stiff it will be advisable, when the trenching has been completed, to put down the line and cut shallow trenches, which should be filled with any rather fine kindly stuff that may be at hand, such as old hot-bed soil, leaf-mould, or a mixture of material turned out of pots, with some good decayed manure. In this the young plants will root freely and quickly without becoming gross, for they should attain a certain degree of vigour; but an excessive leaf growth may result in losses during winter, and a small crop of fruit in the following year. Well-cultivated soils need no such special preparation, but in any case a good digging and a liberal manuring are absolutely necessary. And here it may be well to state that after the plants have obtained a firm hold on the soil it matters not how hard the ground becomes. The practice of some growers in running a plough lightly between the rows either for a mulch, or to give the plants the full benefit of rain, does not in the least degree upset this conclusion, for this only creates a loose and friable surface, and the operation is so managed that the soil near the roots remains undisturbed. It may be accepted as a secret of successful Strawberry culture that the bed should be firm and compact, and, in forcing, this principle is so far recognised that the soil is positively rammed into the pots.
Method of Planting.—If Strawberry plants come to hand somewhat dry, unpack them quickly, and spread them in small lots in a cool shady place, and sprinkle lightly with water to refresh them. A deluge of water is not needed, and in fact will do harm, but enough to moisten them will put them in a condition to begin growing as soon as they are properly located. In planting, a little extra care in the disposition of the roots in the soil will be well repaid, for plants merely thrust into the ground cannot develop that robust root growth on which the future of the crop largely depends. When preparing the positions it is an excellent plan to build in the centre of each excavation a mound of earth over which to spread the fibrous roots. Then return the soil and firmly tread down. As a finish give each plant a copious watering. On no account should the plant be deeply buried, but the crown should be left just clear of the surface level. The distances in planting will have to be determined by the relative vigour of the varieties and the nature of the ground. As a rule the rows should be two feet apart, and the plants eighteen inches in the rows, but some varieties require fully two and a half feet between the rows. It is good practice to leave a three-feet space between every two rows for necessary traffic. A modification of the plan consists in planting a foot apart each way; and immediately the first crop of fruit is off every alternate row is removed, and then every alternate plant in each row is also taken out. This places the remainder at two feet every way. The ground is then lightly forked and a heavy coat of manure put on.
The general management comprises keeping down weeds, supplying water abundantly in dry weather, especially when the berries are swelling, and removing runners as fast as they appear, for to allow them to get ahead is most injurious, and any serious neglect of this rule is likely to ruin the plantation. The Strawberry plant makes no proper return on a dry lumpy soil. Large plantations that cannot be watered must be aided in the height of the season by covering the ground with any light material which will prevent evaporation. As to obtaining runners, that is easy enough, but there is a good way and a bad way. To allow them to spread and root promiscuously is the bad way; it injures the plants, makes the bed disorderly, and does not produce good runners. At the time when runners begin to push, dig and manure the surrounding spaces, and allow a certain number of runners to come out from each side of the rows. As they approach maturity and are disposed to make roots, lay tiles or stones upon the runners near to the young plants to favour the process, but a neater way will be to peg them down. Or they may be fixed by short pegs in small pots, filled with light rich earth and plunged in the soil.
To keep the crop clean many plans are adopted, and the plant probably takes its name from the old custom of covering the ground with straw for the purpose. The cultivator must be left to his own devices, because of the difficulty in many places of obtaining suitable material. But we must warn the beginner in Strawberry culture against grass mowings as more or less objectionable. They sometimes answer perfectly, and at other times they encourage slugs and snails to spoil the crop, and if partially rotted by wet weather communicate to the fruit a bad flavour. There is a very simple means of feeding the crop and making a clean bed for the fruit. It consists in putting on a good coat of long, strong manure in February, and in doing this it is no great harm if the plants are in some degree covered. They will soon push up and show themselves, and by the time the fruit appears the straw will be washed clean, and the crop being thus aided will be a great one, weather permitting. As regards cutting off the leaves, we advise the removal of old large leaves as soon as the crop is gathered. But this should be done with a knife; to use a scythe amongst Strawberries is to ruin the plantation. The object of removing old leaves is to admit light and air to the young leaves, for on the free growth of these the formation of good crowns for the next year's use depends. By encouraging the young leaves to grow, root action is promoted, and the embryo buds are formed that will, in the next summer, develop into Strawberries.
Some gardeners recommend the removal of the Strawberry plantation every three years. It is a better plan to make a small plantation annually, and at the same time destroy an old plantation that has served its turn. But we are bound to say that Strawberry plantations, well made and well kept, will often last and prove profitable for six or even more years. But this will never be the case where there is a stint of manure or water, or where the runners are allowed to run in their own way to make a Strawberry mat and a jam of the wrong sort. The Strawberry fancier does not wish to keep a plantation any great length of time, and he must plant annually to taste the new sorts. This to many people is one of the chief delights of the garden, and it certainly has its attractions.
Forced Strawberries.—The high price realised on the market for the earliest supply of forced Strawberries is a sufficient proof that society is prepared to pay handsomely for this refreshing luxury. As the season advances and competition becomes keen the figure rapidly declines, but 'Strawberries at a guinea an ounce' has more than once appeared as a sensational head-line in the daily press.
The fruiting of Strawberries in pots is part of the annual routine of nearly all large establishments, but even with the most perfect appliances it must be admitted that to produce berries which win appreciation for their size, colour, and flavour demands both skill and patience, especially patience.
Strong well-rooted plants are essential to success, and no trouble should be spared to secure them from robust free-fruiting stocks. The earliest runners must either be layered on square pieces of mellow turf or over thumb pots filled with a good rich compost. When the runners are fairly rooted in the layers of turf or the thumb pots they should be transferred to pots of the fruiting size. No. 32 is generally used for the purpose. After the pots have been crocked some growers add a layer of half-inch bones, which aid the plants and insure free drainage. The most satisfactory soil is a rich fibrous loam, with the addition of one-fourth of well-rotted manure and a small proportion of sand, and the compost must be well firmed into the pots with the ramming stick.
The best place to keep the plants is an open airy situation, easily accessible, where the pots can stand on a bed of ashes. On the approach of frost they can be transferred to a cold frame, keeping them close to the glass, or they may be plunged in ashes in some sheltered position.
When the time arrives for forcing, it is usual to commence by plunging the pots in a bed of warm leaves or in a mild half-spent hot-bed. Immediately the plants show sign of blooming they must be shifted to warmer quarters. A shelf at the back of an early vinery or Peach-house, quite near the glass, is a suitable position. The temperature at starting should be 55 deg. Fahr., rising gradually to 60 deg. by the time the leafage is thoroughly developed.
The appearance of the flower trusses is a critical period. Liquid manure should then be given freely, and at the same time the plants must have abundance of light and a warm dry atmosphere. The blossoms need to be artificially fertilised with a camel's-hair pencil, choosing midday as the best time for this operation.
When the crop has set it must be thinned to about nine berries on each plant, and in due time the fruits should have the support of forked sticks. Care will be necessary to prevent injury to the stalks, or the flow of sap to the berries may be arrested. Syringe twice a day in dry weather; and on the first show of colour discontinue the manure-water and use pure soft water only. At this stage a night temperature of 65 deg. must be maintained, giving all the air and light possible.
More failures in the pot culture of Strawberries are attributable to neglect in watering than to any other cause. The soil must never be allowed to become dry. Should the leaves once droop they seldom recover. At least twice a day the plants will need attention, and it is important that the water should be of the same temperature as the atmosphere. Always leave the cans full in readiness for the next visit.
Alpine Strawberries are very largely grown in France, probably more so than the large-fruited varieties which are popular in this country. The best method is to sow the seeds in January, in pans filled with a light rich compost and placed in a gentle heat. Prick out the plants on to a bed of light soil in a frame, or on a nearly exhausted hot-bed, whence they should be taken to the open ground. From these sowings fine fruits may usually be gathered in the following September. Seeds may also be sown outdoors in spring or in September in shallow drills, six inches apart, on a bed of light soil. Transplant in due course for fruiting in the succeeding Strawberry season. When a full crop has been gathered the plants should be destroyed, a succession being kept up by sowing annually. By slowly growing the plants from spring-sown seeds and potting in autumn, it is not a difficult matter to have Alpines in fruit under glass at Christmas.
Although the Sunflower is not utilised as food for man, the plant is frequently grown in the Kitchen Garden, partly as an ornament, and also for the production of seeds which are given to poultry.
As regards cultivation, sow in pans in April, and put on a gentle hot-bed, or shut up close in a sunny frame. The plants will soon appear. Give them light and air, and plant out when they are two or three inches high. But Sunflowers can be grown without any kind of artificial aid. A simple and effectual method is to make the spot intended for them very rich, and dibble the seed an inch deep on the first day of May.
The taste for Tomatoes often begins with a little antipathy, but it is soon acquired, and not infrequently develops into decided fondness for the fruit both cooked and in its natural condition. As a necessary article of food the call for it in this country is no longer limited to a select circle of epicures, for the value of its refreshing, appetising, and corrective properties is now widely recognised, and its advance in public favour has been accelerated by the improved quality, enhanced beauty, and increased variety effected by expert raisers.
The Tomato is a tender, but not a tropical plant, and it requires a moderately high temperature, free access of air, and above all a full flood of solar light to bring it to perfection. The necessary heat is easily managed in any garden equipped with ordinary forcing appliances; so also is a current of air in properly constructed buildings; but the deficiency of light during the darker months renders the task of producing fruit in midwinter less easy than at other seasons. By the introduction of varieties possessing increased powers of crop-setting, however, the difficulty of winter fruiting has been largely overcome, so that, with efficient management, it is now possible to send Tomatoes to table throughout the year.
Almost every imaginable glass structure can be employed for growing Tomatoes, from the small suburban greenhouse to the vast span-roof, hundreds of feet in length, devoted to their culture in the Channel Islands. And it is not essential that the crop should be grown alone. Potatoes, French Beans, Strawberries, and Vines may be forced in the same building, provided there be no obstruction to light and air, nor any interference with the conditions which experience has proved to be imperative for sustaining the plants in vigorous health. For winter and spring gathering there must be a service of hot-water pipes, but as the season advances it is easy to ripen fruit in cool houses, and later on plants outdoors will in favourable seasons yield an abundant return without artificial protection of any kind.
INDOOR CULTURE—Sowing and Transplanting.—Seed may be sown at almost any time of the year, but the most important months are January to March, August and September. In gardens favourably situated in the South of England and furnished with the most perfect appliances, seed is sown in all these months, and in others also; but in smaller gardens sowings are generally restricted to February and March. Whenever a start is made sow thinly and about half an inch deep, in pans or boxes, and do not allow the seedlings to remain in them for an unnecessary day. Immediately two or at most four leaves are formed either prick off into other pans or boxes, or transfer singly to thumb pots, and as a rule the pots will be found preferable. The soil for these pans or pots should be stored in the greenhouse a few days in advance of the transfer, so that the compost may acquire the proper temperature and save the plants from an untimely check. In small houses place the plants near the glass that they may remain short in the joint, but on cold nights they must be taken down to avoid injury from fluctuations of temperature. In large houses, where the light is well diffused, there is no need to incur this trouble, for the seedlings will do equally well on the ground level. In due time shift into six-inch pots, from which they can go straight to borders, or into a larger size if they are to be fruited in pots. About fourteen weeks will be required to prepare the plants for borders in the winter season, but a shorter period will suffice in spring and summer. Plants from an August or September sowing will not mature fruit in much less than six months, while a March sowing will yield a return in four months or less. A great deal depends on the character of the season, and more on skill and attention. Those who sow in January or February should sow again a fortnight later, and onwards until the end of April, according to requirements. For winter supplies a first sowing may be made in June, in a cold frame, and prepared for transfer to fruiting pots in September.
Treatment of Soil.—In the first instance there need be no anxiety about soil. Any fairly good sandy loam will answer for the seed-pans, and if too stiff it may be freely mixed with sharp sand or the sifted sweepings from roads and gravel walks. A fibrous loam, cut from a rich pasture, and laid up in a heap for twelve months, will, with an addition of wood ashes and grit, make an ideal soil for pots or borders. As the plants advance, leaf-mould or thoroughly decayed manure in moderate quantity should be supplied; but, instead of incorporating it with the loam in the usual way, it will be found advantageous to place the manure immediately above the crocks, and the roots will find it at the right time. But the quantity of manure must not be overdone, especially in the earlier stages of growth, because excessive luxuriance neither promotes fruitfulness nor conduces to early ripening. After the fruit has set, a mulch of decayed manure will aid the plants in finishing a heavy crop. Manure which is only partially fermented will not do at all. The ammonia it liberates exerts so deadly a power that the plants are quickly scorched.