In its demand for potash the Tomato closely resembles the Potato, and of the two the former is the more exacting. So quickly does this crop exhaust the soil, that in small houses it is usual to take out the earth to a depth of fifteen or eighteen inches every second or third year, and replace it with virgin loam. Others grow the Tomatoes alternately in the bed and in pots, but this is only a partial remedy. Constant dressings of farmyard or stable manure result in the formation of humus, which, as it becomes sour, has to be sweetened by the solvent influence of lime. The chief objection to the use of stable manure, however, even when well rotted, is that it induces a free growth of foliage instead of promoting an early development of fruit. The most enduring method is that which is based on chemical knowledge of the constituents of the soil, and the relation which the plant bears to it. One of the most successful growers for the London market almost entirely avoids the use of stable manure, and he is able, by applications of nitrate of potash, dissolved bones, and the occasional use of lime, to grow splendid crops in the same houses year after year.
All the conditions which answer for border work are applicable to pots, and a limited number of plants brought forward in succession will supply the requirements of a small household from early spring until near Christmas. The pot system is conducive to free setting and to early ripening, and for these reasons it is worth attention. The plants should be kept short in the joint by frequent shifts until the twelve-inch pot is reached, and this size will accommodate two cordons or one plant having two branches, each of which will require a separate stake for its support. Plunging the pots can be adopted to save labour in watering.
Temperatures.—No advantage is to be gained by attempting to force Tomatoes in a higher temperature than is consistent with healthy progress, although in winter there is great temptation in the direction of overheating. Full time for development in moderate heat will bring stout joints, and impart a vigorous constitution that materially aids the plants in resisting the insidious attacks of disease. The waning autumn and dull winter days are the most troublesome periods of management, and it is remarkable that of two days equal in duration and apparently in other conditions, the autumnal appears to be less favourable than the spring day. But if, on the one hand, a high temperature is injurious, a low temperature must be avoided; although for a time it may not appear to be harmful. A temperature of 60 deg. or 65 deg. suits the seed-pans, and after transfer to pots and the roots have become established, the thermometer should not register less than 55 deg. during the night. It may rise 10 deg. by means of fire heat in the daytime, and during bursts of sunshine another 10 deg. or 15 deg. will be quite safe, always assuming that the roots are not dry, and that the plants have free ventilation.
Watering.—The judicious administration of water forms an important feature in the culture of the Tomato. The plant is too succulent to endure drought with impunity, and it is mere folly to toy with the water-can. Saturate down to the roots, and then leave the plants alone until more water is wanted. No hard and fast rule can be stated as to frequency. It depends on the condition of the soil, the period of the year, and the age of the plants. Borders and soil for pots should be made sufficiently moist in advance, so that watering will not be necessary immediately after the plants are transferred. The prevalent opinion that excessive watering generates disease is not confirmed by our experience. Of course the watering should not be excessive for many reasons, but the diseases which are often attributed to over-watering are the result of atmospheric mismanagement.
General Treatment.—Authorities are not agreed as to whether branched plants or simple cordons yield the better results. In our judgment the single stem deserves preference, and it is now more extensively grown than any other form, although plants having two branches are almost equally popular. Certainly the cordon can be managed with extreme ease; it is admittedly the earliest producer, and there is a general consensus of opinion that the fruit it produces is unsurpassed in size and quality. The doubtful point is quantity, but even here the difference, if any, is too trifling to be worth the consideration of private growers. Cordons are formed by removing the laterals as fast as they appear, and when the fruit has set, or the requisite height is attained, the top is also pinched out.
The space allowed for each plant varies greatly, especially among growers for market. Under glass every branched Tomato should be allowed at least three feet each way. For cordons we advocate a distance between the rows of three feet, and a space of two feet in the row is not too much. The stems require support of some kind, and stakes are preferable to string; but of course the stems may be secured to wires whenever it is convenient to run the plants immediately under the glass.
Another point upon which authorities differ is the extent to which Tomatoes should be denuded of their foliage. Some growers condemn the procedure entirely; others reduce their plants to skeletons. Both extremes are objectionable, for when all the leaves are permitted to remain there is delay or partial failure in colouring the fruit, and the almost entire removal of foliage checks the root action injuriously. In practice it answers well to wait until the fruit has set, then by pinching out the leading point of each leaf, commencing at the bottom, ripening and colouring are promoted, and the health of the plant remains unimpaired.
In dull weather, and especially in short days, a difficulty is sometimes experienced in setting the fruit, particularly the first bunch. After fruit has begun to swell on one bunch, the remainder set with comparative ease. A rather higher temperature than usual combined with free movement of the atmosphere is generally sufficient to insure fertilisation. If assistance is necessary, however, water the plants early in the afternoon, and close the house rather before the usual time. The warm atmosphere will develop plenty of pollen, and a gentle shaking of the flower bunches with a slight touch from a hazel twig will liberate visible clouds, which will effectually set the fruit. Another method is to lift a flat label or paper knife against the flowers. The label becomes covered with pollen, and by gently touching each flower with a slight upward pressure a great number can be fertilised in a few minutes. A soft brush passed over the flowers daily has the same effect. Plants in the open ground need no such attention if they are in good health and the season is at all genial. When a bunch of flowers contains one that is fasciated or confused, the flower should be pinched out to prevent the formation of large and ugly fruit. The remainder of the bunch will be the finer for its absence.
OUTDOOR CULTURE.—For the open ground it is important to choose a variety that ripens early. The plants should be vigorous, and they must be carefully hardened before they are put out. Sow the seed in heat in February or March, and when large enough transfer the seedlings to single pots until wanted. Every effort should be made to avoid giving the plants a check, and if room is available they may be potted on to the six-inch size and allowed to form one truss of bloom before planting out, thus saving valuable time. The end of May is usually the right time for transfer to the open, but Tomatoes will not endure a keen east wind or nipping frost. During the prevalence of unfavourable weather it is advisable to wait a week or more rather than risk the destruction of the plants. When the temperature appears to be fairly reliable, put them into holes a foot deep and eighteen inches across, filled with light soil not too rich. For a few nights until the roots take hold slight protection should be at hand to assure safety; Sea Kale pots answer admirably, and are easily placed in position. In addition to beds all sorts of places are suitable for Tomatoes, such as under warm palings or walls, on sloping banks and in sheltered nooks, where they will thrive and yield valuable fruit. Stout stakes are required and should be promptly provided. Pinch out the lateral shoots, and as soon as the fruits commence to colour some of the largest leaves may be partially removed. Early in August nip out the tips of the leaders in order to encourage ripening. Thus in the open garden a supply of this delicacy may be insured for part of the year equal in quality to fruit which is grown under glass. (See also page 181.)
The diseases of the Tomato are dealt with in the chapter on The Fungus Pests of certain Garden Plants.
The Turnip is not a difficult garden crop; indeed, the simplest management will produce an ample supply, and any fairly good ground will suffice for it. But whatever is worth doing is worth doing well, and a gardener may be pardoned for taking an especial pride in producing a sufficiency of handsome and tender Turnips. The great point is to insure a succession through a long season, or, say, the whole year round, for Turnips are always in request, and at certain periods of the year delicate young roots are greatly valued for the table.
The finest Turnips are grown in deep, sandy loam, kept in a high state of cultivation. Useful Turnips may be grown on any soil, but a handsome sample of the finest quality cannot be produced on heavy clay or thin limestone. In common with other fast-growing plants of the cruciferous order, Turnips must have lime in some form, and in many gardens it will occasionally be necessary to give a dressing of lime in addition to the ordinary manure. Superphosphate, bone, and old plaster or mortar from destroyed buildings, are all valuable in preparing the soil for this crop.
Times of Sowing.—An early crop of small bulbs may be grown by sowing in January on a very gentle hot-bed as prescribed for early Radishes, and it may be well to add, that in an emergency white Turnip Radishes may be made to take the place of Turnips, both to flavour soups and to appear as a dish in the usual way. Fast-growing Turnips may be sown on a sheltered warm border in February and March, to be carefully watched and protected when unkind weather prevails. In April and May sowings should be made consistently with the probable wants of the household, but the May sowings should comprise two or three sorts in the event of hot dry weather spoiling some of them.
The principal sowings for autumn and winter supplies are made in June and July, but seed may also be sown in August. Ground from which some crop, such as Peas, has just been cleared generally needs little preparation beyond breaking the surface with a hoe, followed by a good raking. Thin the plants early and let them stand finally at six to nine inches apart in the rows. For late crops seed is often sown broadcast, the roots being pulled as they mature.
General Culture.—It is advisable to sow Turnips in drills on a fine tilth, and it is an advantage to have a sufficiency of some stimulating manure near the surface to hurry the growth of the young plant, for the danger of fly belongs to the seed-leaf stage. Generally speaking, the Turnip fly does but little harm in gardens; but where it is much feared, the seed should be sown in prepared drills to encourage a quick growth. Draw the drills twelve to fifteen inches apart, three inches deep, and about the same width, and almost fill them with rotten manure, or with a mixture of earth and guano, or wood ashes; cover this with a little fine soil to prevent injury to the seed; then sow, and lightly conceal the seed with earth as a finish. If the ground is sufficiently moist, growth will commence almost immediately, and the plant will come up strong, and very quickly put forth rough leaves. In the general management more depends on timely and judicious thinning than upon any other point. If Turnips are not well thinned, so that each plant can spread its green head unimpeded by the leaves of a neighbour, a good growth cannot be expected; and thinning by the hoe should be commenced as soon as the rough leaves appear. The operation must be repeated until the plants are at a suitable distance, and then comes the process of singling, which should be done by hand. It will be found that in many cases two or three little plants stand together looking like one. There must be only one left at each station, and that should be the shortest. The distances may vary from four to ten inches, according to the vigour of the variety and the kind of Turnips required. An easy and profitable plan is to allow a certain number of bulbs to swell to supply young Turnips, and, by drawing these, leave room for the remainder of the crop to attain its proper size for storing.
The Turnip likes a light soil, but does not well endure the occasional dryness to which light soils are subject. This fact accounts for many failures of the crop in a hot dry season, for sunshine suits the Turnip, but it must have moisture or suffer deterioration in some way. If, therefore, the soil becomes dry, and there is no prospect of rain, the Turnips should have water, not simply to moisten the surface, but to go to the roots, for frequent watering is not good for the crop, as it tends to spoil the beauty of the bulbs, and promotes a rank leaf-growth which is not wanted. An occasional heavy watering in dry weather will also do much towards the repression of the many enemies that beset this useful root—the jumpers, the grubs, the weevils, and the rest of the vermin will be routed out of their snug hiding-places in the dusty soil when the watering takes place, and the death of many will follow. But so long as the soil is fairly moist at the depth the roots are ranging, there is no need for watering, and the time it would consume may be utilised for other work.
Lifting and Storing.—On the approach of winter a certain portion of the Turnip crop should be lifted and stored. In doing this the tops must be cut off, not too close, but just leaving a slight green neck, and the roots should be rather shortened than removed; at all events, to cut the roots off close is bad practice: when so treated the bulbs do not keep well. Any rough storage answers for Turnips, the object being to keep them plump by excluding the atmosphere, and at the same time render them safe against frost. The portion of the crop left in the ground may be lifted as wanted in the same way as Parsnips, but this should be done systematically, so that the ground which is cleared may be dug over and ridged up before winter. Those that remain will be in a piece, and will give a good crop of spring greens, after which they may be made use of as manure by putting them at the bottom of a trench.
Some of the foes that war against the Turnip crop are alluded to at greater length later on. Happily, the gardener has many friends that are insufficiently known to the farmer, not the least important being the starlings, song birds, and occasionally (but not often) the sparrows. Where the cultivation is good and small birds abound, the Turnip crop is pretty safe, and the general routine of culture sketched above will certainly promote, if it does not absolutely secure, its safety. The worst foes of the Turnip in the field are the fly and the caterpillar; but in the garden, and more especially the old garden, anbury is the most to be feared. When this happens the cultivator may rest satisfied that the soil is in fault, and this may be owing to a bad routine of cropping. Wherever anbury appears, whether on Cabbages or Turnips or any other cruciferous plant, there should be worked out a complete change in the order of cropping, taking care not to put any brassicaceous plants on the plots where the disease has occurred for two or three seasons, and allowing at least one whole year to pass without growing any of the cruciferous order upon them. In the meantime, for other crops the land should be well trenched and limed, and generously tilled. The result will be profitable crops of other kinds of vegetables and a refreshing of the soil that will enable it to carry brassicaceous plants again, with but little risk of the recurrence of anbury. Good cultivation is the only panacea known against the plagues that assail our crops. This does not surely secure them, for the elements are capricious and beyond our control; but where good cultivation prevails the failures are few, and even unfavourable seasons do not utterly obliterate the benefits of past labour.
Swede.—There are several advantages in growing Swedes as one of the garden crops. They are hardy in constitution and prolong the supply of a wholesome vegetable. In districts where Turnips are unsatisfactory, Swedes prove successful, and are appreciated for their delicacy of flavour when grown from stocks which have been carefully selected for the purpose. The culture is in all respects the same as for Turnip. The date of sowing depends on the district. In the north it is safe to sow at the beginning of May, but in the midlands and southern counties of England the end of May or beginning of June is early enough.
Cucurbita Pepo ovifera
The Vegetable Marrow does not, in a general way, obtain the right kind of attention in gardens. It is very generally grown and is much valued as a summer vegetable. But too often the aim of the cultivator is to obtain large Marrows, that at the very best are coarse and troublesome to the cook and are always wanting in substance and flavour, instead of smallish Marrows, which are easily dressed, elegant on the table, and combine with a substantial and somewhat glutinous pulp a most delicious flavour. Two fears beset the average gardener: he is afraid to grow small sorts, and he is afraid to cut them when quite young. When he can overcome these fears he will appreciate the smaller Marrows that have of late years been secured by patient labour in cross-breeding, for while they are of the highest quality, they are also early and productive, far surpassing all the larger Marrows in quickness and usefulness. The market grower we do not pretend to advise, for he must grow what he can sell; and if the smaller Marrows are insufficiently appreciated in gardens, we cannot hope to see them on sale in shops.
The Vegetable Marrow will grow in any good soil, and although a tender plant, it is so accommodating that if the seed is sown on a piece of newly dug clay land in the latter part of May, or early in June, the plants will thrive and produce a heavy crop the same season. We put this as an extreme case, but we do not recommend such a careless mode of growing this valuable vegetable. The fact is, it pays better to grow it well than to grow it ill; and in a country where land and labour are costly, and the summer very uncertain, it is best to take such a thing in hand scientifically, and provide for it as many favourable conditions as possible. Three conditions are imperative: a moderate bottom heat from fermenting material; a kindly, loamy soil, quite mellow, in which the roots can run freely; and a sufficiency of water, for this is a thirsty plant. But the excessive use of manure is undesirable, as this only forces a rank growth of foliage at the expense of the fruit.
Frame culture is of some importance, because early Marrows are highly valued at good tables. For this business the neat-growing, small-fruited kinds should be chosen, as they yield a great crop in a small compass. The best place for an early crop of Marrows is a brick pit, with hot-water pipes for top heat, and a bed of fermenting materials for bottom heat. It is no difficult matter to obtain a supply in a house with Cucumbers, but it is better to grow the Marrows apart, as they require less heat and less moisture than Cucumbers. In making up the bed, it is well to employ leaves largely, say to the extent of one-half, the remainder being stable manure that has been twice turned. Such a bed will give a mild heat for a great length of time, and the plants can be put out upon it within three days of its being made up. When grown in a common frame, the arrangements are much the same as advised for the frame cultivation of the Cucumber, the chief points of difference being that Marrows should have less heat and more air. The temperature for Marrows under cover may range from 55 deg. the minimum, to 80 deg. the maximum; the safe medium being about 65 deg. when the weather is cold and dull; running to 80 deg. when strong sunshine prevails, and the plants are growing freely with plenty of air. As for the general management, a bed nine inches deep of good fibrous loam is required, with regular supplies of water of the same temperature as the pits, so that the bed is always reasonably moist, and every evening a slight syringing over the leaves and the walls before shutting up. The training out is a very simple matter. Let the vines run in their own way until they have made shoots eighteen inches long, then nip out the points. After this there must be no more stopping, but occasionally the laterals must be suppressed to prevent crowding. Give air freely at every opportunity, and be careful not to administer too much water, or the blunder will result in a deficiency of fruit.
To grow Marrows in the open air, the best course of procedure is to remove a portion of the top soil, to form a shallow trench four feet wide. Into this carry one foot to eighteen inches depth of half-rotten manure, or a mixture of equal parts of manure and leaves, and cover with the soil that was taken out. This will produce a very gentle hot-bed that will last until the natural ground heat is sufficient to keep the plants in vigorous health. The middle of May is quite early enough to make up the bed, and in the course of two or three days the plants may be put out. Cover with hand-lights or small frames, which on the following day should be tilted at bottom to admit a little air, and if strong sunshine occurs, a Rhubarb leaf may be laid over to subdue the glare upon the young plants. We will suppose these plants to have been raised in a Cucumber frame from seeds sown in April. If plants are not available, sow seeds in patches of two or three on the bed, and cover with inverted large flower-pots, and with a piece of tile to stop the hole. This plan hastens germination. Pots may also be used as protectors if glass frames are not at command, being taken off during the day and put on at night, the hole being left open to give a little air. During bad weather the pots should remain all day over the plants, but as soon as possible must be again taken off to keep the growth short, green, and vigorous. The plants should be put singly down the centre of the bed, three feet apart, and as a matter of course the seeds should be sown at the same distance, and each clump of two or three should be reduced to one when the plants are somewhat forward. It is advisable not to be in a hurry in thinning the plants, for the slugs will probably compel some modification of arrangements, so that sometimes it will be necessary to lift a clump, and divide the plants, to fill up gaps where the slugs have made a clearance. An occasional inspection in the after part of the day, and again in the early morning, will be the best course to keep down the slugs, as they may then be caught and disposed of; but a dusting of soot around each clump will do much to protect the plants against silent marauders. As for after-management, there is no occasion whatever for any stopping or training, but now and then a stout peg may be placed to keep some strong vine in order. The necessity for moisture must not be overlooked. If the ground becomes dry the plants will suffer, but with sufficient moisture they will continue growing and bearing until the frost destroys them. Cut the Marrows when quite young, for not only are they more useful on the table when small and tender, but the plants will bear five times as many as when a few are permitted to attain their full size. The explanation of the case is very simple. The production of the young fruits does not in any appreciable degree exhaust the plants; but when the fruits are allowed to develop, the plant is too severely taxed, and a succession is pretty well brought to a stop. The most delicately flavoured Marrows, as a rule, are the smallest; these when cooked should be served whole, or at most only cut into halves, and of course there is no occasion to remove the seeds.
A YEAR'S WORK IN THE VEGETABLE GARDEN
The following monthly notes are not intended to supersede the detailed instructions on the several kinds of Vegetables which appear in the preceding pages. The present object is to call attention to the work that must be done, and the work that must be prepared for, as the changes of the seasons require and the state of the weather may permit; yet some amount of detail is included. Merely to offer reminders would be to exclude the great mass of amateurs, and the less experienced of practical gardeners, from participation in the advantages of these monthly notes, and to restrict their use to a few practical men who are masters of every detail of the business of gardening. The routine under each month is generally in harmony-with that already recommended, but certain variations of practice are suggested which may prove of service in some districts and under particular circumstances.
A work on gardening demands of the reader the exercise of judgment. If blindly followed, it may prove as often wrong as right; for it is not in the power of the authors to influence the weather in favour of their directions, or to insure to those who may follow their guidance a single one amongst the many conditions requisite to success. Although the times named for certain operations are the best as an average, peculiarities of climate and of season will require some modifications, which each one must discover for himself; and after the seed of any vegetable has been sown it is not always needful to give subsequent reminders of successional sowings. These naturally follow in accordance with the requirements of each particular garden. With such allowances duly made, these notes will, it is hoped, prove thoroughly practical, and tend materially to aid the cultivator in obtaining from the vegetable garden an abundance of everything in its season, and of a quality of which he need not be ashamed.
Work in the garden during the opening month of the year is entirely dependent on the weather, and it is futile to enter on a vain conflict with Nature. When heavy rains prevail keep off the ground, but immediately it will bear traffic without poaching be prepared to take advantage of every favourable hour. Much may be done in January to make ready for the busy spring, and every moment usefully employed will relieve the pressure later on. Survey the stock of pea-sticks, haul out all the rubbish from the yard, and make a 'smother' of waste prunings and heaps of twitch and other stuff for which there is no decided use. If properly done, the result will be a black ash of the most fertilising nature, such as a mere fire will not produce. Should the soil be frost-bound wheel out manure and lay it in heaps ready to be spread and dug in where seed-beds are to be made. If the weather is open and dry, trench spare plots and make ready well-manured plots for sowing Peas and Beans. So far as may be convenient, all preparatory work should be pushed on with vigour, and every effort must be made to lay up as much land in the rough as possible; for the more it is frozen through the greater will be its fertility, and the more beautiful, as well as more abundant, the crops.
It is a matter of the most ordinary prudence to be prepared to resist the shock of a severe frost. When this event occurs, many suffer loss because they are not prepared for it. Good brick walls and substantial roofs are needed for the safe keeping of fruits and the more valuable kinds of roots; but when rough methods are resorted to, such as clamping and pitting, there should be a large body of stuff employed, for a prolonged frost will find its way through any thin covering, no matter what the material may be. As there is not much to do now out of doors, it is a good time to look over the notes which were made concerning various crops in the past season, and to attend to the seed list.
Seed sowing should be practised with exceeding caution; but great things may be done where there are warm, sheltered, dry borders, and suitable appliances for screening and forwarding early crops. Under these favourable conditions, we advise the sowing of small breadths of a few choice subjects towards the end of the month; and, this being done, every care should be taken to nurse the seedlings through the trying times that are before them. Such things as tender young Radishes, Onions, small Salads, Spinach, Cabbage, and Carrots never come in too early; the trouble often is that they are seen in the market while as yet they are invisible in the garden. Hedges of Hornbeam, Laurel, or Holly, to break the force of the wind, are valuable for sheltering early borders, and walls are great aids to earliness by the warmth they reflect and the dryness they promote.
The soil for these early crops should be light and rich, and the position extra well drained, to prevent the slightest accumulation of water during heavy rains. Supposing you have such a border, sow upon it, as early as weather will permit, any of the smaller sorts of Cabbage Lettuce, Onion, Long Scarlet Radish, Round Spinach, Cabbage, and Carrot. All these crops may be grown in frames with greater safety, and in many exposed places the warm border is almost an impossibility. Reed hurdles and loose dry litter should be always ready when early cropping is in hand; and old lights, and even old doors, and any and every kind of screen may be made use of at times to protect the early seed-beds from snow, severe frost, and the dry blast of an east wind.
Forcing is one of the fine arts in the English garden. It is an art easily acquired up to a certain point, but beyond that point full of difficulty. Every step in this business is a conflict with Nature, and in such a conflict the devices of man must occasionally fail. A golden rule is to be found in the proverb 'The more haste the less speed.' Whatever the source of heat, it should be moderate at first, and should be augmented slowly. The earlier the forced articles are required the more careful should be the preparation for them, and the more moderate the temperature in the first instance. There must be at command a constant as well as sufficient temperature: when a forced crop has made some progress a check will be fatal to success. The beginner should acquire experience with Rhubarb and Sea Kale, then with Asparagus and Mushrooms and Dwarf French Beans, and so on to 'higher heights' of this branch of practical gardening.
Artichokes, Globe, are not quite hardy, and must be protected with litter.
Asparagus beds to be heavily manured, if not already done, but the beds need not be dug. Be content to lay the manure on, and the rains will wash the stimulant down to the roots in due time. In gardens near the coast seaweed is the best of manure for Asparagus, and the use of salt can then be dispensed with.
Beans, Broad, may be sown in frames, and towards the end of the month in open quarters. For early crops select the Longpod varieties. Sow on ground deeply dug and well manured.
Cabbage may be planted out at any time when weather permits, provided you possess, or can obtain, the plants; and it is of the utmost importance to secure them from a reliable source, or varieties may be planted which will in a few weeks send up flower-stems instead of forming tender hearts. At every season of the year vacant plots should be kept going with a few breadths of Cabbage. With our variable climate they may be acceptable, even in the height of summer, if there has been a hard run upon other vegetables, or some important crop has failed outright.
Cauliflower may be sown on a gentle hot-bed, or in a pan in the greenhouse, or even in a frame, to make a start for planting out in March or April.
Cress, to be enjoyed, must be produced from a constant succession of small but frequent sowings. All the sorts are good, but different in flavour, and they should be used only while young and tender. Sow at intervals of a few days in pans, as in the case of Mustard, until it is possible to cultivate in the open air, and then give a shady position during summer on a mellow and rather moist soil.
Cucumbers are never ready too soon to meet the demand in early spring. They are grown in houses more or less adapted to their requirements, and also in frames over hot-beds. At this time of year, however, frames are somewhat troublesome to manage, and in trying weather they are a little hazardous, although later in the season there is no difficulty whatever with them. For the present, therefore, we shall confine our remarks to house culture. Almost any greenhouse may be made to answer, but the work can be carried on most successfully and with the greatest economy in houses which are expressly constructed for Cucumbers. For winter work a lean-to, facing south, possesses special advantages. But for general utility, if we had to erect a building on a well-drained soil, it should be dwarf, sunk three feet in the ground, with brick walls up to the eaves, and lighted only from the roof. Such a structure is less influenced by atmospheric changes than a building wholly above ground. The size, of course, is optional; and quite a small house will supply an ordinary family with Cucumbers. But a small house is not economical either in fuel or in labour. A building thirty feet long by twelve feet wide, six feet high at the sides, and eight and a half feet high at the ridge, will not only grow Cucumbers and Melons, but will also be of immense service for many other plants. A division across the middle by a wall rising four feet, surmounted with a glass screen fitted to the roof, and finished with a door partially of glass, will greatly augment its usefulness. There should be an alley down the centre four or five feet wide, bounded by walls reaching four feet above the floor. These walls should be nine inches thick for two feet six inches of their height, but for the upper parts the brickwork need only be four and a half inches thick. This arrangement will provide a ledge on the inner side of each wall, and the main walls should also have ledges corresponding in height, on which to lay slates to carry the soil. To insure drainage, allow a space of about an inch between the slates, and place tiles or an inverted turf over every opening to prevent the soil being washed away. The hot-water pipes will be in chambers immediately beneath the plants. Openings in the alley walls, fitted with sliding doors, will admit the heat direct into the house whenever it may be desirable. Ventilation should be provided for under the ridge at each end, as well as in the roof. In such a house it is easy to grow Cucumbers all the year round, except, perhaps, in the dead of winter, when the short, dark days render the task difficult, no matter how perfect the appliances at command. The division in the centre will be found valuable at all times, and especially when one set of plants is failing; for another set can be brought into bearing exactly when wanted. But whatever the structure may be, the mode of culture remains substantially the same in any case. Now, as to soil, a compost made of mellow turfy loam and leaf-mould in equal parts will be effective and sweet. In the absence of leaf-mould, use two parts of loam and one of thoroughly decayed manure with a few pieces of charcoal added. Sweetness is not absolutely necessary for success, but nevertheless we like to have it, so that a visit to the Cucumber-house may be a source of pleasure. This it cannot be if rank manure has been used. Raise the seed singly in small 60-pots, and sow enough, for however good the seed may be a proportion will almost certainly fail from some cause at this critical period. Give the plants one shift into the 48-size, to keep them going until they are ready for putting into the beds. Cucumbers grow with great rapidity, and should never know a check, least of all by starvation. Upon the slates make as many heaps of soil as are required, and in the centre of each heap put one plant. As the roots extend, add more soil until the heaps meet and finally become level with the top of the brickwork. This treatment will supply food as the roots develop, and help to maintain the plants in bearing for a long period. Stout wires running parallel with the length of the house, a foot below the glass, will carry the vines. Temperature should never fall below 60 deg. at night; but as the season advances, if the thermometer registers 90 deg. on sunny days, no harm will be done, provided the roots are not dry, and the air be kept properly moist by plying the syringe. On dull days one good sprinkling over the foliage will suffice, and it should be done in the morning. In warm sunny weather, however, two or three syringings will be beneficial; but the work must not be done so late as to risk the foliage being wet when night comes on. There will be occasions when it may be advisable to avoid touching the leaves with water, if there is no probability of their drying before nightfall. In such a case the moisture can be kept up by freely sprinkling the floor and walls. Cucumbers cannot thrive if they are dry at the roots, but although there should be no stint of water, it must be given with judgment; and it is of the utmost importance that the drainage should be effectual, for stagnant water is even more injurious than a dry soil. A few sticks placed in various parts of the bed, reaching down to the slates, will serve as indicators. Draw and inspect them occasionally, and a pretty correct idea of the condition of the soil will be obtained. The water should be of the same temperature as the house; if applied cold the plants will sustain a serious check. In the event of the bed falling somewhat below the proper temperature, the water may with advantage be a few degrees higher than usual.
Horse-radish should be planted early, to insure fine roots for next Christmas beef.
Leek.—Those who wish to produce stems of superb size and beautiful texture must sow in heat during this month or early in February, for a longer period of growth is requisite than for ordinary crops. When sufficient root growth has been made, transplant into larger pots, and in due course transfer these to a frame where the plants may be gradually hardened off for putting out into specially prepared trenches in April.
Lettuces will soon be in demand, and the early hearts will be particularly precious. Sow a few sorts in pans, in frames, or on gentle hot-beds, to be ready for planting out by-and-by.
Melon.—Although the Melon is a fruit, its culture naturally forms part of the routine of a vegetable garden. Up to a certain point it may be grown in the same house with Cucumbers; but after that point is reached, the two plants need widely different treatment. Cucumbers are cut when young, and must be grown in a warm and humid atmosphere from beginning to end. Melons need warmth, and at the commencement moisture also; but the fruit has to be ripened, and after it is set dry treatment becomes essential for the production of a rich flavour with plenty of aroma. In large gardens, three crops of Melons are usually grown in the same house in one season. A light soil is advisable at the beginning of the year, but later in the season a heavier compost may be employed. For the first sowing select an early variety, and at the beginning of this month put the seed in separate pots. Re-pot the plants once, and they will be ready for the beds by the first week of February. Melons from this sowing should be fit for table in May, which is quite as early as they can be produced with any sugar in them. Until the fruits begin to swell the treatment advised for Cucumbers will suit Melons also. Afterwards the watering will need careful management. It would be an advantage if the fruit could be finished off without a drop of water from the time they are about two inches in diameter, but the hot pipes render it almost impossible. Still, water must not be given more frequently than is actually necessary to keep the plants going, and when it is applied let there be a thorough soaking. At the same time ventilation will demand constant attention, and, provided the temperature can be maintained, it is scarcely possible to give air too freely. In the early stage of growth, and in mild weather, if the thermometer registers 65 deg. at 9 P.M., the cultivator may sleep peacefully so far as Melons are concerned. As the season advances, the temperature may be increased to 70 deg. by night, and 75 deg. to 90 deg. by day. With reference to stopping, it may be sufficient to say that it is a waste of energy to allow the plant to make a large quantity of vine, which has afterwards to be cut away. By judiciously pinching out the shoots, the plant can be equally spread over the allotted space. The flowers must be fertilised, and in this respect the treatment differs from that advised for Cucumbers. The practice has the advantage of allowing the fruits to be evenly distributed over the vine, and from four to six, according to the size of the variety, will be enough for each plant to ripen.
Mustard.—Those who care for salads need a supply of Mustard almost all through the year, and to secure a succession it will be necessary to sow at regular intervals. It is a good plan to keep a few boxes in use for the purpose in a plant-house or pit, sowing one or two at a time as required, and taking care not to sow wastefully. The seed may be sown out of doors all the summer, on a shady border, but nothing surpasses boxes or large pans under glass. Mustard and Cress should never be sown in the same row or in the same pan, but separately, because they do not grow at the same pace, and the former may be fit for use a week or so before the latter. Do not be content to use Rape, or any other substitute, but sow the genuine article.
Onion.—The modern practice of sowing Onion seed in boxes under glass is to be commended for several reasons. It insures a long season of growth and results in handsome bulbs far above the average in size. Transplanting affords the opportunity of selecting the strongest seedlings and of placing them at exact intervals in the bed. As a crowning advantage this system, to a large extent, prevents attack from the Onion Fly. Sow in boxes filled with rich soil and see that the plants have sufficient water, although very little is necessary until after transfer to other boxes.
Peas of the round-seeded class may be sown in open quarters, and the driest and warmest places must be selected. It is next to impossible to grow them too well; for if the haulm runs up higher than usual, the produce will be the finer. Remember, too, that if deep trenches are dug and a lot of manure is put in for Peas, the ground is so far prepared for Broccoli, Celery, and late Cauliflowers to follow; for the early-sown Peas will be off the ground in time for another paying crop. As everybody wants an early dish of Peas, sow one of the forward marrowfat varieties in pots, or on strips of turf laid grass-side downwards in boxes having movable bottoms that can be withdrawn by a dexterous hand when the transfer is made from frames to the open ground. Troughs for Peas can be made in very little time out of waste wood that may be found in the yard; or a few lengths of old zinc spouting blocked up at the ends will answer admirably. In the absence of such aids, flower-pots may be used. The seed should have the shelter of a frame or pit, but should have the least possible stimulus from artificial heat, except in cases where there is all the skill at command to promote very early production.
Potatoes are prized when they come in early, and may be forwarded on beds of leaves and exhausted hot-beds by covering with light rich soil, and employing old frames for protection, with litter handy in case of frost. For this early work select the earliest Kidneys and Rounds; the main-cropping varieties are not quick enough.
Radishes are more or less in demand for the greater part of the year. The early crops are, however, especially valued, and there need not be the least difficulty in producing a supply. A half-spent hot-bed, or, indeed, any position that affords shelter and warmth, will answer admirably for raising this crop until it may be trusted to a suitable position in the open.
Sea Kale may be covered with pots or a good depth of litter, or a combination of pots and litter. This should be done early, as at the first move of vegetation this delicious vegetable will come into use, and will generally be of finer quality than if forced. It happens, however, to be the easiest of all things to force, and so, wherever it is cared for, a plentiful supply may be maintained from Christmas (or earlier) until May. As the leaf-stems must be thoroughly blanched, covering is needful in all cases.
Spinach may be sown in open quarters. If the frost destroys the plant, sow again. Some risk must be encountered for an early dish of this highly-prized vegetable. Keep the autumn-sown Spinach clear of weeds, and in gathering (if it happens to be fit to supply a gathering), pick off the leaves separately with a little care.
Strawberries.—Seed of the Alpine varieties sown in pans this month, for transfer later to the open ground, usually produce fine fruits in September.
Tomato.—Of the immense value of the Tomato as an article of diet we need say nothing, but we may confidently affirm that its merits for decorative purposes have not as yet been fully recognised. Long racemes of brilliant glossy fruit are sometimes employed with striking effect in epergnes, and there is a natural fitness in using them for decorating the dinner table. All the Tomatoes can be grown and ripened under glass in almost any fashion which may suit the cultivator's convenience. Pits, frames, vineries, and Peach-houses will bring the fruit to perfection, either in pots or planted out. Magnificent crops are also grown in the manner usual with Cucumbers, but in a lower temperature; and those who have an early Cucumber house at liberty during the summer may turn it to good account for Tomatoes. The soil should be prepared and laid up in the autumn. It must not be too rich, or there will be much foliage and little fruit, and the flowering will also be late. A compost of leaf-mould and loam with an addition of sand suits Tomatoes admirably; but raw manure should be regarded as poison. Sow thinly in well-drained pots firmly filled with soil, and place in a temperature of 60 deg. or 65 deg.. When large enough to handle, transfer the seedlings to small pots, and, if necessary, shade them for a few days. Keep them near the glass until the roots are established, and allow them to suffer no check from first to last.
The work of this month is to be carried on as weather permits, but with greater activity and more confidence, for the sun is fast gaining power. Earnest digging, liberal manuring, and scrupulous cleansing are the tasks that stand forward as of pre-eminent importance. Many weeds, groundsel especially, will now be coming into flower, and if allowed to seed will make enormous work later on. It is well, however, to remember—what few people do remember, because the fact has not been pressed upon their attention—that weeds of all kinds, so long as they are not in flower, are really useful as manure when dug into the soil. Therefore a weedy patch is not of necessity going to ruin; but if the weeds are not stopped in time, they spread by their seeds and mar the order of the garden. Dig them in, and their decay will nourish the next crop. If early sowing is practised, and the earliest possible produce of everything is aimed at, there must be always at hand the means of protection, such as litter, spruce branches, mats, or other material, as circumstances require. The vigilant gardener is not surprised by the weather, but is always armed for an emergency. Read the notes for January before proceeding further; and in respect of what remains undone, spare the necessity of reminders here.
Frame Ground should be kept scrupulously clean and orderly. Many things will require watering now, but water must not be carelessly given, because damp is hurtful during frosty weather. Take care that the plants are not crowding and starving, or they will come to no good.
Artichoke, Globe.—Plants from a sowing made now in a frame, and transferred to the open at the end of April, will generally produce heads in the following August, September, and October.
Artichokes, Jerusalem, may be planted this month where it has been possible to prepare the ground. Use whole sets if convenient, or plant cut sets with about three eyes in each.
Beans, Broad, may be sown both for early and main crops now, and with but little risk of damage by spring frosts. The driest and warmest situation should be selected for the early sorts, and the strongest land for the late ones. If sowings were made in frames last month, take care to harden the plants cautiously preparatory to planting out; if caught by a sharp frost, every one will perish.
Beans, French.—To precede the outdoor crops make a sowing of Dwarf French Beans in frames, and of the Climbing French varieties in orchard-houses or other available spaces under glass.
Beet.—Sowings of the Globe variety may be made this month and in March, on a gentle hot-bed under frames, to provide roots in advance of the outdoor supplies.
Broccoli.—Sow on a warm sheltered border, and also in a frame. With such an important crop at this time of year, there should be at least two strings to the bow.
Brussels Sprouts.—For an early gathering of large buttons a sowing should be made now on the warm border. This vegetable requires a long period of growth to attain perfection, and those who sow late rarely obtain such fine buttons as the plant is capable of producing.
Cabbage may be sown in pans or boxes placed in a frame, to be planted out in due time for summer use, and from a quick-growing variety tender hearts may be cut almost as early as from autumn-sown plants. Where plantations stand rather thick, draw as fast as possible from amongst them every alternate plant, to allow the remainder ample space for hearting. It is well to remember that the small loose hearts of immature Cabbages make a more delicate dish than the most complete white hearts; but when grown for market, or to meet a large demand, there must be bulk and substance. Cabbages are in constant request to mend, and to make stolen crops, or take the place of anything that fails past recovery.
Capsicum and Chili should be sown now or in March on a hot-bed, and be potted on until the plants are fit to be placed in the greenhouse or conservatory.
Cauliflower.—Another sowing should be made under glass to supply a succession of plants.
Corn Salad thrives well in any soil not particularly heavy, the best being a sandy fertile loam. Sow in drills six inches apart; keep the hoe well at work, and when ready thin the plants out to six inches apart. They should be eaten young.
Couve Tronchuda produces two distinct dishes. The top forms a Cabbage of the most delicate flavour and colour, and furnishes the best possible dish of greens in autumn; and the midribs of the largest leaves may be cooked in the manner of Sea Kale, and will be found excellent. This delicious vegetable may be secured for use in summer and autumn and far on into the winter by successive sowings in February, March, and April; the first sowings to be assisted with heat. The plants should be put out as early as possible on rich soil at from two to three feet each way; they must have plenty of water in a dry summer. The season of Portugal Cabbage may be prolonged by taking up what plants are left before severe frost occurs, and heeling them into a bank of dry earth in a shed or outhouse.
Egg Plant.—The fruits of Egg Plants play a more important part in the cookery of the French and Italians than with us, and they make a delicious dish when properly cooked. Seed may be raised in heat, but when summer comes the plants thrive in rich soil at the foot of a wall facing south. The white and purple varieties are grown for ornament as well as for cooking. Sow now or in March in heat, and in June the plants should be ready for transferring to rich soil in a sheltered spot, allowing each one a space of two feet.
Garlic to be planted in rows, nine inches apart each way, and two inches deep in rich mellow soil.
Lettuce.—Sow again on a warm border and in frames. Plant out in mild weather any that are fit from frames and hot-beds, first making sure that they are well hardened.
Mustard.—It is easy work with a frame to have Mustard at any time; and many small sowings are better than large ones, which only result in waste to-day and want to-morrow.
Onion.—There is still time for sowing seed in boxes preparatory to planting out in April.
Parsley to be sown in the latter part of the month.
Parsnip should be sown as early as possible, on the deepest and best ground as regards texture; but it need not be on the richest, for if the roots can push down they will get what they want from the subsoil, and therefore it is of great importance to put this crop on ground that was dug twice in the autumn.
Pea.—Sow early sorts in quantity now, in accordance with probable requirements; but there will be a loss rather than a gain of time if they are sown on pasty ground or during bad weather. There are now many excellent sorts of moderate height, and these give the least trouble in their management; but a few of the taller varieties still remain in favour, because of their fine quality. However, there is time yet for sowing mid-season and late Peas; but the sooner some of the first-earlies are in, the better. It is customary to sow many rows in a plot rather close together, but it is better practice to put them so far apart as to admit of two or three rows of early Potatoes between every two rows of Peas. This insures abundance of light and air to the Peas, and the latter are of great value to protect the Potatoes from May frosts that often kill down the rising shaws. A warm, dry, fertile soil is needed for first-early Peas. Those already up and in a bad plight should be dug in and the rows sown again. It is worthy of note that if Peas are thoroughly pinched and starved by hard weather, they rarely prove a success; therefore, if they go wrong, sacrifice them without hesitation and begin again. Where early rows are doing well put sticks to them at once, as the sticks afford considerable protection, and the effect may be augmented by strewing on the windward side small hedge clippings and other light dry stuff.
Radishes, to be mild, tender, and handsome, must be grown rapidly. If checked, they become hot, tough, and worthless. Much may be done to forward a crop by means of dry litter and mats to protect the plants from frost, removing the protection in favourable weather to give the crop the fullest possible benefit of air and sunshine. Old worn-out frames that will scarcely hold together will pay their first cost over again, with the aid of a little skill, in growing Radishes.
Rhubarb should be taken up and divided, and planted again in rich moist soil, every separate piece to have only one good eye. Do not gather this season from the new plantation, but always have a piece one year old to supply the kitchen. This method will insure sticks to be proud of, not only for size, but for colour and flavour.
Savoys are valued by some when small, and by others they are prized for size as much as for their excellent flavour when well frosted. Large Savoys must have a long season of growth; therefore sow as soon as possible, either in a frame, or on a rich, mellow seedbed, and be ready to prick them out before they become crowded.
Sea Kale.—The plantations reserved for latest supplies should not be covered until they begin to push naturally, and then the coverings must be put on to blanch the growth effectually. Open-ground Sea Kale may be uncovered as soon as cut, but a little litter should be left to give protection and help the young shoots to rise, because after blanching the cutting is a severe tax on the plant, and it has to begin life afresh and prepare for the work of the next season.
Shallot.—When well grown the clumps are bigger than a man's fist, and each separate bulb thicker than a walnut. To grow them well they must have time; so plant early, on rich ground, in rows one foot apart and the bulbs about nine inches asunder. Press them into the earth deep enough to hold them firmly, but they are not to be quite buried.
Spinach.—Sow the Round-seeded plentifully; if overdone the extra crop can be dug in as manure, and in that way will pay.
Tomato.—In many gardens the first sowing is made this month, and when treated fairly, the plants come into bearing in about four months. Use good porous soil for the seed-pans. Sow very thinly in a temperature of 60 deg. or 65 deg., and get the plants into thumb pots while they are quite small.
Turnip may be sown on warm borders, but it is too early for large breadths in open quarters.
This is the great season for garden work, and the gardener must be up with the lark and go to bed with the robin, which is the latest of birds to bid farewell to a sunny day. The first care should be to make good all arrears, especially in the preparation of seed-beds, and the cleaning of plots that are in any way disorderly. Where early-sown crops have evidently failed, sow again without complaining; seed costs but little, and a good plant is the earnest of a good crop; a bad plant will probably never pay the rent of the ground it occupies. Keen east winds may cause immense damage, but a little protection provided in time will do wonders to ward off their effects, and the sunny days that are now so welcome, and that we are pretty sure to have, will afford opportunity for giving air to plants in frames, for clearing away litter, and for the regular routine work of the season.
Seed of almost every vegetable grown in the garden may be sown in the month of March. Make successional sowings of whatever it may be advisable to put under cover or on heat, and then proceed with open-ground sowings as weather and circumstances permit. The weather is the master of outdoor work, and it is sheer waste of time to fight against it. It is better to wait to the end of the month, or even far into the next, before sowing a seed than to sow on pasty ground. But it matters not how dry the ground may be, and if the wind blows keenly, that should only be an inducement to brisk action; for seeds well sown have everything in their favour if they are not too early for the district. Very important indeed it is now to secure a Hot-bed.—To make one is easy enough, but it is of no use to half make it; for half-acres in this department do not bear good corn. In the first place, secure a great bulk of manure, and if it is long and green, turn it two or three times, taking care that it is always moderately moist, but never actually wet. If the stuff is too dry, sprinkle with water at every turn, and let it steam away to take the rankest fire out of it. Then make it up where required in a square heap, allowing it to settle in its own way without treading or beating. Put on a foot-depth of light, rich soil after the frames are in their places, and wait a few days to sow the seed in case of a great heat rising. When the temperature is steady and comfortable, sow seeds in pots and pans, as needful, the quantity required of each separate crop, and stand them on bricks above the bed, and the heat will then be none too much for them. In the course of a few days finish the work by putting in a body of earth. Do not attempt to hurry the growth of anything overmuch, for undue haste will produce a weak plant; rather give air and light in plenty, but with care to prevent injurious check, and the plants will be short and healthy from the first.
Artichokes, Globe, to be cleared of protecting material as soon as weather permits, and fresh plantations made ready for suckers to be put in next month. A new plantation may also be formed by sowing seeds; in fact, a sowing ought to be made every year. Where early produce is required, the plants should be protected during winter to supply suckers in the spring; but, if late supplies suffice, the sowing of a few rows every year will reduce the labour, and render the production of Globe Artichokes a very simple affair.
Artichokes, Jerusalem, may be planted now advantageously. Strong, deep soil produces the best crop, and large roots are always preferred by the cook, because of the inevitable waste in preparing this vegetable. The Jerusalem Artichoke is certainly not properly appreciated, and one reason is that it is often carelessly grown in any out-of-the-way starving corner, whereas it needs a sunny, open spot, and a strong, deep soil, and plenty of room. To hide an ugly fence during summer no more useful plant is grown.
Asparagus.—Little attention is required as yet, except to remove every weed as soon as it can be seen. If the beds are dry, and there are no indications of coming rain, one good soaking of water or weak sewage will be very beneficial. Mark out and make beds for sowing seed next month.
Bean, Broad.—Plant out those raised in frames, and earth up those from early sowings that are forward enough. Sow for main crops and late supplies. In late districts a few of the earliest sorts may be sown to come in before the Windsor section.
Beet.—Sow a little seed for an early supply, in well-dug mellow soil. The crop will need protection in the event of frost.
Broccoli for autumn use to be sown early; and at the end of the month sow again in quantity for winter supplies. In mild weather, put out the plants from the earlier sowings made in frames as soon as they are fit and well hardened.
Brussels Sprouts.—Look after the bed sown last month, and sow again for the main crop. The best possible seed-bed is wanted and a rich well-tilled soil for the plants when put out.
Cabbage of two or three kinds should be sown now to supply plants for filling up as crops are taken off, and also to patch and mend where failures happen. Where the owner of a garden has opportunities of helping his poorer neighbours, he may confer a real benefit by supplying them with Cabbage and Winter Greens for planting in their garden plots. Cottagers too often begin with bad stocks—very much to their discouragement in gardening, and to the loss of wholesome food the garden should supply. The rankest manure may be employed in preparing ground for Cabbage, reserving the well-rotted manure for seed-beds and other purposes for which it will be required. A sowing of Red Cabbage now will insure heads for pickling in autumn.
Carrot.—Sow one of the quick-growing varieties at the first opportunity, but wait for signs of settled spring weather to sow the main crops of large sorts.
Cauliflower.—Plant out as weather permits from hand-lights and frames, choosing the best ground for this vegetable. In preparing a plot for Cauliflower, use plenty of manure; and if it is only half-rotten, it will be better than if it were old and mellow.
Celeriac.—So far as seed sowing is concerned, Celeriac may be treated in the same way as Celery.
Celery.—For the earliest supply, sow on the first of the month a pinch of seed of one or more of the smaller red or white sorts on a mild hot-bed, or in an early vinery. As soon as the plants are large enough to handle, prick them out three inches apart on a nice mellow bed of rich soil on a half-spent hot-bed; give them plenty of light, with free ventilation as weather allows, and constant supplies of water. About the middle of the month sow again and prick out as before; but if no hot-bed is available, a well-prepared bed in a frame in a sunny position will answer; or, if the season is somewhat advanced, a bed of rotten manure, two or three inches deep, on a piece of hard ground, will suffice, if the plants are kept regularly watered. From this bed they will lift with nice roots for planting out, scarcely feeling the removal at all.
Chives to be divided and re-planted on a spot which has not previously been occupied with the crop.
Cucumber.—The vines should now be in a flourishing condition, but it is necessary to look forward to the day when they will fall into the sere and yellow leaf. More seed sown singly in pots will provide a succession of plants. Re-pot them once or twice if desirable, and when large enough turn them out between the first lot. As the old plants fail, the new-comers will supply their places. Setting the bloom, as it is called, is not only useless, but is a mischievous procedure. It results in the enlargement of one end of the fruit, and ruins its appearance. If seed be the object, of course the process is justifiable; but for the table a 'bottle nose' cannot be regarded as an ornament. Besides, the ripening of seed in a single fruit will materially diminish the usefulness of the plant, and perhaps entirely end its career. Stopping the vine is a necessity, but it should not be done too soon. In the early stage of growth, it reduces the vigour of the plant and retards its fruiting; but when the fruit is visible, stopping aids its development and at the same time tends to regulate and equalise the growth.
Frame culture of Cucumbers is usually begun in March. There are men who can produce fruit from hot-beds all the year round, but it is a difficult task, and as a rule ought not to be expected. At this time of year, however, success is fairly within reach of ordinary skill. In quite the early part of the month put seed singly into pots which must be kept in a warm, moist place. The plants will then be ready for frames at the end of the month. The most important business is the preparation of the bed, and in this, as in all else, there is a right and a wrong way of doing the work. Accurately set out the space on which it is to be made. If there is plenty of manure, make the bed large enough to project eighteen inches beyond the lights all round. But if manure is scarce, cut the margin closer, and trust to a hot lining when the heat begins to flag. Commence with the outside of the bed, employing the long stuff in its construction; and keep this part of the work a little in advance of the centre until the full height is reached. A bed made in this way will not fall to pieces, and the heat will be durable in proportion to its size and thickness. Where fallen leaves are abundant, they should be used for the middle of the bed, and they will give a more lasting heat than short manure. When the bed has settled down to a steady temperature, add six or nine inches of mellow loam over the entire surface, upon which place the frames. To insure drainage, it is an excellent plan to lay common flake hurdles on the top of the heap before adding the soil. These do not in the least interfere with the free running of the roots. It is usual to have two plants under each light, but where the management is good, one is quite enough. The subsequent work consists of shading and sheltering, to prevent any serious check from trying weather, and in giving just water enough and no more. The fermenting material should sustain the temperature of the frame, even during frosty nights, and mats will screen off strong sunshine as well as cold winds. The plants will need stopping earlier than those grown in houses, and as there are no hot-pipes to dissipate the moisture, rather less water will be necessary, both in the soil and from the syringe. But the water employed should always be of the same temperature as the bed. This is easily managed by keeping a full can standing with the plants. In large frames, where there is a good body of manure and the loam is mellow and turfy, pieces of Mushroom spawn can be inserted all over the bed. The Mushrooms may appear while the bed is in full bearing; but if they do not they will come when the plants are cleared out, and pay well to keep the lights in use another month or so.
Garlic may still be planted, but no time is to be lost.
Herbs of many kinds may be sown or divided, and it will be necessary to look over the Herb quarter and see how things stand for the supplies that will be required. A little later, excess of work may prevent due attention to this department.
Horse-radish to be planted, if not done already.
Kohl Rabi, or Knol Kohl, to be sown in small quantity at the end of the month, and onwards to August, as required. If cooked while young, the bulbs are an excellent substitute for Turnips in a hot, dry season.
Leek.—Sow the main crop in very rich, well-prepared soil, and rather thickly, as the seedlings will have to be planted out. With a little management this sowing will yield a succession of Leeks.
Lettuce.—Plant out and sow again in quantity. All the kinds may be sown now, but make sure of enough of the Cos and smaller Cabbage varieties. In hot, dry soils, where Lettuces usually run to seed early, try some of the red-leaved kinds, for though less delicate than the green and white, they will be useful in the event of a scorching summer. Lettuces require a deep free soil with plenty of manure.
Melon.—Raise a few seeds singly in pots, in readiness for putting under frames on hot-beds next month. Re-pot the plants, and repeat the process if the beds are not ready, for Melons must not be starved, especially in the early stage of growth. Some growers make up the beds in March, and sow upon them when the heat becomes steady, but the practice is somewhat precarious. In a cold, late spring the heat may not last a sufficient time to carry the plants safely into warm weather. Hence it is more reliable to raise them now in a warm house, and make the bed at the beginning of April.
Onion.—The plants already raised in boxes to be removed to cold frames. If necessary, they should be pricked off into other boxes in order to avoid overcrowding. Keep the frames close at first, but give air with increasing freedom as the time approaches for transfer to the open ground. Sow the main crop in drills nine inches apart, and tread or beat the ground firm. This crop requires a rich soil in a thoroughly clean and mellow condition, and it makes a capital finish to the seed-bed to give it a good coat of charred rubbish or smother ash before sowing the seed.
Parsnip.—Sow main crop in shallow drills eighteen inches apart in good soil deeply dug. The seed should be lightly covered, and new seed is indispensable.
Pea.—Sow the finest sorts of the Marrowfat class. Take care to put them on the best seed-bed that can be made, and allow sufficient room between the taller sorts for a few rows of Cabbage, Broccoli, or Potatoes. A crowded quarter of Peas is never satisfactory; the rows smother each other, and the shaded parts of the haulm produce next to nothing.
Potato.—A small quantity for early use should be planted at the opening of the month when the ground is dry and the weather soft. If planted when frost or cold winds prevail, sets may become somewhat shrivelled before they are covered, and every care should be taken to prevent such a check to the initial vigour of the plant. The first-early sorts will necessarily have the chief attention now, and warm sheltered spots should be selected for them. Any fairly good soil will produce a passable crop of Potatoes; but to secure a first-class sample of any early sort, the ground should be made up with the aid of turfy soil and charrings of hedge clippings and other light, warm, nourishing material. Strong manures are not to be desired, but a mellow, kindly, fertile soil is really necessary, and it will always pay well to take extra pains in its preparation, because all the light rubbish that accumulates in yards and outhouses can be turned to account with only a moderate amount of labour, and the result of careful appropriation of such rubbish will be thoroughly satisfactory. Burn all the chips and sticks and other stubborn stuff, and lay the mixture in the trenches when planting, so that the roots may find it at their first start. As the Potato disease does not usually appear until late in summer, early planting is a safe precaution, for it insures early ripening of the crop. The planting of main crops may commence towards the end of March and be completed during April, according to the locality and the condition of the soil.
Radish.—From March to September make successive sowings in the coolest place that can be found for them.
Scorzonera to be treated much the same as Salsify. See note on the latter under April.
Sea Kale to be sown in well-prepared beds; or plantations may be made of the smaller roots of the thickness of a lead pencil, and about four inches in length. Plant them top end uppermost, and deep enough to be just covered.
Spinach.—Sow in plenty. The Perpetual or Spinach Beet should not be forgotten. This is one of the most useful vegetables known, as it endures heat and cold with impunity, and when common Spinach is running to seed the Perpetual variety remains green and succulent, and fit to supply the table all the summer long.
Spinach, New Zealand, is another excellent vegetable in high summer when the Round-seeded variety is worthless. The plant is rather tender, and for an early supply the seed must be sown in moderate heat, either in this month or in April. When large enough, get the seedlings into small pots, and gradually harden them before planting in the open about the end of May.
Strawberries.—Spring is undoubtedly preferable to autumn for planting, and results in a finer crop of fruit in the following year. Just as growth is commencing is the most favourable time, and this, of course, depends on the character of the season. Alpine Strawberries may be sown outdoors this month or in September for fruiting in the succeeding year.
Tomato.—In ordinary seasons and in the southern counties there is no difficulty in producing handsome Tomatoes in the open border; but to ripen the fruit with certainty it is imperative that an early variety be chosen. With the rise of latitude, however, the crop becomes increasingly precarious, until in the North it is impossible to finish Tomatoes without the aid of glass. For plants which are to ripen fruit in the open, a sowing should be made early in the month, in the manner advised under January. Plants which are ready should be transferred to small thumb pots. Put them in so that the first leaves touch the rim of the pot, and place them in a close frame or warm part of the greenhouse for a few days until the roots take hold. To save them from becoming leggy, give each plant ample space, and avoid a forcing temperature. A shelf in a greenhouse is a good position, and plants in a single row upon it will grow stout and short-jointed. Thrips and aphis are extremely partial to Tomatoes. Frequent sprinklings in bright weather will help to keep down the former, and will at the same time benefit the plants. Both pests can be destroyed by fumigating with tobacco, and when the remedy is to be applied water should be withheld on that day. A moderate amount of smoke in the evening and another application in the morning will be more destructive to the vermin, and less injurious to the plants, than one strong dose. The usual syringing must follow. Plants for the open ground must not be starved while in pots; they will need potting on until the 4-1/2-inch or 6-inch size is reached, and it is important that they should never be dry at the roots. Shading will only be necessary during fierce sunshine; in early morning and late in the afternoon they will be better without it.
Water Cress.—It is quite a mistake to suppose that a running stream is requisite for growing this plant, and it is equally a mistake to suppose that the proper flavour can be secured without the constant use of water. Sow in a trench, water regularly and copiously, and mild and tender Water Cress will reward the labour.
Winter Greens of all kinds to be sown in plenty and in considerable variety; for in the event of a severe winter some kinds will prove hardier than others.
Vegetation is now in full activity, the temperature increases rapidly, frosts are less frequent, and showers and sunshine alternate in their mutual endeavours to clothe the earth with verdure and flowers. The gardener is bound to be vigilant now to assist Nature in her endeavours to benefit him; he must promote the growth of his crops by all the means in his power; by plying the hoe to keep down weeds and open the soil to sunshine and showers; by thinning and regulating his plantations, that air and light may have free access to the plants left to attain maturity; by continuing to shelter as may be needed; and by administering water during dry weather, that vegetation may benefit to the utmost by the happy accession of increasing sunlight.
Artichoke, Globe.—Suckers to be put in the plantations prepared for them last month, in rows three to four feet apart each way.
Asparagus.—- Rake off into the alleys the remnant of manure from the autumn dressing, and as soon as the weather is favourable give the beds a light application of salt. If new beds are required, there must be no time lost either to sow seed or get in plants. Our advice to those who require only one small plantation is to form it by planting strong roots; but those who intend to grow Asparagus largely may sow down a bed every year, until they have enough, and then leave well alone; for a bed properly made will last ten years at the very least, if taken care of. It has been clearly demonstrated that this much-esteemed vegetable may be grown to perfection in any garden with little more expense than attends other crops, provided only that a reasonable amount of skill is brought to bear upon the undertaking. A deep, rich, sandy loam suits it. Dig in a good body of manure, and provide a mellow seed-bed. This being done, care must be taken to sow thinly, and, in due time, to thin severely; for a crowded plant will never supply fat sticks. Beds may be made by planting roots instead of sowing seeds, but the roots must be fresh, or they will not prosper. The advantage of using plants is that 'grass' may be cut earlier than when produced from seed.
Bean, Broad.—- Sowings may be made until the middle of this month, after which time they are not likely to pay, especially on hot soils. It is customary to top Beans when in flower, and the practice has its advantages. In case the black fly takes possession, topping is a necessity, for the insect can only subsist on the youngest leaves at the top of the plant, and the process pretty well clears them away.
Beans, Dwarf French, may be sown outdoors at the end of the month, but not in quantity, because of the risk of destruction by frost. Much may be done, however, to expedite the supply of this popular vegetable, and sowings in boxes placed in gentle heat or under the protection of a frame will furnish plants which may be gradually hardened off for transfer to the open in May. In proportion to the means at command, early sowings outdoors will live or die, as determined by the weather, although a very little protection is sufficient to carry the young plants through a bad time in the event of late frosts and storms. But sowings made at the end of the month will probably prosper.
Bean, Climbing French.—Sowings of the Climbing French Bean may be made this month as directed for the Dwarf French class: the earliest in gentle heat for transplanting, and later on in open quarters for succession crops.
Beet.—At quite the end of the month sow in drills, a foot or fifteen inches apart, on deep, well-dug ground, without manure. Large Beets are not desired for the kitchen; but rather small, deeply coloured, handsome roots are always valued, and these can only be grown in soil that has been stirred to a good depth, and is quite free of recent manuring.
Broccoli.—Make another sowing of several sorts, giving preference as yet to the early varieties. In particularly late districts, and, perhaps, pretty generally in the North, the late Broccoli should be sown now, but in the Midlands and the South there is time to spare for sowing. Be particular to have a good seed-bed, that the plants may grow well from the first; if the early growth be starved, the plants become the victims of club and other ruinous maladies.
Brussels Sprouts.—In many households late supplies of Brussels Sprouts are much valued, and as the crop is capable of enduring severe weather, a supplemental sowing should always be made during this month. Rich soil and plenty of room are essential.
Cabbage.—Sow the larger kinds for autumn use, and one or two rows of the smaller kinds for planting in odd places as early crops are cleared off. Cows, pigs, and poultry will always dispose of surplus Cabbage advantageously, so there can be no serious objection to keeping up a constant succession. Plant out from seed-beds as fast as the plants become strong enough, for stifling and starving tend to club, mildew, and blindness. Where Red Cabbage is in demand for use with game in autumn, seed should be sown now.
Cardoons to be sown on land heavily manured in rows three or four feet apart, the seeds in clumps of three each, eighteen inches apart. They are sometimes sown in trenches, but we do not approve of that system, for they do not require moisture to the extent of Celery, and the blanching can be effectually accomplished without it. Our advice is to plant on the level, unless the ground is particularly dry and hot, and then trenches will be of great service in promoting free growth. To insure their proper flavour, Cardoons must be large and fat.
Carrot.—Sow the main crops and put them on deeply dug ground without manure.
Cauliflowers to be planted out at every opportunity, warm, showery weather being most favourable. If cold weather should follow, a large proportion of the plants will be destroyed unless protected, and there is no cheaper protection than empty flowerpots, which may be left on all day, as well as all night, in extreme cases when a killing east wind is blowing. Sow now for late summer and autumn use, prick the plants out early to save buttoning, and they will make a quick return.
Celery.—Sow in a warm corner of the open ground on a bed consisting largely of rotten manure. It may happen in a good season that this outdoor sowing will prove the most successful, as it will have no check from first to last, and will be in just the right state for planting out when the ground is ready for it after Peas and other early crops. If Celery suffers a serious check at any time, it is apt to make hollow stems, and then the quality is poor, no matter to what size the sticks may attain. Prick out the plants from seed-pans on to a bed of rotten manure, resting on a hard bottom, in frames or in sheltered nooks, and look after them with extra care for a week or two. Good Celery cannot be grown by the haphazard gardener.
Endive.—Sow a small quantity in moderate heat for the first supply, in drills six inches apart, and when an inch high prick out on to a bed of rich light soil.
Herbs.—Chervil, Fennel, Hyssop, and other flavouring and medicinal Herbs, may be sown now better than at any other time, as they will start at once into full growth, and need little after-care other than thinning and weeding. Rich soil is not required, but the position must be dry and sunny.
Leek to be sown again if the former sowing is insufficient or has failed.
Lettuce to be sown for succession, the quick-growing, tender-hearted kinds being the best to sow now. Plant out from frames and seed-pans. A few forward plants may be tied, but as a rule tying is less desirable than most people suppose. Certainly, after tying, the hearts soon rot if not quickly eaten; and Lettuces as fine as can be desired may now be grown without tying, the close-hearting sorts being very much improved in that respect.
Melon.—Sow again for a second crop in houses, and grow the plants in pots until they reach a foot high. The early crop will then be ripe, and the house can be cleared and syringed for a fresh start. From this sowing fruit should be ready about the beginning of July. The frame culture advised for Cucumbers will be right for Melons, until the fruits attain the size of a small orange. Then a thorough soaking must be given, and under proper management no more water should be necessary. A dry atmosphere and free ventilation are essential to bring the fruit to perfection. Stopping must be commenced early by pinching out the leader, and only one eye should be allowed beyond the fruit which are to remain. Six will be enough for one plant to carry, and they should be nearly of a size, for if one obtains a strong lead, it will be impossible to ripen the others. The remainder should be gradually removed while young. The worst foe of the Melon is red spider, and it is difficult to apply a remedy without doing mischief. Water will destroy it, but this may have disastrous results on the fruit. The most certain preventive is stout well-grown plants. Weakly specimens appear to invite attack, and are incapable of struggling against it. Where plants are occasionally lost through decay at the collar, small pieces of charcoal laid in a circle round the stem have proved a simple and effectual antidote.