THE CULTIVATION OF VEGETABLES
Before taking up
the garden vegetables individually, I shall outline the general
practice of cultivation, which applies to all.
The purposes of
cultivation are three—to get rid of weeds, and to stimulate growth by
(1) letting air into the soil and freeing unavailable plant food, and
(2) by conserving moisture.
As to weeds, the
gardener of any experience need not be told the importance of keeping
his crops clean. He has learned from bitter and costly experience the
price of letting them get anything resembling a start. He knows that
one or two days’ growth, after they are well up, followed perhaps by a
day or so of rain, may easily double or treble the work of cleaning a
patch of onions or carrots, and that where weeds have attained any
size they cannot be taken out of sowed crops without doing a great
deal of injury. He also realizes, or should, that every day’s growth
means just so much available plant food stolen from under the very
roots of his legitimate crops.
Instead of letting
the weeds get away with any plant food, he should be furnishing more,
for clean and frequent cultivation will not only break the soil up
mechanically, but let in air, moisture and heat—all essential in
effecting those chemical changes necessary to convert non-available
into available plant food. Long before the science in the case was
discovered, the soil cultivators had learned by observation the
necessity of keeping the soil nicely loosened about their growing
crops. Even the lanky and untutored aborigine saw to it that his squaw
not only put a bad fish under the hill of maize but plied her shell
hoe over it. Plants need to breathe. Their roots need air. You might
as well expect to find the rosy glow of happiness on the wan cheeks of
a cotton-mill child slave as to expect to see the luxuriant dark green
of healthy plant life in a suffocated garden.
Important as the
question of air is, that of _water_
ranks beside it. You may not see at first what the matter of frequent
cultivation has to do with water. But let us stop a moment and look
into it. Take a strip of blotting paper, dip one end in water, and
watch the moisture run up hill, soak up through the blotter. The
scientists have labeled that “capillary attraction”—the water crawls
up little invisible tubes formed by the texture of the blotter. Now
take a similar piece, cut it across, hold the two cut edges firmly
together, and try it again. The moisture refuses to cross the line:
the connection has been severed.
In the same way the
water stored in the soil after a rain begins at once to escape again
into the atmosphere. That on the surface evaporates first, and that
which has soaked in begins to soak in through the soil to the surface.
It is leaving your garden, through the millions of soil tubes, just as
surely as if you had a two-inch pipe and a gasoline engine, pumping it
into the gutter night and day! Save your garden by stopping the waste.
It is the easiest thing in the world to do—cut the pipe in two. And
the knife to do it with is—
By frequent cultivation of the surface soil—not more than one or two
inches deep for most small vegetables—the soil tubes are kept broken,
and a mulch of dust is maintained. Try to get over every part of your
garden, especially where it is not shaded, once in every ten days or
two weeks. Does that seem like too much work? You can push your wheel
hoe through, and thus keep the dust mulch as a constant protection, as
fast as you can walk. If you wait for the weeds, you will nearly have
to crawl through, doing more or less harm by disturbing your growing
plants, losing all the plant food (and they will take the cream) which
they have consumed, and actually putting in more hours of infinitely
more disagreeable work. “A stitch in time saves nine!” Have your
thread and needle ready beforehand! If I knew how to give greater
emphasis to this subject of thorough cultivation, I should be tempted
to devote the rest of this chapter to it. If the beginner at gardening
has not been convinced by the facts given, there is only one thing
left to convince him—experience.
Having given so
much space to the _reason_
for constant care in this matter, the question of methods naturally
follows. I want to repeat here, my previous advice—by all means get a
wheel hoe. The simplest sorts cost only a few dollars, and will not
only save you an infinite amount of time and work, but do the work
better, very much better than it can be done by hand. You
grow good vegetables, especially if your garden is a very small one,
without one of these labor-savers, but I can assure you that you will
never regret the small investment necessary to procure it.
With a wheel hoe,
the work of preserving the soil mulch becomes very simple. If one has
not a wheel hoe, for small areas very rapid work can be done with the
The matter of
keeping weeds cleaned out of the rows and between the plants in the
rows is not so quickly accomplished. Where hand-work is necessary, let
it be done at once. Here are a few practical suggestions that will
reduce this work to a minimum, (1) Get at this work while the ground
is soft; as soon as the soil begins to dry out after a rain is the
best time. Under such conditions the weeds will pull out by the roots,
without breaking off. (2) Immediately before weeding, go over the rows
with a wheel hoe, cutting shallow, but just as close as possible,
leaving a narrow, plainly visible strip which must be hand-weeded. The
best tool for this purpose is the double wheel hoe with disc
attachment, or hoes for large plants. (3) See to it that not only the
weeds are pulled but that _every
inch_ of soil surface is broken
up. It is fully as important that the weeds just sprouting be
destroyed, as that the larger ones be pulled up. One stroke of the
weeder or the fingers will destroy a hundred weed seedlings in less
time than one weed can be pulled out after it gets a good start. (4)
Use one of the small hand-weeders until you become skilled with it.
Not only may more work be done but the fingers will be saved
The skilful use of
the wheel hoe can be acquired through practice only. The first thing
to learn is that it is necessary to watch _the wheels only:_ the
blades, disc or rakes will take care of themselves. Other suggestions
will be found in the chapter on Implements.
The operation of
“hilling” consists in drawing up the soil about the stems of growing
plants, usually at the time of second or third hoeing. It used to be
the practice to hill everything that could be hilled “up to the
eyebrows,” but it has gradually been discarded for what is termed
“level culture”; and the reader will readily see the reason, from what
has been said about the escape of moisture from the surface of the
soil; for of course the two upper sides of the hill, which may be
represented by an equilateral triangle with one side horizontal, give
more exposed surface than the level surface represented by the base.
In wet soils or seasons hilling may be advisable, but very seldom
otherwise. It has the additional disadvantage of making it difficult
to maintain the soil mulch which is so desirable.
ROTATION OF CROPS
There is another
thing to be considered in making each vegetable do its best, and that
is crop rotation, or the following of any vegetable with a different
sort at the next planting.
vegetables, such as cabbage, this is almost imperative, and
practically all are helped by it. Even onions, which are popularly
supposed to be the proving exception to the rule, are healthier, and
do as well after some other crop, _provided_
the soil is as finely pulverized and rich as a previous crop of onions
would leave it.
Here are the
fundamental rules of crop rotation:
(1) Crops of the same
vegetable, or vegetables of the same family (such as turnips and
cabbage) should not follow each other.
(2) Vegetables that
feed near the surface, like corn, should follow deep-rooting crops.
(3) Vines or leaf
crops should follow root crops.
crops should follow those occupying the land all season.
These are the
principles which should determine the rotations to be followed in
individual cases. The proper way to attend to this matter is when
making the planting plan. You will then have time to do it properly,
and will need to give it no further thought for a year.
With the above
suggestions in mind, and _put to
use_, it will not be difficult
to give the crops mentioned in the following chapter those special
attentions which are needed to make them do their very best.