THE CULTIVATION OF
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--
_dust_. 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 _can_ 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 scuffle hoe.
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 unnecessary
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.
With some 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
(3) Vines or leaf crops should follow root crops.
(4) Quick-growing crops should follow those occupying the land all
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.