Location And Soil
( Originally Published 1909 )
Much more depends on the favorable location of the garden than one who has not had experience would suppose. The general impression among amateurs seems to be that soil is the all-important item. If the ground is rich, there is nothing further to be desired. This is all a mistake. Of course it is quite necessary that the soil should be rich, but the writer knows of many gardens exceptionally good in this respect which are not good growers of vegetables, simply because they slope away from the sun.
The ideal garden slopes to the south, and secures all possible benefit from the sun's rays in early spring, when vegetables are getting their start. But, unfortunately, ideal garden-sites are the exception and not the rule. Perhaps nine out of ten are flat, or nearly so. We must take things as we find them in choosing our location, but, as far as possible, choose a site which will receive the greatest amount of benefit from the sun. Something can be gained in a level garden by planting in rows running north and south. This will allow the sun to shine between them, while rows running east and west would cast their shadows over each other.
The first benefit derived from sunshine is the extraction of undue moisture from the soil in early spring. The soil that gets rid soonest of the moisture from melting snows and early rains is the one that can be put in shape at the earliest possible date, because it can be made mellow and friable several days sooner than that which must wait for excessive moisture to drain off. When drainage and sunshine act together, this part of the work is hastened greatly, and is done in the most satisfactory manner. Therefore, press the sun into service as much as you possibly can.
The second benefit which the soil derives from the sun is the warmth which it absorbs during the day. It drinks this in very much as the ground first is not the one who is surest of growing the earliest or the best crops.
The soil of the garden should be in a condition to pulverize readily before anything is sown in it. Lumpy soil means the failure of a good deal of seed to grow.
I have already spoken of the use of the harrow, after plowing, to level the surface of the ground. We will suppose that this has been done, and that the soil is warm and dry enough to warrant us in getting it ready for seed. The first thing to do is to bring out our diagram and lay out our garden. Provide yourself with a line to stretch lengthwise of the rows, and insure getting them perfectly straight. Never plant "by guess." Of course vegetables grown in crooked, straggling rows will be just as satisfactory in quality as those grown in straight ones, but they never look as well while growing, and the true gardener will take quite as much pride in the appearance of his garden as he does in what he grows in it.
Set a stake firmly at each end of the row, draw your line tautly, and mark out the row by it. Then go over each row marked out with the cultivator, or, if you do not have one a dry soil drinks in water, and the good work goes on during the night, lightening, disintegrating, and vivifying. Sunshine is a tonic to any garden, and we cannot have too much of it.
The third benefit derived is in its quickening effect. A moderately rich soil, fully exposed to sunshine, will grow earlier vegetables than a very rich soil not fully supplied with sunshine. One of the secrets of successful vegetable growing is in bringing the plants ahead as rapidly as possible after they get a start. Vegetables that grow slowly are. always inferior in quality. They lack tenderness and flavor. In order to secure these qualities, one must have a quick, rich soil, and sunshine enough to give it something of the nature of the hot-bed.
The best soil, all things considered, for the successful production of vegetables, is one that is rather light and sandy—perhaps what the farmer would call a sandy loam. It falls apart readily when turned up by the plow, and speedily becomes mellow under the application of the hoe or cultivator. A heavier soil may have more strength in it, but it is not as desirable for vegetable-growing, because it cannot be worked as early in the season, and cannot so easily be put into satisfactory condition as the lighter and more friable soil. What this soil lacks in strength can readily be supplied by the use of good fertilizers. I have seen gardens made out of almost pure sand, heavily manured, which grew excellent crops. Here the sand was simply an agent by which the nutritive qualities of the manure were rendered available. But the vegetables grown in it lacked the fine flavor of those grown in a better soil. Some sand in a garden is a most excellent thing, but good loam is the soil from which best results can be expected.
As has been said regarding the location of the garden, we must take things as they are, and do what we can to make the most of them. Heavy soil can be lightened wonderfully by adding coarse, sharp sand as a top dressing, and plowing it under. This can be done when the ground is manured, and both can be worked into the original soil at the same time. The benefit of the sand may not be very apparent the first season, as it will not be as thoroughly incorporated with the native soil then as it will be after repeated workings, but there will be a decided improvement from the start. If sand is added several seasons in succession, a soil of heavy clay may be made over into what might almost be considered loam. Old mortar, leaves, litter from the barn-yard, almost any kind of refuse that will decay, or assist in the process of disintegration,—can be made use of for lightening purposes.
If the spot chosen for the garden is not naturally well drained, it ought to be made so artificially. This is a matter of great importance. A soil that cannot be made to part readily with excess moisture is not one in which vegetables can be grown well. If the ground slopes in any direction, water will run away from force of gravity, but if it is nearly level water will settle into it and remain there until the soil becomes sour—that is if it is a soil that is naturally heavy and therefore retentive of moisture. A garden in such a location ought to be underdrained. Tiling it will accomplish the purpose very satisfactorily. If this cannot be done for any reason, surface-draining can be resorted to, by making ditches at each side with laterals to conduct the water to them from the centre of the garden. This is probably the system most amateur gardeners will employ, as it is the simplest and easiest method and one that does not require skilled labor.
The writer has seen some very good gardens on flat, low lands where nothing could have been grown if a system of ditches had not been constructed to take the water out of the soil several inches below its surface. A broad, deep ditch was run entirely around the garden. Cross-ditches connected with this. These were shallow at the centre, deepening gradually as they neared the main ditch. In this way a fall was secured that would cause the water to run off rapidly from the centre of the garden. After a heavy rain the main ditch would be half full of water for several hours perhaps, but almost always the level of the water was below the roots of the plants in the garden, consequently they were not affected by it. This may have been growing vegetables under difficulties, but it proved the truth of the old saying that where there 's a will there 's a way, and no doubt the products of such gardens were appreciated much more than they would have been if they had been grown under more favorable conditions. I think we always prize most that which is gained by a good deal of effort.
Therefore let me say to any man who owns or can secure control of a piece of ground, make a garden on it, and do your very best to make it bring forth liberally. You will be amply repaid for your labor in more ways than one.