Preparation Of The Garden
( Originally Published 1909 )
GARDENS in which the soil is heavy can be benefited by fall plowing. If the ground is turned up and left in ridges as it comes from the plow, in October or November, the action of frost on it during the winter will have a decidedly disintegrating effect, and it will be found much more tractable in spring than it would be if freshly plowed. Of course it will need a spring plowing to reduce it to the proper condition for working. This second plowing will put it in very fair shape for immediate use, while a few days' exposure to the combined effects of sun, air, and possibly warm showers, will make it mellower than after two weeks of exposure with only one plowing. This being the case, I would always advise fall plowing for gardens of heavy soil. Another benefit is derived from fall plowing. The larvæ of many worms will be destroyed by frost in the upturned furrows. For this reason, if no other, fall plowing is advisable. But I would not advise fall plowing for the garden whose soil is light and porous. Not that plowing in fall would injure it, but no particular benefit would accrue, and it is just so much unnecessary work.
Do not make the mistake of applying manure in fall, unless you have so much of it that you can afford to waste the greater portion of the fall application. Even if plowed under, much of its beneficial effect will be lost during the late fall rains, which will leach it away to such an extent that next season's crops will get but little good from it, and, later, by the evaporation which takes place during winter under the action of frost, unless the ground is well covered with snow. The idea of evaporation in winter may seem absurd to those who have given the matter but little thought and have not made it one of personal study and investigation. But it is a fact, nevertheless, that a large share of the nutritive properties of manure applied in fall will be dissipated and lost by freezing and thawing. Therefore, unless, as has already been said, you have more manure than you can use to advantage, hold the supply in reserve for spring application.
Before plowing, I would advise running a harrow over the ground to collect the stalks and débris of last season's crops, of which there will doubtless be a goodly quantity unless you have been gardener long enough to have established the habit of thoroughly cleaning up the garden in the fall—a habit to be heartily encouraged for more reasons than one. If the refuse is raked up and disposed of in the fall, by burning, or by adding it to the compost heap, many eggs of insects which prey upon vegetables will be destroyed, and the spores of fungoid diseases will be rendered comparatively inert. This is a sufficient reason for a general fall cleaning up in the garden, for it is the means of saving a great deal of hard work which would have to be done next season, if eggs and larva were left to develop. The neat appearance of a garden in which no refuse is left to show itself above the ordinary covering of snow is another argument in favor of fall cleaning.
It may seem to the amateur that the advice to run a harrow over the ground before plowing, if the garden was left uncared for in the fall, is more the result of whim than anything else, but it is not. Old stalks and roots of last year's vegetables will not be wholly plowed under, in nine cases out of ten, and these will be continually cropping up to clog the teeth of the garden cultivator, and interfere with good work. The cleaner the soil the better the quality of the work you can do in it. Bear this in mind, and never leave any refuse to be worked into it.
When you are ready for plowing, spread your manure. Spread it evenly, and use it liberally. The ideal manure for the vegetable garden is that made up largely of cow-droppings which have lain long enough to be well decomposed. If black and friable, it is in the best possible condition. I know of no accurate method of determining the precise quantity to use. Much depends on the quality of the soil, and more, perhaps, on the strength of the manure you use. That which has been kept under shelter will be rich in nutriment, while that which has been left exposed after leaving the barn will have parted with a large percent-age of its goodness. There is not much danger of making the garden too rich. The principal danger from excessive use of barnyard-manure is in making the soil so loose that it dries out more readily than it otherwise would—more rapidly than is consistent with healthy vegetable growth.
Of course the writer is well aware that cow-manure is not always obtainable. Horse-manure is more plentiful, except in the country. While it is a great deal better than nothing, it is far from being an excellent manure for vegetables. I would much prefer to use the fertilizers kept on sale at agricultural stores. These produce excellent results if one is careful to fit the fertilizer to the soil. By that I mean using just the kind adapted to the soil of your garden. Soils vary greatly even in the same neighborhood, and the fertilizer that answers admirably in one locality may not be what is needed in another. The only way to decide this matter is to get the advice of some one who understands the nature of the soil in your garden, and knows what kind of fertilizer will work best in it. He will be able to tell you what quantity to use, and how to apply it in such a manner as to secure the best results. The dealer in your neighborhood ought to be able to tell you these things. These commercial fertilizers have one advantage over the best of cow-manure, and that is, they never contain seeds of any weeds.
Plow your garden early in the season, but not until the ground is in what is called good working condition. It is possible to plow it as soon as the frost is out of the ground, but it is not good policy to do so. Wait until most of the water from snow and rain has had a chance to drain away. If you turn up a fur-row while the ground is wet and sticky, it will drop from the plow in chunks, and probably remain in that condition for a considerable length of time. But if you wait until surplus moisture is out of the ground, the soil will be pretty likely to crumble apart readily especially after it has been exposed to sun and rain for a short time. You gain nothing by too early plowing, as most amateurs seem to think. In fact, you lose time by it, for the later plowing of a well-drained soil will put the garden in good working condition a few days sooner that it will be if plowed while wet and cold. Here is one of the instances where haste makes waste—of time.
Always plow your garden in such a manner as to get the longest possible furrow. The fewer turns you have to make, the better will the work be done. The amateur may not understand the logic of this assertion until he begins gardening, but he will speedily do so when he observes the effect of long and short furrows. Deep or shallow plowing must be determined largely by the nature of the soil. If the surface is of loam, with a sub-soil of clay, do not go deep enough to bring up much of the latter. But if the loam is of considerable depth, deep plowing is advisable, because it brings fresh, strong soil to the surface.
After plowing, use the harrow to pulverize and level the soil. It is a good plan to run this implement both lengthwise and crosswise of the garden, for by so doing the soil is more evenly settled than it can be by going over it in one direction only. The harrow should have long, slender teeth which will go down into the soil well and tear apart everything in the shape of sod or masses of fine roots. Simply skimming the soil is not of much benefit, except for the purpose of levelling.
The foregoing advice on the preparation of the garden is based on the supposition that your plat of ground is large enough to warrant the use of the plow. But perhaps the majority of gardens are so small that a plow could not be used to advantage in them. These will have to be prepared by spading. The labor of getting them ready for the reception of seed will be more than is demanded in the garden where the plow can be made use of, but it will not be found so excessive as most amateurs may imagine. If you provide yourself with a thin-bladed spade and keep it sharp, the work can be done rapidly, and it will not be found as exhaustive as you most likely thought would be the case before you settled down to business. One will be surprised to see how much ground can be spaded up in an hour. A little time devoted to this work each day for a week or so will put the garden of the ordinary village lot in proper shape for planting. I am not sure but the spaded garden has some advantages over the plowed one. The soil can be turned up just where you want it, and as you want it, by the use of the spade, while the plow works alike throughout the garden, though the soil may vary in depth and nature to a considerable extent. A spaded garden always looks best at the beginning, and looks count in gardening as well as elsewhere. But the gardener who has a liking for neatness will make his garden look well, after a little, in spite of all obstacles.