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THE HOME ACRE
E. P. ROE
CHAPTER I TREE-PLANTING
CHAPTER II FRUIT-TREES AND GRASS
CHAPTER III THE GARDEN
CHAPTER IV THE VINEYARD AND ORCHARD
CHAPTER V THE RASPBERRY
CHAPTER VI THE CURRANT
CHAPTER VII STRAWBERRIES
CHAPTER VIII THE KITCHEN-GARDEN
CHAPTER IX THE KITCHEN-GARDEN (Concluded)
Land hunger is so general that it may be regarded as a natural craving. Artificial modes of life, it is true, can destroy it, but it is apt to reassert itself in later generations. To tens of thousands of bread-winners in cities a country home is the dream of the future, the crown and reward of their life-toil. Increasing numbers are taking what would seem to be the wiser course, and are combining rural pleasures and advantages with their business. As the questions of rapid transit are solved, the welfare of children will turn the scale more and more often against the conventional city house or flat. A home CAN be created in rented dwellings and apartments; but a home for which we have the deed, a cottage surrounded by trees, flowers, lawn, and garden, is the refuge which best satisfies the heart. By means of such a suburban nook we can keep up our relations with Nature and all her varied and health-giving life. The tired man returning from business finds that his excited brain will not cease to act. He can enjoy restoring rest in the complete diversion of his thoughts; he can think of this tree or that plant, and how he can fill to advantage unoccupied spaces with other trees, flowers, and vegetables. If there is a Jersey cow to welcome him with her placid trust, a good roadster to whinny for an airing, and a flock of chickens to clamor about his feet for their supper, his jangling nerves will be quieted, in spite of all the bulls and bears of Wall Street. Best of all, he will see that his children have air and space in which to grow naturally, healthfully. His fruit-trees will testify to his wisdom in providing a country home. For instance, he will observe that if sound plums are left in contact with stung and decaying specimens, they too will be infected; he will see that too close crowding renders the prospect for good fruit doubtful; and, by natural transition of thought, will be glad that his boys and girls are not shut in to the fortuitous associations of hall- way and street. The area of land purchased will depend largely on the desires and purse of the buyer; but about one acre appears to satisfy the majority of people. This amount is not so great that the business man is burdened with care, nor is its limit so small that he is cramped and thwarted by line fences. If he can give to his bit of Eden but little thought and money, he will find that an acre can be so laid out as to entail comparatively small expense in either the one or the other; if he has the time and taste to make the land his play-ground as well as that of his children, scope is afforded for an almost infinite variety of pleasing labors and interesting experiments. When we come to co-work with Nature, all we do has some of the characteristics of an experiment. The labor of the year is a game of skill, into which also enter the fascinating elements of apparent chance. What a tree, a flower, or vegetable bed will give, depends chiefly upon us; yet all the vicissitudes of dew, rain, frost, and sun, have their part in the result. We play the game with Nature, and she will usually let us win if we are not careless, ignorant, or stupid. She keeps up our zest by never permitting the game to be played twice under the same conditions. We can no more carry on our garden this season precisely as we did last year than a captain can sail his ship exactly as he did on the preceding voyage. A country home makes even the weather interesting; and the rise and fall of the mercury is watched with scarcely less solicitude than the mutations of the market.
In this chapter and in those which may ensue I merely hope to make some useful suggestions and give practical advice--the result of experience, my own and others'--which the reader may carry out and modify according to his judgment.
We will suppose that an acre has been bought; that it is comparatively level, with nothing of especial value upon it--in brief, that the home and its surroundings are still to be created.
It is not within my design to treat of the dwelling, its architecture, etc., but we shall have something to say further on in regard to its location. Before purchasing, the most careful investigations should be made as to the healthfulness of the region and the opportunities for thorough drainage. Having bought the acre, the question of removing all undue accumulations of water on or beneath the surface should be attended to at first. The dry appearance of the soil during much of the year may be misleading. It should be remembered that there are equinoctial storms and melting snows. Superabundant moisture at every period should have channels of immediate escape, for moisture in excess is an injury to plant as well as to family life; while thoroughly and quickly drained land endures drought far better than that which is rendered heavy and sour by water stagnating beneath the surface. Tile-drains are usually the cheapest and most effective; but if there are stones and rocks upon the place, they can be utilized and disposed of at the same time by their burial in ditches--and they should be covered so deeply that a plow, although sunk to the beam, can pass over them. Tiles or the top of a stone drain should be at least two feet below the surface. If the ground of the acre is underlaid with a porous subsoil, there is usually an adequate natural drainage.
Making haste slowly is often the quickest way to desired results. It is the usual method to erect the dwelling first, and afterward to subdue and enrich the ground gradually. This in many instances may prove the best course; but when it is practicable, I should advise that building be deferred until the land (with the exception of the spaces to be occupied with the house and barn) can be covered with a heavy dressing of barnyard manure, and that this be plowed under in the autumn. Such general enriching of the soil may seem a waste in view of the carriage-drive and walks yet to be laid out; but this will not prove true. It should be remembered that while certain parts of the place are to be kept bare of surface-vegetation, they nevertheless will form a portion of the root-pasturage of the shade and fruit trees. The land, also, can be more evenly and deeply plowed before obstructions are placed upon it, and roots, pestiferous weeds, and stones removed with greatest economy. Moreover, the good initial enriching is capital, hoarded in the soil, to start with. On many new places I have seen trees and plants beginning a feeble and uncertain life, barely existing rather than growing, because their roots found the soil like a table with dishes but without food. If the fertilizer is plowed under in the autumn, again mixed with the soil by a second plowing in the spring, it will be decomposed and ready for immediate use by every rootlet in contact with it. Now, as farmers say, the "land is in good heart," and it will cheer its owner's heart to see the growth promptly made by whatever is properly planted. Instead of losing time, he has gained years. Suppose the acre to have been bought in September, and treated as I have indicated, it is ready for a generous reception of plants and trees the following spring.
Possibly at the time of purchase the acre may be covered with coarse grass, weeds, or undergrowth of some kind. In this case, after the initial plowing, the cultivation for a season of some such crop as corn or potatoes may be of great advantage in clearing the land, and the proceeds of the crop would partially meet expenses. If the aim is merely to subdue and clean the land as quickly as possible, nothing is better than buckwheat, sown thickly and plowed under just as it comes into blossom. It is the nature of this rampart-growing grain to kill out everything else and leave the soil light and mellow. If the ground is encumbered with many stones and rocks, the question of clearing it is more complicated. They can be used, and often sold to advantage, for building purposes. In some instances I have seen laboring-men clear the most unpromising plots of ground by burying all rocks and stones deeply beneath the surface--men, too, who had no other time for the task except the brief hours before and after their daily toil.
I shall give no distinct plan for laying out the ground. The taste of the owner, or more probably that of his wife, will now come into play. Their ideas also will be modified by many local circumstances--as, for instance, the undulations of the land, if there are any; proximity to neighbors, etc. If little besides shade and lawn is desired, this fact will have a controlling influence; if, on the other hand, the proprietor wishes to make his acre as productive as possible, the house will be built nearer the street, wider open space will be left for the garden, and fruit-trees will predominate over those grown merely for shade and beauty. There are few who would care to follow a plan which many others had adopted. Indeed, it would be the natural wish of persons of taste to impart something of their own individuality to their rural home; and the effort to do this would afford much agreeable occupation. Plates giving the elevation and arrangement of country homes can be studied by the evening lamp; visits to places noted for their beauty, simplicity, and good taste will afford motives for many a breezy drive; while useful suggestions from what had been accomplished by others may repay for an extended journey. Such observations and study will cost little more than an agreeable expenditure of time; and surely a home is worth careful thought. It then truly becomes YOUR home--something that you have evolved with loving effort. Dear thoughts of wife
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