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- The Home Acre - 7/28 -

Nature and life are here, and these are not bought and sold. From stalls and pedlers' wagons we can buy but dead and dying things. The indolent epicure's enjoyment of game is not the relish of the sportsman who has taken his dinner direct from the woods and waters.

I am often told, "It is cheaper to buy fruit and vegetables than to raise them." I have nothing to say in reply. There are many cheap things that we can have; experience has proved that one of the BEST things to have is a garden, either to work in or to visit daily when the season permits. We have but one life to live here, and to get the cheapest things out of it is a rather poor ambition.

There are multitudes who can never possess an acre, more or less, and who must obtain Nature's products at second hand. This is not so great a misfortune as to have no desire for her companionship, or wish to work under her direction in dewy mornings and shadowy evenings. We may therefore reasonably suppose that the man who has exchanged his city shelter for a rural home looks forward to the garden with the natural, primal instinct, and is eager to make the most of it in all its aspects. Then let us plunge in medias res at once.

The ideal soil for a garden is a mellow, sandy loam, underlaid with a subsoil that is not too open or porous. Such ground is termed "grateful," and it is not the kind of gratitude which has been defined as "a lively appreciation of favors to come," which is true of some other soils. This ideal land remembers past favors; it retains the fertilizers with which it has been enriched, and returns them in the form of good crops until the gift is exhausted; therefore it is a thrifty as well as a grateful soil. The owner can bring it up to the highest degree of fertility, and keep it there by judicious management. This sandy loam--Nature's blending of sand and clay--is a safe bank. The manure incorporated with it is a deposit which can be drawn against in fruit and vegetables, for it does not leach away and disappear with one season's rains.

Light, thin, sandy soil, with a porous or gravelly subsoil, is of a very different type, and requires different treatment. It is a spendthrift. No matter how much you give it one year, it very soon requires just so much more. You can enrich it, but you can't keep it rich. Therefore you must manage it as one would take care of a spendthrift, giving what is essential at the time, and in a way that permits as little waste as possible. I shall explain this treatment more fully further on.

In the choice of a garden plot you may be restricted to a stiff, tenacious, heavy clay. Now you have a miser to deal with--a soil that retains, but in many cases makes no proper use of, what it receives. Skill and good management, however, can improve any soil, and coax luxuriant crops from the most unpropitious.

We will speak first of the ideal soil already mentioned, and hope that the acre contains an area of it of suitable dimensions for a garden. What should be the first step in this case? Why, to get more of it. A quarter of an acre can be made equal to half an acre. You can about double the garden, without adding to it an inch of surface, by increasing the depth of good soil. For instance, ground has been cultivated to the depth of six or seven inches. Try the experiment of stirring the soil and enriching it one foot downward, or eighteen inches, or even two feet, and see what vast differences will result. With every inch you go down, making all friable and fertile, you add just so much more to root pasturage. When you wish to raise a great deal, increase your leverage. Roots are your levers; and when they rest against a deep fertile soil they lift into the air and sunshine products that may well delight the eyes and palate of the most fastidious. We suggest that this thorough deepening, pulverization, and enriching of the soil be done at the start, when the plow can be used without any obstructions. If there are stones, rocks, roots, anything which prevents the treatment which a garden plot should receive, there is a decided advantage in clearing them all out at the beginning. Last fall I saw a half-acre that was swampy, and so encumbered with stones that one could walk all over it without stepping off the rocks. The land was sloping, and therefore capable of drainage. The proprietor put three men to work on the lower side with picks, shovels, and blasting-tools. They turned the soil over to the depth of eighteen inches, taking out every stone larger than a walnut. Eight or ten feet apart deep ditches were cut, and the stones, as far as possible, placed in these. The rest were carted away for a heavy wall. You may say it was expensive work. So it was; yet so complete a garden spot was made that I believe it would yield a fair interest in potatoes alone. I relate this instance to show what can be done. A more forbidding area for a garden in its original state could scarcely be found. Enough vegetables and fruit can be raised from it hereafter, with annual fertilizing, to supply a large family, and it will improve every year under the refining effects of frost, sun, and cultivation.

It should be remembered that culture does for soil what it does for men and women. It mellows, brings it up, and renders it capable of finer products. Much, indeed, can be done with a crude piece of land in a single year when treated with the thoroughness that has been suggested, and some strong-growing vegetables may be seen at their best during the first season; but the more delicate vegetables thrive better with successive years of cultivation. No matter how abundantly the ground may be enriched at first, time and chemical action are required to transmute the fertilizers into the best forms of plant-food, and make them a part of the very soil itself. Plowing or spading, especially if done in late autumn, exposes the mould to the beneficial action of the air and frost, and the garden gradually takes on the refined, mellow, fertile character which distinguishes it from the ordinary field.

In dealing with a thin, sandy soil, one has almost to reverse the principles just given. Yet there is no cause for discouragement. Fine results, if not the best, can be secured. In this case there is scarcely any possibility for a thorough preparation of the soil from the start. It can gradually be improved, however, by making good its deficiencies, the chief of which is the lack of vegetable mould. If I had such soil I would rake up all the leaves I could find, employ them as bedding for my cow and pigs (if I kept any), and spread the compost-heap resulting on the sandy garden. The soil is already too light and warm, and it should be our aim to apply fertilizers tending to counteract this defect. A nervous, excitable person should let stimulants alone, and take good, solid, blood-making food. This illustration suggests the proper course to be taken. Many a time I have seen action the reverse of this resulting disastrously. For instance, a man carts on his light thin soil hot fermenting manure from the horse-stable, and plows it under. Seeds are planted. In the moist, cool, early spring they make a great start, feeling the impulse of the powerful stimulant. There is a hasty and unhealthful growth; but long before maturity the days grow long and hot, drought comes, and the garden dries up. Therefore every effort should be made to supply cool manures with staying qualities, such as are furnished by decayed vegetable matter composted with the cleanings of the cow-stable. We thus learn the value of fallen leaves, muck from the swamp, etc.; and they also bring with them but few seeds of noxious vegetation.

On the other hand, stolid, phlegmatic clay requires the stimulus of manure from the horse-stable. It can be plowed under at once, and left to ferment and decay in the soil. The process of decomposition will tend to banish its cold, inert qualities, and make the ground loose, open, and amenable to the influences of frost, sun, and rain.

Does the owner of light, warm soils ask, "What, then, shall I do with my stable-manure, since you have said that it will be an injury to my garden?" I have not said this--only that it will do harm if applied in its raw, hot, fermenting state. Compost it with leaves, sod, earth, muck, anything that will keep it from burning up with its own heat. If you can obtain no such ingredients, have it turned over and exposed to the air so often that it will decay without passing through a process approaching combustion. When it has become so thoroughly decomposed as to resemble a fine black powder, you have a fertilizer superior to any high-priced patent compound that can be bought. Further on I will show how it can be used both in this state and also in its crude condition on light soils with the best results.

It is scarcely possible to lay too much stress on this subject of fertilizers. The soil of the garden-plot looks inert: so does heavy machinery; but apply to it the proper motive power, and you have activity at once. Manure is the motive power to soil, and it should be applied in a way and degree to secure the best results. To produce some vegetables and fruits much is required; in other growths, very little.

In laying out a garden there are several points to be considered. The proprietor may be more desirous of securing some degree of beauty in the arrangement than of obtaining the highest condition of productiveness. If this be true, he may plan to make down its centre a wide, gravelled walk, with a grape-arbor here and there, and fruit-trees and flowers in borders on each side of the path. So far from having any objection to this arrangement, I should be inclined to adopt it myself. It would be conducive to frequent visits to the garden and to lounging in it, especially if there be rustic seats under the arbors. I am inclined to favor anything which accords with my theory that the best products of a garden are neither eaten nor sold. From such a walk down the middle of the garden the proprietor can glance at the rows of vegetables and small fruits on either side, and daily note their progress. What he loses in space and crops he gains in pleasure.

Nor does he lose much; for if the borders on each side of the path are planted with grape-vines, peach and plum trees, flowers and shrubs, the very ground he walks on becomes part of their root pasturage. At the same time it must be admitted that the roots will also extend with depleting appetites into the land devoted to vegetables. The trees and vines above will, to some extent, cast an unwholesome shade. He who has set his heart on the biggest cabbages and best potatoes in town must cultivate them in ground open to the sky, and unpervaded by any roots except their own. If the general fruitfulness of the garden rather than perfection in a few vegetables is desired, the borders, with their trees, vines, and flowers, will prove no objection. Moreover, when it comes to competing in cabbages, potatoes, etc., the proprietor of the Home Acre will find that some Irishman, by the aid of his redolent pig- pen, will surpass him. The roots and shade extending from his borders will not prevent him from growing good vegetables, if not the largest.

We will therefore suppose that, as the simplest and most economical arrangement, he has adopted the plan of a walk six feet wide extending through the centre of his garden. As was the case

The Home Acre - 7/28

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