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- Home Vegetable Gardening - 2/33 -
But after all, I doubt if most of us will look at the matter only after consulting the columns of the household ledger. The big thing, the salient feature of home gardening is not that we may get our vegetables ten per cent. cheaper, but that we can have them one hundred per cent. better. Even the long-keeping sorts, like squash, potatoes and onions, are very perceptibly more delicious right from the home garden, fresh from the vines or the ground; but when it comes to peas, and corn, and lettuce,--well, there is absolutely nothing to compare with the home garden ones, gathered fresh, in the early slanting sunlight, still gemmed with dew, still crisp and tender and juicy, ready to carry every atom of savory quality, without loss, to the dining table. Stale, flat and unprofitable indeed, after these have once been tasted, seem the limp, travel-weary, dusty things that are jounced around to us in the butcher's cart and the grocery wagon. It is not in price alone that home gardening pays. There is another point: the market gardener has to grow the things that give the biggest yield. He has to sacrifice quality to quantity. You do not. One cannot buy Golden Bantam corn, or Mignonette lettuce, or Gradus peas in most markets. They are top quality, but they do not fill the market crate enough times to the row to pay the commercial grower. If you cannot afford to keep a professional gardener there is only one way to have the best vegetables--grow your own!
And this brings us to the third, and what may be the most important reason why you should garden. It is the cheapest, healthiest, keenest pleasure there is. Give me a sunny garden patch in the golden springtime, when the trees are picking out their new gowns, in all the various self-colored delicate grays and greens--strange how beautiful they are, in the same old unchanging styles, isn't it?--give me seeds to watch as they find the light, plants to tend as they take hold in the fine, loose, rich soil, and you may have the other sports. And when you have grown tired of their monotony, come back in summer to even the smallest garden, and you will find in it, every day, a new problem to be solved, a new campaign to be carried out, a new victory to win.
Better food, better health, better living--all these the home garden offers you in abundance. And the price is only the price of every worth-while thing--honest, cheerful patient work.
But enough for now of the dream garden. Put down your book. Put on your old togs, light your pipe--some kind-hearted humanitarian should devise for women such a kindly and comforting vice as smoking--and let's go outdoors and look the place over, and pick out the best spot for that garden-patch of yours.
REQUISITES OF THE HOME VEGETABLE GARDEN
In deciding upon the site for the home vegetable garden it is well to dispose once and for all of the old idea that the garden "patch" must be an ugly spot in the home surroundings. If thoughtfully planned, carefully planted and thoroughly cared for, it may be made a beautiful and harmonious feature of the general scheme, lending a touch of comfortable homeliness that no shrubs, borders, or beds can ever produce.
With this fact in mind we will not feel restricted to any part of the premises merely because it is out of sight behind the barn or garage. In the average moderate-sized place there will not be much choice as to land. It will be necessary to take what is to be had and then do the very best that can be done with it. But there will probably be a good deal of choice as to, first, exposure, and second, convenience. Other things being equal, select a spot near at hand, easy of access. It may seem that a difference of only a few hundred yards will mean nothing, but if one is depending largely upon spare moments for working in and for watching the garden--and in the growing of many vegetables the latter is almost as important as the former--this matter of convenient access will be of much greater importance than is likely to be at first recognized. Not until you have had to make a dozen time-wasting trips for forgotten seeds or tools, or gotten your feet soaking wet by going out through the dew-drenched grass, will you realize fully what this may mean.
But the thing of first importance to consider in picking out the spot that is to yield you happiness and delicious vegetables all summer, or even for many years, is the exposure. Pick out the "earliest" spot you can find--a plot sloping a little to the south or east, that seems to catch sunshine early and hold it late, and that seems to be out of the direct path of the chilling north and northeast winds. If a building, or even an old fence, protects it from this direction, your garden will be helped along wonderfully, for an early start is a great big factor toward success. If it is not already protected, a board fence, or a hedge of some low-growing shrubs or young evergreens, will add very greatly to its usefulness. The importance of having such a protection or shelter is altogether underestimated by the amateur.
The chances are that you will not find a spot of ideal garden soil ready for use anywhere upon your place. But all except the very worst of soils can be brought up to a very high degree of productiveness-- especially such small areas as home vegetable gardens require. Large tracts of soil that are almost pure sand, and others so heavy and mucky that for centuries they lay uncultivated, have frequently been brought, in the course of only a few years, to where they yield annually tremendous crops on a commercial basis. So do not be discouraged about your soil. Proper treatment of it is much more important, and a garden- patch of average run-down,--or "never-brought-up" soil--will produce much more for the energetic and careful gardener than the richest spot will grow under average methods of cultivation.
The ideal garden soil is a "rich, sandy loam." And the fact cannot be overemphasized that such soils usually are made, not found. Let us analyze that description a bit, for right here we come to the first of the four all-important factors of gardening--food. The others are cultivation, moisture and temperature. "Rich" in the gardener's vocabulary means full of plant food; more than that--and this is a point of vital importance--it means full of plant food ready to be used at once, all prepared and spread out on the garden table, or rather in it, where growing things can at once make use of it; or what we term, in one word, "available" plant food. Practically no soils in long- inhabited communities remain naturally rich enough to produce big crops. They are made rich, or kept rich, in two ways; first, by cultivation, which helps to change the raw plant food stored in the soil into available forms; and second, by manuring or adding plant food to the soil from outside sources.
"Sandy" in the sense here used, means a soil containing enough particles of sand so that water will pass through it without leaving it pasty and sticky a few days after a rain; "light" enough, as it is called, so that a handful, under ordinary conditions, will crumble and fall apart readily after being pressed in the hand. It is not necessary that the soil be sandy in appearance, but it should be friable.
"Loam: a rich, friable soil," says Webster. That hardly covers it, but it does describe it. It is soil in which the sand and clay are in proper proportions, so that neither greatly predominate, and usually dark in color, from cultivation and enrichment. Such a soil, even to the untrained eye, just naturally looks as if it would grow things. It is remarkable how quickly the whole physical appearance of a piece of well cultivated ground will change. An instance came under my notice last fall in one of my fields, where a strip containing an acre had been two years in onions, and a little piece jutting off from the middle of this had been prepared for them just one season. The rest had not received any extra manuring or cultivation. When the field was plowed up in the fall, all three sections were as distinctly noticeable as though separated by a fence. And I know that next spring's crop of rye, before it is plowed under, will show the lines of demarcation just as plainly.
This, then, will give you an idea of a good garden soil. Perhaps in yours there will be too much sand, or too much clay. That will be a disadvantage, but one which energy and perseverance will soon overcome to a great extent--by what methods may be learned in Chapter VIII.
There is, however, one other thing you must look out for in selecting your garden site, and that is drainage. Dig down eight or twelve inches after you have picked out a favorable spot, and examine the sub-soil. This is the second strata, usually of different texture and color from the rich surface soil, and harder than it. If you find a sandy or gravelly bed, no matter how yellow and poor it looks, you have chosen the right spot. But if it be a stiff, heavy clay, especially a blue clay, you will have either to drain it or be content with a very late garden--that is, unless you are at the top of a knoll or on a slope. Chapter VII contains further suggestions in regard to this problem.
There was a further reason for, mentioning that strip of onion ground. It is a very practical illustration of what last year's handling of the soil means to this year's garden. If you can pick out a spot, even if it is not the most desirable in other ways, that has been well enriched or cultivated for a year or two previous, take that for this year's garden. And in the meantime have the spot on which you intend to make your permanent vegetable garden thoroughly "fitted," and grow there this year a crop of potatoes or sweet corn, as suggested in Chapter IX. Then next year you will have conditions just right to give your vegetables a great start.
There are other things of minor importance but worth considering, such as the shape of your garden plot, for instance. The more nearly rectangular, the more convenient it will be to work and the more easily kept clean and neat. Have it large enough, or at least open on two ends, so that a horse can be used in plowing and harrowing. And if by any means you can have it within reach of an adequate supply of water, that will be a tremendous help in seasons of protracted drought. Then again, if you have ground enough, lay off two plots so that you can take advantage of the practice of rotation, alternating grass, potatoes or corn with the vegetable garden. Of course it is possible to practice
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