Home Vegetable Gardening
A Complete &
Practical Guide To The Planting & Care Of Vegetables,
Fruits & Berries
Part Two: Vegetables — Chapter
The Cultivation of Vegetables
Before taking up
the garden vegetables individually, I shall outline the
general practice of cultivation, which applies to
The purposes of cultivation are
three — to get rid of weeds, and to stimulate growth by
(1) letting air into the soil and freeing unavailable plant
food, and (2) by conserving moisture.
As to weeds, the
gardener of any experience need not be told the importance of
keeping his crops clean. He has learned from bitter and costly
experience the price of letting them get anything resembling a
start. He knows that one or two days' growth, after they are
well up, followed perhaps by a day or so of rain, may easily
double or triple the work of cleaning a patch of onions or
carrots, and that where weeds have attained any size
they cannot be taken out of sowed crops without doing a great
deal of injury. He also realizes, or should, that
every day's growth means just so much available plant food
stolen from under the very roots of his legitimate crops.
Instead of letting the weeds
get away with any plant
food, he should be furnishing more, for clean and frequent
cultivation will not only break the soil up mechanically, but
let in air, moisture and heat-all essential in effecting those
chemical changes necessary to convert non-available into
available plant food.
Long before the science in the
case was discovered, the soil cultivators had learned by
observation the necessity of keeping the soil nicely loosened
about their growing crops. Even the lanky and untutored
aborigine saw to it that his squaw not only put a bad fish
under the hill of maize but plied her shell hoe over it.
Plants need to breathe. Their roots need air.
You might as well expect to find the rosy glow of happiness on
the wan cheeks of a cotton-mill child slave as to expect to
see the luxuriant dark green of healthy plant life in a
Important as the
question of air is, that of water ranks beside it.
You may not see at first what the matter of frequent
cultivation has to do with water. But let us stop a moment and
look into it. Take a strip of blotting paper, dip one end in
water, and watch the moisture run up hill, soak up through the
blotter. The scientists have labeled that "capillary
attraction" — the water crawls up little invisible tubes
formed by the texture of the blotter. Now take a similar
piece, cut it across, hold the two cut edges firmly together,
and try it again. The moisture refuses to cross the line: the
connection has been severed, in the same way the water stored
in the soil after a rain begins at once to escape again into
That on the surface evaporates first,
and that which has soaked in begins to soak in through the
soil to the surface. It is leaving your garden, through the
millions of soil tubes, just as surely as if you had a
two-inch pipe and a gasoline engine, pumping it into the
gutter night and day! Save your garden by stopping the waste.
It is the easiest thing in the world to do — cut the pipe in
two. And the knife to do it with is — dust. By
frequent cultivation of the surface soil--not more than one or
two inches deep for most small vegetables — the soil tubes are
kept broken, and a mulch of dust is maintained.
Try to get over every
part of your garden, especially where it is not shaded, once
in every ten days or two weeks. Does that seem like
too much work? You can push your wheel hoe through, and thus
keep the dust mulch as a constant protection, as fast as you
can walk. If you wait for the weeds, you will nearly have to crawl through, doing more
or less harm by disturbing your growing plants, losing all the
plant food (and they will take the cream) which they have
consumed, and actually putting in more hours of infinitely
more disagreeable work.
"A stitch in time saves
nine!" Have your thread and needle ready beforehand! If I knew
how to give greater
emphasis to this subject of thorough cultivation, I should be
tempted to devote the rest of this chapter to it. If the
beginner at gardening has not been convinced by the facts
given, there is only one thing left to convince him —
Having given so much space to the
reason for constant care in this matter,
the question of methods naturally follows. I want to repeat
here, my previous advice — by all means get a wheel
hoe. The simplest sorts cost only a few dollars, and
will not only save you an infinite amount of time and work,
but do the work better, very much better than it can be done
by hand. You can grow good vegetables, especially if your garden is a very
small one, without one of these labor-savers, but I can assure
you that you will never regret the small investment necessary
to procure it.
With a wheel hoe, the work of preserving
the soil mulch becomes very simple. If one has not a wheel
hoe, for small areas very rapid work can be done with the
The matter of keeping weeds cleaned out of
the rows and between the plants in the rows is not so quickly
accomplished. Where hand-work is necessary, let it be
done at once. Here are a few practical suggestions
that will reduce this work to a minimum,
(1) Get at
this work while the ground is soft; as soon as the soil begins
to dry out after a rain is the best time. Under such
conditions the weeds will pull out by the roots, without
Immediately before weeding, go over the rows with a wheel hoe,
cutting shallow, but just as close as possible, leaving a
narrow, plainly visible strip which must be hand-weeded. The
best tool for this purpose is the double wheel hoe with disc
attachment, or hoes for large plants.
(3) See to
it that not only the weeds are pulled but that every inch of
soil surface is broken up. It is fully as important that the
weeds just sprouting be destroyed, as that the larger ones be
pulled up. One stroke of the weeder or the fingers will
destroy a hundred weed seedlings in less time than one weed
can be pulled out after it gets a good start.
(4) Use one
of the small hand-weeders until you become skilled with it.
Not only may more work be done but the fingers will be saved unnecessary wear.
The skillful use of the wheel
hoe can be acquired through practice only. The first thing to
learn is that it is necessary to watch the wheels only: the
blades, disc or rakes will take care of themselves. Other
suggestions will be found in the chapter on Implements.
The operation of "hilling"
consists in drawing up the soil about the stems of growing
plants, usually at the time of second or third hoeing. It used
to be the practice to hill everything that could be hilled "up
to the eyebrows," but it has gradually been discarded for what
is termed "level culture"; and the reader will readily see the
reason, from what has been said about the escape of
moisture from the surface of the soil; for of course the two
upper sides of the hill, which may be represented by an
equilateral triangle with one side horizontal, give more
exposed surface than the level surface represented by the
base. In wet soils or seasons hilling may be advisable, but
very seldom otherwise. It has the additional disadvantage of
making it difficult to maintain the soil mulch which is so
Rotation Of Crops
There is another thing to be
considered in making each vegetable do its best, and that is
crop rotation, or the following of any vegetable with a
different sort at the next planting.
With some vegetables, such as
cabbage, this is almost imperative, and practically all are
helped by it. Even onions, which are popularly supposed to be
the proving exception to the rule, are healthier, and do as
well after some other crop, provided the soil is as finely
pulverized and rich as a previous crop of onions would leave
Here are the
fundamental rules of crop rotation:
(1) Crops of the same
vegetable, or vegetables of the same family (such as turnips
and cabbage) should not follow each other.
(2) Vegetables that feed near
the surface, like corn, should follow deep-rooting crops.
(3) Vines or leaf crops
should follow root crops.
(4) Quick-growing crops
should follow those occupying the land all season.
These are the principles
which should determine the rotations to be followed in
individual cases. The proper way to attend to this matter is
when making the planting plan. You will then
have time to do it properly, and will need to give it no
further thought for a year.
With the above suggestions in
mind, and put to use, it will not be difficult to give the
crops mentioned in the following chapter those special
attentions which are needed to make them do their very