A MASS of chalk, or stones, or sand, gravel or dust, or wet or solid clay is no inspiring sight to the would-be vegetable grower who has one or other as the medium in which to endeavour to raise worth-while crops. But no kind of ground is hopeless; it can be tamed and made fertile.
The Perfect Soil.
The nearest approach to this is a good loam, which is defined as ‘fertile soil consisting of clay’ and sand, together with humus’ – humus being decayed animal and vegetable matter. If sand predominates it is known as light loam (light, as applied to soils, having nothing to do with the colour); if there is more clay than sand in the mixture it is termed heavy or clay loam; in the intermediate state it is called medium loam.
This type of soil is easily dug and handled, and with the very moderate use of manures or decayed vegetable refuse and artificial fertilizers will produce excellent crops of all vegetables. With loam, the battle is half won.
Fertile Clay. Magnificent crops can be produced from clay ground when this has been dug deeply, strawy stable manure or leaf-mould (rotted tree and other leaves), and sand, or sharp grit, fire-ashes from the house, or charred woody bits from the bonfire, being mixed in as freely as possible during the deep digging.
If dug in early winter and left with rough, lumpy surface, frost and wind will pulverize it. Lime scattered over the surface after digging will sweeten it and help further to break it down. A fortnight or so before sowing or planting, the surface should be forked over and clods shattered, and then ash from the bonfire (or from the burning of wood) be raked or forked in as generously as possible.
If water is disinclined to soak away, this can be corrected by deep trenching or by digging a trench – and leaving it open – across or lengthwise of the plot, this open trench having a slight fall to a ditch that can take the drainage water.
Thin layers of clay can be burned if mixed with coal slack and piled in a loose, conical heap over a foundation of glowing wood or coal. A stick or crowbar should be poked into the heap occasionally to create a through draught. The clay crumbles under the influence of the heat and forms splendid material for forking or raking into the surface of the clay plot.
Cultivated clay remains rather difficult to dig, but it has the advantage of retaining moisture below the immediate surface during drought, the crops showing no distress when vegetables on lighter soils are almost at the end of their tether because of lack of water.
Even lettuce, spinach, radish, mustard and cress can be grown on cultivated clay, or clay-like ground, if sown in deep drills filled with leaf-mould and finely broken clay or old potting soil.
Long-rooted carrots, beet and parsnips are at a disadvantage in this medium and in shallow soils; the stump-rooted varieties of carrot, and globe beet and turnip-rooted parsnip, should be sown, though it is possible to produce excellent long carrots, and parsnips, if stations are specially prepared for each plant. Holes 1 ft. or 1½ ft. deep and 4 in. across are made with a crowbar, then filled with old potting soil, mixed with leaf-mould. Three seeds are sown on each prepared surface, and the seedlings reduced to one. The roots are able to go right down and plump up unhindered.
With potatoes and most other crops to be grown in clay the safe rule is to seek the advice of neighbouring growers as to which varieties they have found to do best under local conditions. This applies to all other types of soil.
Thirsty and hungry, sandy ground must be given moisture-holding substances such as decaying vegetation, helped out perhaps with spent hops from a brewery, or hop manure, these being worked in freely throughout as great a depth as the cultivator cares to dig. Chopped-up turf can be added, and seaweed (dug in either wet or dry) if available, and broken clay will help further to give the sandy ground body.
Crushed or powdered chalk, about 1 lb. to the square yard, forked into the surface after moisture-holding materials have been dug in, will provide essential lime (in mild form) and help bind the loose particles together.
A few inches of good top soil may hide a subsoil of chalk, sandstone, gravel, almost pure sand, or clay, with or without any evidence of this appearing on the surface. In such circumstances the term shallow is applied to the top soil, which suffers not only from lack of depth but from easy and excessive dryness in droughty periods and perhaps extreme wetness in rainy spells; all of which conditions have to be combated by the cultivator.
Also there is nothing much for any vegetable to live on down below the fertile few inches. The sand or gravel subsoil needs to be packed with all the humus-providing material (manure, leaves, lawn mowings, chopped turf, etc..) that can be collected and mixed deeply with it.
Similar materials need to be packed, with the aid of a pick, into chalk, sandstone, clay subsoil, with the important addition of road grit, house-fire ashes, brick dust, mortar rubble, or charred bonfire remains, to assist drainage.
The shallow soils are specially awkward in the case of long-rooted carrot, beet, parsnip, whose ends would buckle up on meeting the hard lower layer; varieties with shorter roots should be sown. Examples are: Scarlet Intermediate carrot, midway in length between Long Red and the stump-rooted Scarlet Model; parsnip, variety Turnip-rooted; beet, Crimson Globe.
A few stones in soil are all to the good; they assist drainage. In excess they are a nuisance. Frequent raking off will dispose of larger stones; to improve the quality of the soil dig in any animal manures available, spent hops and all forms of vegetable waste – from lawn mowings and seaweed to tree leaves and the muck from a ditch bottom.
Dusty Stuff, This, again, needs to be packed, deeply, with humus-providing materials as mentioned above. It is waste of time to scratch the materials into the surface; they must be worked in to spade-blade depth at least, rougher portions of the material being trodden into the bottom of the digging trench. If chopped turf can be added, or broken clay or heavy loam, the redemption of this very thin type of soil is brought nearer.
Much can be done, in addition, to assist crops in spring and early summer by covering the soil surface around them with manure, wet leaf-mould or spent hops or hop manure.
Black, Lifeless Soil. This is common in old town gardens where manuring has been carried out year after year and liming has been neglected. There comes a time when the yield and quality of crops begins to decline because of excess of humus in the soil; lime is then called for. The lime is best forked into the surface in winter – hydrated (slaked) lime, about I lb. per square yard.
Many town garden soils have the same appearance but have not been manured for years. The remedy is to lime in winter and dig in manure or decayed vegetable matter a few weeks later if the soil is thin; if the ground is heavy, dig in manure deeply in winter and lime the surface when digging is completed.
A piece of ‘ sick ground,’ where, for example, a fowl run has been for any length of time, should be dug deeply and limed, preferably in early winter, before any attempt is made to raise any kind of crop on it. The soil has become sick through excess of manure, and only lime will sweeten it and restore fertility.
If it is Peaty.
A plot of a peaty nature will be in no condition to carry any vegetable crop until it has been well limed. Also it is worth every effort to mix with it, throughout a good depth, plenty of clay or heavy loam if either can be obtained.
The ideal manure for enriching clay or other heavy soils is stable manure; for light soils, pig or cow manure. Scarcity of these is a big stumbling block, and artificial fertilizers are not a substitute for them. Alternatives and methods of using them are fully dealt with in the section, FERTILIZERS AND MANURES.
IT is a common practice to buy fertilizers and then wonder what to do with them; a bad example of putting the cart before the horse. Animal manures, scarce and still more expensive, are not considered; and for lack of knowledge of substitutes the ground is starved of the humus which be there before artificial fertilizers can have full effect.
Replacing Plant Food.
The object in manuring ground is to replace the plant foods all crops extract. If they are not replaced, plants are starved and stunted.
Ground is fertile by reason of the humus it contains. Humus is the residue of decayed animal and vegetable matter. The stock of it is added to by digging in natural (organic) manures such as stable, farmyard, sheep, goat, rabbit, fowl and pigeon manure; and such matter as spent brewery hops, hop manure (an excellent substitute for stable manure), seaweed, and rotting or rotted vegetable material as collected in the refuse heap which should find a place on every piece of vegetable ground.
These are supplemented by wood ash (the result of burning wood, or woody refuse), soot and blood. Chemical fertilizers – artificial manures – further supplement these. They are necessary additions. But they do add any humus to the soil.
The First Concern.
Prevention of waste should be the first concern in dealing with any animal manure that can be obtained. If for any reason the manure cannot be dug in at once, it should be protected against rain by placing it under an open shed, or covering it with boards, galvanized iron sheets, sacking, old bits of carpet or lino, or anything similar. This prevents much of the goodness being washed out of it.
The ideal procedure is to dig in animal manure in spring if the soil is light; in autumn or early winter if the soil is heavy..
Stable and Farmyard Manure.
Horse manure frequently contains wood shavings, used for bedding in the stable; this should not be used. If it contains straw it is particularly useful for digging into clay and other heavy soils, the straw helping to break up the ground and render it more porous. It should not be used for cabbage or other crops that have to stand through the winter, or they grow lush and in that condition may be injured by frost. And no animal manure should be nearer the surface than spade-blade depth where root crops – carrot, parsnip, beet – are to be grown, or the roots will fork and split.
Cow and pig manure are specially valuable for fight soil, helping to retain moisture; they are apt to keep heavy soil wet and cold.
Dug in at the rate of about 28 lb. per sq. rod (30 sq. yd.), sheep, rabbit and goat manure are appreciated by all vegetables.
Fowl and pigeon manure is strong stuff, and can cripple or kill if used to excess. Store under cover with equal parts of dry soil, sandwich fashion. Mix the accumulation, and powder it when required for use – any time during the actively growing season, a trowelful per yard run of row hoed or lightly forked in, about once a fortnight. Follow with a good watering if the ground is dry at the time.
In Liquid Form.
All animal manures, and those artificial fertilizers that are soluble in water, may be given in liquid form in spring and summer; but not to plants still in the seedling stage.
Put the animal manure in a sack or other bag of coarse texture and suspend this in a barrel of water, about one peck to 36 gals, of water – half-peck in the case of fowl and pigeon manure. Allow it to soak for a couple of days, poking the bag occasionally with a stick; then use the liquid, diluted with an equal quantity of plain water, to soak the soil occasionally alongside rows of onion, cabbage, and other vegetables.
As liquid is taken out, replace it with water until the richness is exhausted, as shown by the increasing clearness of the barrel’s contents. Manure left in the bag should then be emptied out alongside any vigorously growing crop. Smaller quantities can be prepared in a bucket or watering can.
Artificial fertilizers can be mixed with water – in the watering can – at the rate of about 1 ounce per gal. and applied at that strength.
All disease-free waste greenstuff, potato-tops, weeds (excepting vigorous-rooting dock, thistle, nettle, couch grass or ‘ twitch,’ and wild convolvulus, all of which should be burned), lawn mowings, grass cut from hedge sides and ditches, bracken, should be collected in a heap or pit to rot down. As layers of material are added they should be sprinkled with finely crushed chalk, or sulphate of ammonia, lb. to the sq. yd., or with soot, to assist the rotting down and increase the value of the mass.
This organic matter is of such value for enriching the soil that the pile or pit of it repays every trouble taken in its collection. The stuff can be dug in whenever a vacancy on the plot occurs.
The bonfire is another source of valuable plant food, the ash that results from the burning of cabbage stalks, sticks, old stakes, weed roojs, hedge trimmings, diseased potato-tops, pest-infested leaves, bracken, containing potash. This last is required by all crops, especially such as contain starch and sugar, as potato, beet and tomato plants.
This wood ash must be kept under cover and dry until required for use, or much of its value may be washed out by the rains. Scatter it over the soil at the rate of a heaped trowelful per sq. yd. a week or ten days before sowing or planting. Use it also as a top dressing before earthing up potatoes, and hoe it in around tomato, potato and beet plants. Too much wood ash should not be used on light soils, which it makes still lighter.
Another method of putting humus into the soil, and improving the moisture-holding quality of light, sandy ground, consists in sowing broadcast a mixture of vetches and rye during September, the top growth being dug in the following spring; or a mixture of mustard and rape in summer, digging in the top growth in autumn – 40Z. of mustard seed and 1 ounce of rape per rod.
Artificial fertilizers are required in order to supplement manure or vegetable refuse already dug in. Special mixtures for the various vegetable crops can be bought ready for use, with directions. These are correctly balanced, the fertilizers being mixed in suitable proportions. Quick-acting stimulants should be applied separately, according to each crop’s requirements.
The Chief Needs.
Foremost among the chemicals required by all plants are: – Nitrogen, to assist the production of leaf and stem and fast growth. It is required specially by the cabbage tribe, lettuce, spinach, celery, rhubarb, leeks.
It can be supplied in the form of sulphate of ammonia, 1 ounce per sq. yd., hoed in at intervals of about a fortnight during spring and summer; nitrate of soda, a mere pinch per plant, also at intervals; soot,
A lb. per sq. yd. during summer, of greatest use on light soil; dried blood, sold by horticultural sup pliers, with directions, hoed or forked in during spring and sum mer. Liquid blood obtained from
H.G.P.FB a slaughter house can be prepared for use by mixing it with a heap of sifted soil; when this has dried, scatter it where required.
Potash, to help produce starch and sugar. It is one of the chief requirements of potato, tomato, beet, and can be supplied as kainit, 3 ounces per sq. yd., dug in during autumn or winter only; sulphate of potash, in spring, 1 ounce per sq. yd.; nitrate of potash (saltpetre), 1 ounce per sq. yd., during summer. Wood ash, from the bonfire, is a free source of supply, as also is the ash of burnt seaweed. Phosphates, which help to maintain health generally and encourage root development. Peas, beans, turnip, benefit by an extra allowance in the form of superphosphate of lime, 2 ounces per sq. yd. during spring and summer; or bone meal, which is slow in action and should be forked into the surface in autumn or winter, about 4 ounces per sq. yd., or basic slag, for heavy and peaty soils, 4 ounces per sq. yd., autumn or winter.
Lime, which is not a manure but, like humus, must be present in soil in sufficient quantity to ensure fertility. Soil overloaded with humus becomes acid or sour, and crops fail. The forking in of lime will correct this. But liming must not be overdone, or the humus will be destroyed. Both lime and humus must be present – in the right proportions.Mossy growth on soil surface indicates either lack of lime or poverty of soil; in the latter case the trouble is corrected by manuring or by the use of fertilizers. The lime content can be determined as described in the next paragraph.
Testing for Lime. Pour a little spirits of salts (hydrochloric acid) over a saucerful of soil. If nothing happens, apart from the soil soaking up the acid, lime will certainly have to be added to the plot where the sample came from.
If it bubbles and froths, sufficient lime is present. If bubbling and frothing is feeble, a moderate dressing of lime is called for.
How to Use Lime.
Once the plot has been put right as to lime it should be kept so, but all-over annual dressings are not likely to be necessary. It is generally sufficient if one-third of the plot is limed in a year, other portions taking their turn in following years. More frequent dressings, however, may be given to the soil containing the destructive club root or finger-and-toe disease which attacks roots of cabbage and turnip; lime checks this. An additional use is as a soil pest (slug, etc..) destroyer.
As a general rule lime should be forked into the surface during winter. It gets to work more quickly if applied in powder form. In that condition it should be broadcast on a windless day, the trowel or spade, or tin with perforated lid, with which it is distributed, held close to the ground.
What Lime to Use. Quicklime will destroy whatever humus there may be in fight or sandy soil; in this case apply a dressing of calcium carbonate (carbonate of lime), commonly known as chalk, ground chalk or ground limestone, I lb. per sq. yd.
Quicklime, calcium oxide, also known as burnt lime, lump lime, shell lime, or caustic lime is burned chalk. It should not be allowed to make contact with stems or leaves or any vegetable. Note should be made of the fact that it burns – hands, face, clothing.
It is useful for sweetening and pulverizing clay and other heavy soils, and is generally needed by newly broken grassland. It should be forked into the dug surface, lb. per sq. yd.
Before spreading, quicklime should be slaked. A convenient method is to distribute it in small heaps, cover these with soil, and later scatter the heaps evenly.
In powdered form quicklime is known as ground lime. The finer the powder the quicker it gets to work. Lumps of lime left on the surface remain idle; lb. per sq. yd. is the quantity to apply, the rate being doubled where club root is troublesome. Note that ground lime is the same as ground (powdered) limestone or chalk.
For general purposes the most convenient form of lime is that sold in small bags, under various trade names, as hydrated (water-slaked) lime. Its chemical name is calcium hydroxide. It is non-caustic, and should be used in accordance with the directions supplied.
General Purposes Mixture.
Lime is best applied separately, as already indicated. It should never be mixed with animal or hop manure. Superphosphate must not be mixed with lime or nitrate of soda; or sulphate of ammonia with lime or basic slag.
The three chief chemical requirements, apart from lime, may be mixed together and given as a general dressing a week or so before the spring sowings in the following form: superphosphate three parts, sulphate of potash one part, and sulphate of ammonia one part, these representing respectively the essential phosphates, potash and nitrogen.
Special individual requirements are given under the names of vegetables in the alphabetical section. The trouble of selection and mixing is saved if special mixtures as sold by horticultural sundriesmen are purchased.