How to make soil fertile
The biggest problem which faces the owner of the small garden or allotment is that of making and keeping the soil fertile. To be in good condition for plant growth, soil must contain a sufficiency of nitrogen, potash, phosphates, lime and humus. The first three named are the chief plant foods. They are all found in stable manure, and in poultry or pigeon manure. Such natural manures also contain humus which keeps the soil in good condition mechanically, helping it to retain moisture.
Stable, cow, or pig manure, when available, should be dug into the soil during the winter. A large barrow-load of well-rotted manure would be sufficient for ten square yards, but if the supply contains a quantity of fight strawy matter, about twice the amount can be used.
H manure is obtained but is not used for a time, it should be covered with six inches of soil. Otherwise a great deal fjc its value is lost. Stable manure can often be dug into the soil in a fresh condition so long as immediate planting is not con-templated.
Poultry and pigeon manure should never be used fresh, but should be stored with alternate layers of dry soil. It is best to keep the heap dry by storing it in a shed. Turn it over occasionally, and after about six months it will be in a good condition for applying to growing crops at the rate of four ounces per square yard.
Other ways to add humus. The growing of a green crop, such as mustard, rye or vetches, to be turned in before flowering, is one way of adding humus to the soil, but in small gardens this is seldom practicable. The contents of a compost pit – annual weeds without seeds, vegetable parings, bones, rags and leaves – make a good substitute, and this kind of waste matter should never be burnt.
Perennial weeds, woody rubbish and such materials, which will not decay quickly, find their way to the bonfire. These make valuable ashes, which should be stored in a dry place until they are wanted for use. The ash contains a quantity of potash, and an ounce to each square yard of soil where potatoes, peas, beans, carrots, parsnips, and onions are grown is beneficial. It is also a splendid dressing for carnation beds and for seedling flowers of all kinds.
One ton of good farmyard manure con-tains about 15 lb. Of nitrogen, 7 lb. Of phosphates, 11 lb. Of potash. This is regarded as the best of all manures because, in addition to containing the essential plant foods, it also improves the texture of the soil. However, since farmyard manure cannot always be obtained, humus is often added in the manner already described, and supplemented with artificial fertilizers. It is the gardeners business to see that these artificial manures are used to the greatest advantage.
Nitrates. As organic manure (i.e.. animal manure), nitrogen can be applied to the soil in winter. In fact, it is best applied then, as the nitrogen in stable manure needs to undergo certain bacterial changes before it becomes active as plant food. The effect of a surfeit of nitrate is excessive growth of leaf instead of fruits. Thus it will be seen that nitrogenous manures can be freely used on green crops such as cabbage, and more sparingly on fruits.
Artificial nitrogenous manure should generally not be given until spring, the roason being that if it is applied early in the winter it will probably wash away out of the top soil before the roots become active and are able to take it in as food.
It may be taken as a general guide that no artificial manure should be given on light soils during the winter, owing to this tendency for the fertilizer to wash out. Certain fertilizers may be used on clay soils, particularly those chemicals which, by their action, tend to break the solid lumps of clay. Artificial nitrogen is usually given in one of two forms – as nitrate of soda, or sulphate of ammonia. If nitrate of soda is used it should never be mixed with other artificials but should be applied alone, and only when the crops are well growing.
Phosphates. Basic slag is one of the commonest forms in which phosphatic manure is given. It is a by-product from the manufacture of steel and contains about 45% of lime. This fact should be remembered if lime is applied at the same time. In purchasing basic slag the fineness is important, and for garden use it should be fine enough to pass through a sieve of 100 meshes to the square inch.
Basic slag is slow acting and is particularly useful on heavy soils. Its function is to encourage fruitfulness and early ripening. Two ounces to a square yard is sufficient. On chalky, loamy soils, superphosphate of lime is more often used for the supply of phosphatic manure. This is always applied in spring or during the growing season.
Potash. Both heavy and light soils can be dressed with kainit to provide the necessary potash. This can be applied best in autumn or in January. It contains a certain amount of impurities which are best washed out of the soil before the growing season commences. This fertilizer improves the quality of the crops and also helps to resist disease. A dressing of one to three ounces per square yard can be used.
Lime. Lime is regarded by the gardener as a golden key to the soil. It is not in itself a plant food, but by its action it unlocks other plant foods in the soil and makes them available. Plant foods combine with the lime in the soil in such a way that the unnecessary part of the foodstuffs forms a compound, leaving the plant food free for the use of the crop.
Practically all land that is under cultivation contains some lime, but the quantity of lime is always being lessened in a variety of ways. It tends to sink in time owing to the action of rain, and this explains the fact that cultivated soil lying over a subsoil of chalk is very often deficient in lime. Generally speaking, it is bettor to apply lime little and often, and an annual application of one to three ounces per square yard is usually sufficient.
Lime is obtainable in various forms. Hand-picked lump lime is the first selection from the lime kilns. Small lime is the lime passing through the screens during the selection of hand-picked lumps. Both these forms of lime are useful on vacant land, particularly land infested with soil pests. Hydrated lime is made by treating hot lump lime with water. If hot lime is purchased for use on the garden among growing crops, it can be exposed to the air in small heaps for a time before use, and will break down into fine-powdered hydrated lime.
Ground limestone, that is, raw quarry lime ground very fine, is perfectly safe to use in gardens, but it is slow acting, and its full effects are not felt till some months after application. Chalk is an admirable way in which to apply lime to light soils, but it is less useful on heavy soils as its action does not break down solid lumps of clay, as lime does.
Soot. Of the different soil fertilizers available for the tiso of the amateur gardener, soot is one of the most important. Actually its value as a plant food is not very much, though it docs contain about 3% of nitrogen. It is of more use as an insecticide, and also because it blackens the soil and this tends to increase solar heat.
Dried Blood. The blood from slaughter houses is marketed in the form of fertilizer. It is regarded as an expensive form of fertilizer for general purposes, but is often used where exhibition blooms are grown, as it intensifies the colour.
Bonemeal. The fineness of grinding makes a considerable difference to the availability of bonemeal as a fertilizer. The coarser bonemeal is exceedingly useful in cases where a slow-acting fertilizer is re-quired, as for instance in the mixing of a compost for tubs and window boxes or for the greenhouse beds.
Fish Meal. Pish waste is ground and sold as fertilizer for gardens. It is particularly useful on light soils and for market garden produce. Raspberries are often treated with fish manure with good eifeets.
Kelp. Kelp is a seaweed manure, much used in such places as the Cornish coast and the Scilly Isles. It is exceedingly valuable on potato crops.
Nitro-Chalk. This is a fertilizer which combines the advantages of sulphate of ammonia and nitrate of soda and also contains some lime. It is a modern product and probably the most efficient for top-dressing that is available. It is quick in action, but it is also lasting in its effects.
Double digging, by which means the soil is broken up to u depth of two spits.
It is said to check the development of such diseases as finger-and-too. Garden Operations Digging. There is an old gardeners saying, Tillage is manure, and without doubt the work that is put into the cultivation of the soil is of even greater importance than the use of fertilizers. There is no bad soil: every kind of soil can be brought into good condition by deep digging. The soil is usually described by the gardener as either heavy or light. These terms do not refer to the colour of the soil, but to the effort needed in digging.
Light soil is loose, sandy soil into which the spade will go quite easily, and which is not half so tiring to turn over as sticky, solid clay or heavy soil – heavy because of the moisture it holds. Those who own clay soils have the consolation of knowing that a clay soil, if it is well worked, is more fertile than a light soil. Owners of gardens where the soil is light have their compensation in the ease with which the soil can be worked.
All soil, whether heavy or light, must be deeply dug if good results are to be obtained; but heavy soil should usually be dug rather more deeply than is necessary for light soil. The method of digging varies somewhat according to the condition of the ground.
When a new garden is being tackled the first thing to do, after marking out the position of beds and borders, is to discover the most fertile soil. Fertile soil is generally darker in colour and more fibrous in texture than infertile soil. The top spit of old pasture land is always good fertile soil, but the underneath subsoil is probably infertile, and often sticky clay, stony gravel or chalk.
When excavations are done for building purposes, it often happens that the fertile soil is covered with a thick layer of the original subsoil. This will be discovered if a small, deep hole is dug, and from his observations of the condition of the plot the gardener will know how to tackle the digging.
Simple Digging. If soil is already in good condition, under cultivation, and the drainage is satisfactory, it may be sufficient to dig the soil one spit deep. This merely means the depth the spade penetrates when pushed vertically into the soil. Always turn the soil over during the process of digging. On a new plot tins simple digging will be insufficient, as it will usually be necessary also to break up the subsoil.
Bastard Trenching. If, on investigation, the gardener discovers that the soil is in normal condition, that is, with the same top spit of soil on the surface as it was in the original meadow-land before the builder started his operations, the method of digging can be what is known as bastard trenching. This is a simple operation if undertaken in the following manner.
First take out the soil from a trench along one end of the border or plot. The trench should be about 18-in. Wide and 12-18 in.
Method of procedure when digging a plot. Work from A-E to C-F and round to E-D.
Deep. Wheel this soil to the far end of the plot where the digging will be finished. Get into the trench and break up the hard pan of subsoil with a large fork. On to this broken subsoil turn the next width of turf (if old meadow land) or weeds, together with any available stable manure or decayed leaves.
Now turn the next width of soil over into the trench to (ill it, leaving a similar trench open which will be treated in exactly the same way as the first one. This operation is continued all down the border or the plot, the soil from the first trench being used to fill the last one. It will be seen that by this method the subsoil is broken up, but is kept in its proper place below the more fertile soil.
Trenching. In the case of a garden where subsoil has been excavated and spread over the surface of the original fertile soil, trenclung can be practised as follows:
First take out a trench 2 feet wide and deep enough to leave the fertile soil visible, moving the excavated soil into a heap at the far end of the plot. Next excavate the bottom of this trench to a depth of another 15 inches. This second layer of soil will be the darker, more fertile soil which was covered by the builder. This also will be moved to the far end of the plot and put in a separate heap.
Now turn in to the bottom trench the top layer of soil (the original subsoil) from the second 2 feet wide strip. Over this put available stable manure, or decayed leaves, and fill up the trench with the fertile soil from the bottom o f the second trench. Con tinue this process to the end, filling in the last trench with the soil from the first, but still keeping the fertile soil at the top and the infertile clay or gravel or chalk below.
A similar process to this is sometimes practised in old gardens where the top spit of soil has become exhausted. In such cases it is generally best, however, to mix the two layers of soil together as they are turned into the open trench.
Tools needed. The spade and a large garden fork are the two tools used for all digging operations. The spade is best for trenching, but on very heavy soils it is impossible to use this, and the fork should then be used. There is no need to use any other tool at the time the soil is dug, for it may be taken as a general rule that the surface of the soil should be left in a rough condition. This allows more rain and air to penetrate than if the soil were made fine and level at the time of digging.
The large fork is also used occasionally to stir the surface of the soil between growing plants in shrubberies and established borders.
Hoeing. Next to digging, hoeing is probably the most important of all garden operations. Hoeing actually means pushing a sharp blade into the surface of the soil in such a manner that it loosens the top few inches of soil, and killing the weeds they are prevented from robbing the plant of food available in the soil. By loosening the top soil, evaporation is checked, and the soil that is hoed during hot, dry spells, retains far more moisture for the use of plants than soil.
At the same time cuts off weeds just below the soil surface.
There are two chief kinds of hoe: the Dutch hoe which is used with a pushing motion, the worker gradually working backwards along the row, and the draw hce which is used in exactly the opposite manner, the worker travelling forwards, and drawing the soil towards him.
The purpose of hoeing is two-fold. By which is allowed to become caked and then to crack.
Sowing and Planting. When seeds are to be sown in the open ground, it is usually best to sow them in long straight lines. Tins is particularly so in the case of vegetables which are to continue to grow in the same place as they are sown. If the lines are straight and not nearer together than 6-in., the ordinary hoe can be used between the lines immediately 581 the seeds begin to germinate. This keeps weeds from choking the tiny seedlings, as well as keeping the soil in good condition.
The easiest way to ensure sowing seeds in straight lines is to use a long length of string, sufficient to stretch from one side of the plot to the other. Tie each end of the string to a piece of stick when it is not in use.
When the seeds are to be sown push the sticks in on each side of the plot so that the string is stretched taut. Then use a triangular hoe, or the edge of a rake, and draw a drill, or shallow trench, im- mediately alongside the string. Move each stake another 12 or 15-in. Along the plot to draw the next drill. Sow the seeds in the first drill and cover them at the same time as the next drill is drawn, raking away any foot marks that are made as the work is done.
In this way the whole of the plot can be sown and left looking neat and tidy, instead of looking trodden and untidy as is often the case when a novice sows seeds for the first time.
The garden line is used in exactly the same manner when seedlings are to be set out in rows, or when holes are being made with a dibber to receive potatoes, or to receive special soil where prize root-crops are to be grown. See also SEED SOWING. It should also be used in all cases of work on the vegetable plot such as making celery trenches, so that crops are always grown in parallel lines, the lines running north and south for preference.
Transplanting. Whenever any work of transplanting has to be done, it should be done as quickly as possible, and with as little damage as possible to the roots. If a ball of 6oil can be kept intact round plant roota, they do not suffer any shock when moved. That is why plants that do not transplant easily are generally best raised in pots singly, because they can be knocked out of the pots latar and put into the open ground without much root disturbance.
In all cases of transplanting, care should be taken to see that the plant roots come immediately into contact with warm moist soil after they are moved. That is why the showery days of April and May are good times for transplanting to the open ground.
If transplanting ever has to be done during dry weather, both the plants to be moved and the soil into which they are to be set should be well watered before the transplanting is done. It is also important to see that the soil of the new home is pressed firmly round the roots. More new plants are lost through careless, loose planting than through any other reason.
Faulty culture, which has resulted in long leggy plants instead of bushy ones, can to some extent be corrected at transplanting time. For instance, leggy wallflowers can be set deeply, and not quite vertical! , in the soil, so that the surface of the soil comes only a little below the green leaves. This only partially corrects the fault; it is much better for the gardener to aim at the production or purchase of sturdy, bushy plants, since in this case prevention is better than cure.
Another way to correct the same fault is to pinch out the tip of certain plants at the time they are transplanted. This often causes the production of a number of side shoots. It cannot be dono where the object of the gardener is to obtain a strong central leader, as for instance in the case of pyramd-shaped shrubs, which do not grow symmetrically if the central leader is broken off.