SURFACE CULTIVATION has three main objects—to break the surface into fine particles and thus make it suitable for seeds and small plants; to maintain a loose surface layer or dust mulch of soil, which has a tidy appearance and acts as a kind of blanket over the lower soil; and to destroy weeds.
Forking. Principally used for breaking down the surface of ground that has already been dug or trenched and mixing fertilizers and manure with the soil. Sometimes a digging fork with broad, flat tines is substituted for a spade for ordinary digging or trenching, especially if ground is heavy or wet. When a fork is used to break surface clods the back is employed with swinging, sideways blows.
Hoeing. There are several types of hoe, serviceable according to soil and requirements.
THE DRAW HOE has a blade at right angles to the handle. It is employed with chopping, drawing motions, the operator moving forwards and thus treading on the hoed ground. It is useful for breaking down rough surfaces, hacking off thick growth of weeds, drawing deep drills for large seeds and potatoes, or drawing soil towards plants.
THE CANTERBURY HOE has three broad prongs at right angles to the handle and is used like the draw hoe for breaking down clods.
THE DUTCH HOE has a flat blade approximately in the same plane as the handle and is the best tool for keeping the surface soil loose and cutting off light weed growth and mixing top dressings with the soil. It is employed with sweeping backward and forward movements. The blade passes just beneath the surface and the operator moves backwards so that the hoed soil is not trodden on.
CULTIVATORS AND PATENT HOES of many kinds have been devised and some are serviceable. Particularly useful are the clawed cultivators with three or five tines, used principally instead of a fork for breaking clods and loosening the surface round plants in growth.
WHEELED HOES are made by several firms and are most suitable for working between crops planted in straight lines. The wheels of the tool bear most of the weight and the gardener pushes the hoe forward in successive sharp jerks. Ground can be covered very rapidly, but the operator necessarily treads on soil that has been hoed. Some patterns can be fitted with cultivating tines for breaking rough soil and with a small plough for potato planting and earthing up.
Raking. This is required in final preparation of seed beds and beds intended for small plants, and also for removing moss and creeping weeds from lawns. Raking of soil should be done only when the surface is reasonably dry. Excessive fineness is not an advantage and may cause surface caking. The ideal will depend on the size of the seeds or plants. The smaller these are the more the soil should be raked. For lawns a spring-toothed rake is better for regular use than the ordinary rigid rake, as it is less likely to tear out grass or otherwise damage the surface of the lawn.
Seed Sowing. Apart from forking, hoeing, and raking the surface to a fine crumbly condition known as a good tilth,’ seed beds must be trodden to give even firmness throughout. Tread slowly backwards and forwards across the surface, choosing a time when the soil is drying white on top. Boards about 1 foot by 6 inches may be fixed to the boots to hasten treading. Rake the surface level after treading is finished.
DRILLS FOR SEEDS may be drawn with the edge of a dutch hoe, the corner of a draw hoe, or a pointed stick. Small drills may be made by pressing a broom handle into the surface. Wide drills for peas and beans may be made with a spade used flat to scoop out the soil 2 to 3 inches deep. Cover seeds by drawing the displaced soil back with the rake. Finally use the rake vertically with gentle ramming motions to firm the soil over the seeds.
Earthing Up. This means drawing the soil towards plant. It is practised for two reasons, first to exclude light and secondly to provide plenty of loose soil in which such plants as potatoes and artichokes may form their tubers. Exclusion of light is principally required with leeks and celery to blanch the stems and make them palatable, but it is also an important object in earthing potatoes, as if the tubers are exposed to light they become green, bitter, and poisonous. A draw hoe is commonly used for this task and the soil is drawn up a little at a time rather than in one operation.
Planting. This may be done with dibber, trowel, spade, or special tool according to the type of plant.
THE DIBBER is serviceable for planting seedlings rapidly. Its drawback is a tendency to consolidate the soil unevenly and cramp roots in a narrow hole. Special steel-shod dibbers may be purchased or good dibbers can be made from old spades or fork handles cut to a length of about 18 inches and sharpened to a point. Avoid making holes too deep. When the roots have been dropped into position, push the dibber into the soil again alongside the plant and, with a levering movement towards it, press the soil firmly around the roots.
A TROWEL is the best tool for planting most small and medium-sized plants. Long-handled trowels save stooping but place greater strain on the wrist muscles. Holes made with the trowel should be of ample size to accommodate all roots disposed naturally. Work the soil by hand round these and firm on all sides with the foot or knuckles. Loose planting is a common cause of failure, as loose soil dries rapidly and plants cannot make sturdy growth in it.
A SPADE may be used for planting all large things such as shrubs, fruit trees, and bushes, etc. Holes should be wide and comparatively shallow so that roots may be spread out laterally to their full extent. The uppermost should, as a rule, be covered with from 3 to 6 inches of soil. Break the soil finely, scatter round the roots, a little at a time, and jerk the tree or shrub gently meanwhile so that soil settles between the roots. When all are covered tread firmly, scatter mpre loose soil on top, and water in if dry.
WATER all newly planted seedlings and plants freely during dry weather until established. QUICK-ACTING FERTILIZERS should not be given to anything freshly planted.
SPECIAL TOOLS are employed for certain purposes. A bulb planter which removes a neat core of turf is serviceable for naturalizing daffodils, etc., in grassland. It has a wide handle, a shaft similar to that of a spade, a crossbar near the bottom and a circular blade. A two-sided hand plough which draws a deep furrow is occasionally employed in large gardens for planting potatoes and similar roots.