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Ten Acres Enough
Chapter IX.—The Garden—Female Management-Comforts and Profits


I mentioned some time ago that the wife of the former owner of this place had left it with a world of regrets. She had been passionately fond of the garden which now fell to us. As daylight can be seen through very small holes, so little things will illustrate a person's character. Indeed, character consists in little acts, and honorably performed; daily life being the quarry from which we build it up and rough-hew the habits that form it. The garden she had prepared, and cultivated for several years, doing much of the work of planting, watching, watering, and training with her own hands, bore honorable testimony to the goodness of hers. She had filled it with the choicest fruit-trees, most of which were now in full bearing. There was abundance of all the usual garden fruits, currants, gooseberries, grapes, and an ample asparagus bed. It was laid out with taste, convenience, and liberality. Flowers, of course, had not been omitted by such a woman. Her vocation had evidently been something beyond that of merely cooking her husband's dinners. But her garden bore marks of long abandonment. Great weeds were rioting in the borders, grass had taken foothold in the alleys, and it stood in need of a new mistress to work up into prontable use the store of riches it contained. It struck me that if one woman could establish a garden like this. I could find another on my own premises to manage it.

After I had got through with the various plantings of my standard fruits—indeed, while much of it was going on—I took resolute hold of the garden. It was large enough to provide vegetables for three families. I meant to make it sure for one. With all the lights and improvements of modern times, and they are many, three-fourths of the farm gardens in our country are still a disgrace to our husbandry. As a rule, the most easily raised vegetables are not to be found in them; and the small fruits, with the exception of currants and gooseberries, are universally neglected. Many of our farmers have never tasted an early York cabbage. If they get cabbages or potatoes by August, they think they are doing pretty well. They do not understand the simple mysteries of a hot-bed, and so force nothing. Now, with this article, which need not cost five dollars, and which a boy of ten years can manage, you can have cabbages and potatoes in June, and beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, and squashes, and a host of other delicious vegetables, a little later.

By selecting your seed, you can have salad, green peas, onions, and beets by the last of June, or before, without any forcing. A good asparagus bed, covering two square rods of ground, is a luxury that no farmer should be without. It will give him a palatable dish, green and succulent from the bosom of the earth every day, from May to July. A good variety of vegetables is within the reach of every farmer the year round. They are not only an important means of supporting the family, paying at least one-half the table expenses, but they are greatly conducive to health. They relieve the terrible monotony of salt junk, and in the warm season prevent the fevers and bowel complaints so often induced by too much animal food.

Neglect is thus too much the rule. A row of currants, for example, is planted in a garden. It will indeed bear well with neglect; but an annual manuring and thinning out of old wood, would at least triple the size of the fruit, and improve its quality. The row of currants will furnish a daily supply of refreshing fruit to the table for months together. Why should its culture then be totally neglected, when a row of corn by its side of equal length, which will supply only a single feeding to a pen of hogs, is most carefully manured, watched, ploughed, and hoed? I have sometimes seen farmers who, after expending large sums in establishing a young orchard of trees, would destroy one-half by choking them with a crop of oats or clover, because they could not afford to lose the use of the small strip of land a few feet wide in the row, which ought to have been kept clean and cultivated.

I began by deepening the garden soil wherever a spade could be put in. I hired a man for this purpose, and paid him ten dollars for the job, including the hauling and digging in of the great pile of manure I had found in the barnyard, and the clearing up of things generally. I would have laid out fifty dollars in manure, if the money could have been spared; but what I did afforded an excellent return. My wife and eldest daughter, Kate, then in her eighteenth year, did all the planting. I spent five dollars in buying for them a complete outfit of hoes, rakes, and trowels for garden use, lightly made on purpose for female handling, with a neat little wheelbarrow to hold the weeds and litter which I felt pretty sure would have to be hoed up and trundled away before the season was over.

They took to the garden manfully. I kept their hoes constantly sharpened with a file, and they declared it was only pastime to wage warfare on the weeds with weapons so keen. Now and then one of the boys went in to give them a lift; and when a new vegetable bed was to be planted, it was dug up and made ready for them. But the great bulk of all other work was done by themselves.

Never has either of them enjoyed health so robust, or appetites so wholesome. As a whole year's crop of weeds had gone to seed, they had millions of the enemy to contend with, just as I had anticipated. I did not volunteer discouragements by repeating to them the old English formula, that

"One year's seeding
Makes seven years' weeding,"

but commended their industry, exhorted them to persevere, and was lavish in my admiration of the handsome style in which they kept the grounds. I infused into their minds a perfect hatred of the whole tribe of weeds, enjoined it upon them not to let a single one escape and go to seed, and promised them that if they thus exterminated all, the next year's weeding would be mere recreation.

I will say for them, that all our visitors from the city were surprised at seeing the garden so free from weeds, while they did not fail to notice that most of the vegetables were extremely thrifty. They did not know that in gardens where the weeds thrive undisturbed, the vegetables never do. As to the neighbors, they came in occasionally to see what the women were doing, but shook their heads when they saw they were merely hoeing up weeds—said that weeds did no harm, and they might as well attempt to kill all the flies—they had been brought up among weeds, knew all about them, and "it was no use trying to get rid of them."

But the work of weeding kept on through the whole season, and as a consequence, the ground about the vegetables was kept constantly stirred. The result of this thorough culture was, that nearly everything seemed to feel it, and the growth was prodigious, far exceeding what the family could consume. We had everything we needed, and in far greater abundance than we ever had in the city. I am satisfied this profusion of vegetables lessened the consumption of meat in the family one-half. Indeed, it was such, that my wife suggested that the garden had so much more in it than we required, that perhaps it would be as well to send the surplus to the store where we usually bought our groceries, to be there sold for our benefit.

The town within half a mile of us contained some five thousand inhabitants, among whom there was a daily demand for vegetables. I took my wife's advice, and from time to time gathered such as she directed, for she and Kate were sole mistresses of the garden, and sent them to the store. They kept a regular book account of these consignments, and when we came to settle up with the storekeeper at the year's end, were surprised to find that he had eighty dollars to our credit. But this was not all from vegetables—a good deal of it came from the fruit trees.

After using in the family great quantities of fine peaches from the ten garden-trees, certainly three times as many as we could ever afford to buy when in the city, the rest went to the store. The trees had been so hackled by the worms that they did not bear full crops, yet the yield was considerable. Then there were quantities of spare currants, gooseberries, and several bushels of common blue plums, which the curculio does not sting. When my wife discovered there was so ready a market at our own door, she suffered nothing to go to waste. It was a new feature in her experience—everything seemed to sell. Whenever she needed a new dress for herself or any of the children, all she had to do was to go to the store, get it, and have it charged against her garden fund. I confess that her success greatly exceeded my expectations.

Let me now put in a word as to the cause of this success with our garden. It was not owing to our knowledge of gardening, for we made many blunders not here recorded, and lost crops of two or three different things in consequence. Neither was it owing to excessive richness of the ground. But I lay it to the unsparing warfare kept up upon the weeds, which thus prevented their running away with the nourishment intended for the plants, and kept the ground constantly stirred up and thoroughly pulverized. I have sometimes thought one good stirring up, whether with the hoe, the rake, or the cultivator, was as beneficial as a good shower.

When vegetables begin to look parched and the ground becomes dry, some gardeners think they must commence the use of the watering-pot. This practice, to a certain extent, and under some circumstances, may perhaps be proper, but as a general rule it is incorrect. The same time spent in hoeing, frequently stirring the earth about vegetables, is far preferable. When watering has once commenced it must be continued, must be followed up, else you have done mischief instead of good; as, after watering a few times, and then omitting it, the ground will bake harder than if nothing had been done to it. Not so with hoeing or raking. The more you stir the ground about vegetables, the better they are off; and whenever you stop hoeing, no damage is done, as in watering. Vegetables will improve more rapidly, be more healthy, and in better condition at maturity, by frequent hoeing than by frequent watering. This result is very easily shown by experiment. Just notice, after a dewy night, the difference between ground lately and often stirred, and that which has lain unmoved for a long time. Or take two cabbage plants under similar circumstances; water one and stir the other just as often, stirring the earth about it carefully and thoroughly, and see which will distance the other in growth.

There are secrets about this stirring of the earth which chemists and horticulturists would do well to study with the utmost scrutiny and care. Soil cultivated in the spring, and then neglected, soon settles together. The surface becomes hard, the particles cohere, they attract little or no moisture, and from such a surface even the rain slides off, apperently doing little good. But let this surface be thoroughly pulverized, though it be done merely with an iron rake, and only a few inches in depth, and a new life is infused into it. The surface becomes friable and soft, the moisture of the particles again becomes active, attracting and being attracted, each seeming to be crying to his neighbor, "Hand over, hand over—more drink, more drink." Why this elaboration should grow less and less, till in a comparatively short time it should seem almost to cease, is a question of very difficult solution; though the varying compositions of soils has doubtless something to do with the matter.

But let the stirring be carefully repeated, and all is life again. Particles attract moisture from the atmosphere, hand it to each other, down it goes to the roots of vegetables, the little suction fibres drink it in; and though we cannot see these busy operations, yet we perceive their healthy effects in the pushing up of vegetables above the surface. The hoe is better than the water-pot. My garden is a signal illustration of the fact.


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