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ART. I. Bicton Gardens, their Culture and Management, in a Series
of Letters to the Conductor. By James Barnes, Gardener to the Right Honourable Lady Rolle.
from p. 606.) LETTER XXIV. System of Cucumber-Growing. I BEG to take the present opportunity, having half an hour to spare, of making a few remarks on my system of cucumbergrowing, which is a very easy and simple method.
I believe there is no one thing in the whole practice of gardening that has caused more contention amongst gardeners of all classes than cucumber-growing; neither do I believe there is any one thing that has had more treatises written on it. Many of these, I make no doubt, have proved useful; but I am in no way acquainted with the contents of any of them, never having seen but one work on the growth or cultivation of the cucumber, and that was an old book I had lent me many years since, at a time when I was in full practice in a market-garden, and which did not interest me much. It is a plant I have always been particularly fond of growing, and in the culture of which I had for several years a very extensive practice in the London market-gardens.
The cucumber called the Man of Kent was raised by me, and has been very highly esteemed, as may be seen by referring to the different exhibition reports.
I have seen gardeners attempt to grow cucumbers in October, and lose their plants several times in the course of the winter, not managing to cut a cucumber before May day; but being supplied with plants, first from one neighbour and then the other, from six to ten times. It is easy to guess a gardener's errand about the month of March, if he is seen running about with a small basket or hat-box. I have seen many men who would not commence growing cucumbers until they had either seen or heard of a neighbour beginning, or a thought had struck them from seeing the sun shine; and then they would make a
3d Ser. - 1843. XII.
bed in a great hurry, and look round amongst their neighbours for plants.
I have known gardeners put their employers to great and unnecessary expense, and themselves to unnecessary trouble, and after all succeed but indifferently.
I have seen gardeners make a bed of strong hot stable dung, and other fermenting materials, from 3 ft. 6 in. to 5 ft. 6 in. in height; and I believe there are hundreds who follow up the same plan at this very time. Now, if they were only to consider this properly, would they find that the nature of the plant required it? I say, certainly not. Then why continue to follow up such an absurd practice? It appears to me, and always strikes me, when observing the hotbed carried up to such an unreasonable height, that it is either to make it appear conspicuous to every observer, that a cucumber-bed exists in the garden, or that it may be awkward and troublesome for their employers to look into. Why should that be? What need has a gardener to object to his employer looking into a cucumber-frame, when the plants are in a healthy state and doing well, any more than into a hothouse. I have seen those unreasonably high hotbeds lined afterwards strongly with hot fermenting materials, and large holes bored all through the beds, to cause the heat to circulate strongly and rankly through the bottom. A little consideration will quickly show such practice to be entirely against nature. Can it be reasonably thought that they get such a strong fermenting heat at their roots in their natural climate? I should fancy not, and have therefore for many years left off the practice; and I am perfectly convinced, were that old absurd practice entirely dispensed with, cucumbers would be produced with more certainty, in greater abundance, in better perfection, and with much less expense aud trouble. I often wonder how much longer those absurd and unnatural practices are to exist. It would give me great pleasure to see the practical part of cucumber-growing better understood. A man may be in full practice the whole of his life, and yet he may never have once considered whether he was following the system most natural for the production of any one thing under his charge; but go on in some way or other, because he has observed others do the same. A man may read all the books that have been written on any subject; but what is the utility of it if he has had no practice, or has not a mind of his own, properly to reflect on what he is about to do, and what is the most natural method of producing any one thing he is about to aim at ? Until that is fully weighed, things will continue in the present unnatural state.
The proper system to cultivate and produce cucumbers all the year round is very simple and easy, and can be summed up
in a few words. Get seeds of some good variety, and sow them in charcoal dust if it can be conveniently had, or some rather light, purified, sweet earth, plunging the pot in which they are sown in a kind, wholesome, sweet, heat. As soon as the plants are up, pot them singly into small 60-sized pots, taking care to use wholesome sweet earth, and place them as near the glass as possible. As soon as they have made one rough leaf, and are forming the next, pinch it out, or, more properly speaking, stop it; then shift them into 48-sized pots, leaving one third of the pot not filled with earth, to fill up as the plants advance. When the plants have made another joint, stop them again; then shift them into 24-sized pots; if in the autumn or short days of winter, much time and labour will be saved by so doing; allowing them at this time to grow three joints before stopping them again, and taking care, if they are for the hothouse and to be grown in large pots or tubs, to have some thoroughly sweet earth prepared, brought into the house, and put into what you intend to grow them in, a day or two previous to their being permanently placed where they are to produce fruit, so that the earth may get a little warm. Then train them up a neat wire trellising, or painted string trellis, which I prefer myself, as it is so easily shifted when the plants are to be removed, and a succession to be replaced. It is my rule to stop the plants at every joint after turning them out, as long as they are kept growing, taking care, at all seasons, to have a succession of young plants of different sizes.
The requisites are, nice low pits heated with hot water, well drained, which is most essential on any system ; and a good body of well-prepared pulverised soil, consisting of the top spit from an old pasture that is loamy and full of fibre laid together for one year, and, at the time of using, mixed with some sweet, mellow, well-prepared rotten dung, and a little charcoal dust, if it can be procured. For my own practice, I prefer a good frame to any pit for early forcing, except it be a pit on a good construction, worked with hot water, with a nice light trellis to train the plants on, and to keep the fruit from the earth. The depth of the frame, at the back, should be from 2 ft. 6 in. to 3 ft. ; the front 6 in. shallower, which is quite sufficient, is the frame can always be elevated to any degree one could wish for, according to the season of the year.
In preparing for the bed, I always take care to have it well drained with faggots, prunings, or some kind of refuse; to have my dung or other fermenting material well prepared and sweetened, and never, at any season of the year, to make my beds more than 2 ft. 6 in. in height (2 ft. is about my measure); and to line the outside immediately with the same material to the very top of the frame, covering the lining all round with a little
dry hay or dried short grass, or rubbish of some kind that is stored in summer for that purpose. As soon as the heat rises inside of the frame, get some boiling water, and water the bed regularly all over, which will not only purify it, but destroy every living insect therein ; and in a very few days the bed will be ready to receive the soil, which should be well prepared, as stated above. I make it a rule to put a good ridge through the centre of the frame at once, to the depth of 18 or 20 inches, taking care to make use of it in as rough a state as possible. It must be understood that the dung, &c., with which I make my beds is thoroughly worked and sweetened, and such as some people would think of putting on the ground; not depending on any bottom heat from the bed, which, to me, has, for some years, appeared quite unnatural, but relying wholly on the linings for heat. These I find always work very regularly if the dung, &c., is only well mixed before putting to the beds, and then protected well with dry rubbish and feather-edged boards, to keep the wet and winds off. Thatched hurdles, or bundles of evergreen trimmings, placed round the linings, protect them thoroughly. These beds work regularly and kindly for a long time, by occasionally topping up with any dry rubbish; the heat penetrating through the frame similarly to the sun shining on them, and the frames never getting troubled with foul steam, damps, or burning, which the old strong-bed system is always subject to. If the weather proves ever so bad, it is always sweet and kind inside and out of the frame; the plants always dry, healthy, and free from canker and vermin. It is nothing but unnatural usage that produces either : let the weather be rough or smooth, you can always give some air every day, which is most essential to the health and strength of the plants.
My own system is, never to grow but one plant to each light; never to water the plants over-head, but pour plenty of water, a little warmed, out of the spout of the watering-pot, which passes freely through the soil if used in a rough state, occasionally giving them a good soaking of manure-water, and keeping them thin of vine. They will thus continue to produce good fruit in abundance for many months. I take care, when shutting down the lights of an afternoon, to pour some warm water all round the frames, which raises a nice genial steam, and is the means of keeping down wood-lice and other vermin, which delight in drought, foul smells, burned, fusty, bad-worked, fermenting materials.
When I hear a gardener complaining about being overrun with wood-lice, I am perfectly satisfied it is through one of the above causes and want of cleanliness. No man can produce good cucumbers at an early season without some attention. Merely keeping his hands in his pockets, or boasting over a pot of ale, will not produce them. I have never yet seen an indolent man that could grow them. With a slight well-worked bed; the linings kind and well attended to; the soil sweet and well prepared, used in as rough a state as possible, and a good body of it for the roots to run in ; watered with good soft water, a little warmed ; occasionally giving a soaking of manurewater; giving the plants air freely every day; keeping the lights and frames clean ; and keeping the degree of heat inside the frame or pit from 65° to 72° in the first part of their growth, and for swelling the fruit kindly from 720 to 80°; you may succeed in getting a good crop of healthy fruit, and very rarely be troubled with any kind of disease or vermin, and never know what it is to have a burned, fusty, unkind bed, which is the parent of disease and vermin.
Bicton Gardens, January 16. 1843.
Art. II. Ground Plan and Perspective Elevation of a Portion of
improved Landscape Scenery, intended to point out the Errors which are frequently committed by Persons who have little Knowledge of Landscape Composition. By Samuel GRAY, Esq., Landscape
Gardener and Garden Architect. Fig. 126. is a ground plan of a scene which has been improved, and the following are its details:
a, A large tree, which, being a prominent feature in the grounds, the principal walk is made to approach it.
b, A boundary fence, with trees planted at regular parallel distances.
c, An iron fence to divide the paddock from the garden.
k, A garden-seat, placed near an open space between the shrubs, for the convenience of viewing the prospect; where the children of the family frequently feed their favourite cow or ass, which consequently keeps upon the spot when any one is near the seat.
1, A rustic basket in the centre of a flower-bed.