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DURING all of this time my hotbeds had been thriving, and although my neighbors were busy planting their gardens, I had done no more than lay out a good-sized vegetable garden, and have it horse-ploughed with the rest of the field. This I harrowed with Lady M. I knew that by transplanting my artificially cultivated vegetables I would be far in advance of my neighbors in the growth of my garden, and so I was in no hurry to jeopardize my plants with another cold snap.
I am not entirely correct when I say I had done no more than lay out a garden patch. I had noticed with much disgust and concern that the first green things that appeared were the hideous and unsightly burdocks, which require no cultivation, and which, if not promptly checked, spread like the Asiatic cholera and kill out every other kind of vegetation.
So I acted with great promptness and thoroughness, and not only cut them down with a scythe, but spent the greater part of a sunny afternoon in carefully grubbing up each individual root, and burning the entire collection in a bonfire of kerosene-soaked refuse.
I regarded this as the best day's work I had accomplished on the farm, until I found some days later that I had utterly eradicated what was probably the finest bed of pie-plant in the community, and of all plants in the world, pie-plant was the one I most loved.
I was quite cast down about this, and when this calamity was followed by a succession of trials and reverses in my farm labor, I felt almost disposed to close my house and take rooms at a hotel. First, I forgot again, so careful was I not unduly to expose the growing plants to the sudden changes of our Northern climate, to raise the glass covers for the whole of an unusually warm and sunny day, and as the beds were practically air-tight, and the drawing power of the glass very effective, I was again dismayed to find the plants wilted and lifeless, but this time from extreme heat and dryness.
Then, to add to my discomfort and discouragement, a long cold rain set in, which was followed by chill overcast skies; and when at last the sun condescended to shine, the witch-grass which the weather had stimulated to its utmost, while checking every other growth, had made such enormous increase, that the cultivation of my field had become an impossibility.
The thorough harrowing I had given the garden patch alone had saved it for further experiments. Well, I was disappointed, as I had looked forward to at least an acre and a half of corn, beans, and squashes.
So I set to work in the garden, and planted sweet corn, lettuce, beets, cauliflower, carrots, pole-beans, and sowed nasturtiums the whole length of the yard, or about three hundred feet.
The green things were showing in my neighbors' gardens, and I was far behind them, but I fondly hoped that by extra care and cultivation I might arrive first. But in order not to be entirely distanced, I went to town and bought at a grocery store several boxes of tomatoes and cabbage-plants, and set them out in regular order in the most conspicuous part of the garden.
I also bought a couple of hundred strawberry-plants, cleared a patch of witch-grass by actually picking it out with a fine-toothed comb, and set them out in regular cadence.
The field was now quite overgrown with witch-grass, and much to my astonishment a great variety of other weeds were shooting up. Evidently the dressing placed on the land the winter before had been filled with seeds. A casual examination of the specimens disclosed pigweed, ragweed, live-forever, chickweed, dandelion, purslane, nettle, plantain, skunk-cabbage, bulrush, as well as cucumber, pumpkin, squash, toadstool, mushroom, and mullein leaf.
This worried me a good deal until my friend Daniel informed me that provided I mowed the growth before the seeds became ripe, I would get a noble crop of hay the second year.
A few days after this, and in the first week of May, I noticed one morning that my tomato-plants had suddenly wilted. I pulled one up and examined the root for wire-worm, cut-worm or other subterranean varmint that might have preyed upon the damask of its cheek, but could find nothing. Then I bent to my work, and on my knees, examined them one by one with the utmost care; and before I got half down the first row my search was rewarded by finding a striped bug, evidently the potato-bug of contemporaneous history.
Certainly eternal vigilance is the price of a successful market-garden. I saddled Polly and flew down town, grossly violating the statutory regulations in respect to the speed limit of equestrians.
I bought a little green package of Paris green, and, remounting, flew back even faster. I mixed up a pailful of the required consistency, and showered the poor limp plants. Then I dressed and went down town, anticipating a marked change in the appearance of things on my return.
True enough, when I did return I found that a change had taken place, but not just the change I had anticipated, for two of my hens had scaled their wire fence, imbibed freely of what was left of the contents of the pail, and now lay lifeless and with their claws sticking stiffly in the air as if imploring pity, while the plants were more limp than before. I again sprinkled the plants, put the pail away in safety, buried the hens, and had lunch.
That night there was no change in the flabbiness of the plants, but considerable discoloration was perceptible. The next morning they were so black that I almost gave up hope, but administered another sprinkling and left them.
At noon I again consulted my friend Daniel, who viewed the remains, asking some pointed questions, and then said: "Why, you blooming lunatic, didn't you know that we had a sharp frost yesterday morning? Well, there was, and your tomato-plants were frost-killed. If you only got up in the morning as I do, you wouldn't have been spending the time and money in poisoning potato-bugs when they ain't hatched yet, and won't be for two months."