For Plants sown in October, November, December, and January.
Four loads of dung will be sufficient for a three-light box, and the
same in proportion to the number you intend to make use of. Let it be
put together a fortnight before the
seed is sown; be very particular in giving it plenty of water, and pack it close together. After it has laid a week turn it, and if dry, moisten it with water. Let it continue in this state another week, when the same directions as before given must be observed; and, in a week more, the bed will be in a fit condition to make up. The bottom must be prepared in the same manner as directed for the seed-bed; then form the bed of dung four feet three inches at the back, by four feet in the front, allowing for a cavity of about ten inches between each box; then place the boxes on, and put the shovellings inside, in the proportion of two or three barrows-full to a light. In forming the bed, it is the best plan to make it in layers of about a foot each, which will cause the dung to be much better mixed, than if all finished at first, of an equal height. Be very particular in separating the dung, and breaking it to pieces, afterwards beating it well down with a fork. After the bed has been thus prepared, put the lights on, and shut them down close until the heat begins to rise. When such is the case, give them about an inch of air; and in three or four days wrap the bed all round with dry litter or useless hay, eighteen inches wide from the bottom, sloping it in to about a foot as high as the bed, which will greatly tend to promote a regular heat. As the careful wrapping up of the bed is an essential requisite, means must be taken to keep it close, and protect it from any injury that may arise in consequence of tempestuous weather, this may be accomplished by means of sharp-pointed sticks, with hooks in the form of a peg, and about the size and length of a broom-stick. Thrust these through the litter into the bed, about half way up, one to each light, at the back and front, and two at each end. After the bed has been made about a week or ten days, take off the boxes and lights, in order to level it, and let it have from four to six inches fall from the back to the front; in this, however, you must be in some degree guided by the form of the boxes, which it is necessary should have a good fall, that the plants may derive benefit from the sun; then fork up the bed about a foot deep, and again place on the boxes and lights, giving nearly two inches of air, both night and day. In about four or five days it will be necessary to again fork it up, and give it some water, in the proportion of two pots to a light. This must be repeated every two or three days, until the bed is perfectly sweet, which is usually the case in three or four weeks, applying water during that time, according to the state of the bed. When you find that the bed is properly purified, put in the sifted leaf mould. A three-light box will require a large barrow-full; the quantity for a one-light being about four shovels. After this, add to the wrapping some sweet litter or hay, increasing it to nearly the top of the boxes, and apply about two pots of water to each of the cavities, taking care to fill them up to nearly the tops of the boxes, with short sweet mulshy litter. This is a point but very little known, yet of the greatest importance in the culture of cucumbers; for when the weather begins to grow severe, if there is no cavity, and the boxes are placed close together, in the usual manner, the outsides are very liable to become damp, and the cold, penetrating through, is certain of doing the plants material injury. Put a pot of plants in the middle of a three-light box, and at night admit nearly two inches of air, covering them with a single mat; and if on the following day the plants look well, they may be safely ridged out. It is requisite that both the boxes and lights should be painted every year, at least a month before they are wanted for use; but if this cannot be conveniently done, be particular in washing them with boiling water, in which some unslacked lime must be mixed. This will in some measure answer the purpose of paint in effectually destroying the vermin, or the eggs which may have been deposited in the crevices of the wood. After the plants are ridged out, wash them every morning, on the outside, and about once a week in the inside, which will tend to reflect the light, and cause them to thrive much better. When you wash the outside, push them down about two or three inches, which will prevent the water from perishing the lining at the side of the boxes. If the plants have received no injury, and are able to bear the heat of the bed, ridge them out, letting the hills be about nine inches high, covering the roots about an inch round, and being an inch higher than they were when in the pots. If there is any surplus mould, rake it with the hand all over the bed; then water the plants, taking care, at the same time to sprinkle the bed regularly upon the surface. Close them down for the space of ten minutes, and then admit an inch of air. If the weather is mild, in an hour it may be increased to two inches, and a single mat only will be requisite at night. If, however, the weather is windy, cover them at night with a double mat, or a single one and a little hay. Be very particular in allowing them plenty of air, especially of a night, taking care, however, to regulate this by the temperature of the weather. If there is much wind, they will of course require less air; but, at all events, it is better to give too much than otherwise, more particularly at the first ridging out, as the weather at this season being frequently subject to sudden changes, which, should it occur in the night, and the plants are too confined, or the least rankness existing in the bed, they are sure to experience material injury, which, at this time of year, it is very improbable they will ever recover; or, if with extreme difficulty, they should be brought round, they can never be expected to grow to any degree of perfection. Stir up the bed every day for a fortnight to the depth of about nine inches, with a hand-fork, and if you discover any fire-heat, immediately give water to the part affected, that being the only effectual remedy that can be applied. Be careful in forking close to the bottom of the hills, and if you ascertain that it fires much in this place, bore several holes at the bottom of the hills, and apply plenty of water. Have a sharp-pointed stick, about six or eight inches long, for the purpose of stirring the mould round the plants, in a similar manner to hoeing a crop in a garden. This will very much refresh the plants, and should be attended to while they are young, for at least two months the day after they have been watered. As soon as the roots begin to be visible through the hills, add three shovels-full of unsifted mould at a time to each hill, being very careful not to mould too freely, until the beginning of February, as the plants from the middle of December to the middle of January, lie in a dormant state; consequently, too large a quantity of mould at this season, will be attended with ill effects, in stagnating the roots, and preventing the heat of the bed rising in a free and proper manner. This being the season when plants are most exposed to injury, and are frequently lost, great care and attention is necessary for their preservation from the effects of the cold, in wrapping the linings well up, and giving a good top covering. If the weather is intense, they will require eight or nine inches covering of hay, and water only once a week. As soon as the plants are first ridged out, have dung in for a lining, which should always be put in the front and sides first. When the dung has been put together a week, turn it, and at the end of another it will be fit for use; one load being sufficient for a three-light box. After the plants have been ridged out a fortnight, or three weeks at the farthest, it will be necessary to line the bed to the width of about two feet, and three parts as high as the bed, inclining with a slope of about six inches towards the top. When the dung has been put about half way up, tread it, and then add the remainder, beating it well down with a fork. Cover the lining with litter about three or four inches thick at the outside, and within one or two inches of the top of the box; then place a board at the top about nine inches wide, which will keep it close, and assist in drawing up the heat. Be particularly careful in stopping the inside next to the box, when you make a fresh lining, and beat it close down with the hand about two or three inches above the bottom. When a fresh lining has been added, have the dung in readiness for the back, which will be required about a fortnight afterwards. It should be formed about two feet six inches wide, well trod down, and wrapped up in the same manner as the front, within three inches of the top of the box. Be careful that the litter is not rank; old useless hay, or litter that has been some time laying by, will be preferable. The same directions must be attended to in stopping up the inside of the box, as with the front. As soon as the heat of the lining in any degree affects the bed, and you discover that the inside, where it has been stopped, begins to get dry, give it some water in the evening, just before covering up, for about a week or ten days, which will be the means of keeping the rankness down, and causing a sweet steam heat to rise. As the lining settles, press it down with a spade next the box, and add more litter upon the top, which should be done every other day, observing that when you increase one lining to have the dung in readiness for the next; each lining not being calculated to last more than a month or five weeks; though the back one will not want renewing quite so often as the front. When you apply the second front lining, it will be necessary to bore the bed with a hedge-stake or mop-stick, making five holes to a three-light box; that is, one under each hill, and two under the bars: bore them straight rather better than half way up the bed, so that when the second back lining is applied, holes may be bored exactly opposite to the others. This will cause a free circulation of the heat from one lining to the other, and prove not only of great service in regulating the temperature of the bed, but of equal advantage in draining off the surplus water. Take care when you add a fresh lining, to keep the holes open. As the linings draw the boxes down, they will require rising with boards and bricks. In order to accomplish this, it will be necessary to provide some small pieces of board, rather larger than a brick, placing one of each, with a brick, under the corners of the boxes; and, as the bed settles, increase the number of bricks. When you raise the boxes, stop up the bed with rotten moist dung, and close up the inside about two or three inches above the bottom of the box. The plants should be always topped when young, at the first joint, as before directed; then let them run two joints twice following; afterwards keep them topped at the first joint, except it be blind, which may be easily ascertained by close examination; if you find such to be the case, let it run another joint before it is topped. It is necessary that the plants should be continued in leaf mould until the middle of January, as there is no other in which they will thrive so well at that season of the year. Their peculiar and tender nature bears a strong resemblance to young children, in the care requisite for their nurture and growth. They require light nourishment, that will easily digest; and no soil is so well calculated for this purpose as leaf-mould, mixed with a little grit; from its excellent properties in absorbing the water. In ridging out the plants, one thing must be attended to in the preparation of the bed, which has not been before mentioned. Hollow the bed out to the depth of about four inches in the middle, so that if the weather is cold or windy, the dung may be pulled down half way up the hills, when it will be nearly level about the bed; but as soon as the weather becomes mild, it must be drawn away again, or otherwise the heat will be too violent for the roots. As mould is added to the roots, draw the dung away level with the bottom of the hill; then put it half way up again, being, however, regulated in this by the heat of the bed, and the temperature of the weather. After the hills cover nearly three parts of the bed, take the dung out which has been placed round them, and level it with nearly the bottom of the box, leaving three or four inches round the sides to keep out the rankness from the linings, as before directed. In covering up the plants, a single mat will be sufficient, until they have been ridged out a fortnight, unless the weather is windy or very cold; in such case, make use of a double mat or a little hay; be careful, at the same time, not to give them too much covering at first, as it will draw the plants, and cause them to grow very weak; in this, however, you must be in some degree guided by the heat of the bed, and the temperature of the weather. When there is a good heat, and the weather is still, they will require less; but if there is much wind, or the air is very cold, it must of course be increased. It seldom occurs that plants require much covering until a fortnight before Christmas, when it will be found necessary, if the weather is moderate, to cover them from four to six inches. Instances have occurred, when the author has been obliged to increase the covering to a foot in thickness, from the intense cold; but this, however, is seldom the case; and from four to six inches may generally be considered sufficient from December to April. As the sun increases, and the nights become milder, reduce the covering to three or four inches, until May; from whence to June a single mat, or a little hay or litter will be sufficient. If the weather is now seasonable, and the nights warm, they will not require any covering, but should this not be the case, it is better to continue it even until Midsummer. Take particular care when covering up, after a fresh lining has been put to the bed, that the mats or hay does not hang over the lights for at least a fortnight, as such will draw the rank steam into the bed, and kill the plants. The linings should be continued until the weather is fine and settled, which may be expected in the middle of May; but should the weather be cold and unfavourable, it may be necessary to retain them until the middle of June. In about the third week of the month of January, the plants will require stronger food; and half bog and half leaf mould may be applied. Should there be a difficulty in obtaining bog earth, procure the top spit of light meadow earth, and lay it up for twelve, or, at the least, six months before it is wanted for use. When you mould towards the outside, it may be still stronger, mixing rotten dung or leaf mould, in the proportion of one-fourth, with bog or light meadow earth; observing, however, not to mould up the plants level until some time after fruit has been cut. The beginning of March is the proper time to mould up full. Let a cavity be left at the back and front of the box of about two inches, to prevent the roots from being injured on the outside of the box by the linings; and to cause the heat to rise freely from the bed. It is very necessary that the plants should be kept thin of vine, as being material in the growth of fine fruit; and as they extend towards the outside of the bed, do not suffer them to run more than one joint at a time. Keep the leaves thinned, by taking out the oldest first, in order that they may stand single, and not one over the other; to accomplish which it will be necessary to peg them out. When taking off the leaves, cut them close to the vine, not leaving a long stalk, as that will rot and injure the plants. When they are laid, be particular in having the plants down close to the mould, as early as possible, in order that they may strike root; at the same time being careful not to bury the vine. In doing this, place a little mould round the side of the vine first, leaving the top uncovered until it is a little hardened, and the roots begin to strike. When such is the case, cover the vine all over, and then you may continue laying within one joint of the extremity. It is here necessary to observe, that very few are acquainted with the advantages that may be derived from laying the plants in a proper manner. Many even, who are in the habit of observing this method, practice it so slightly, that little if any benefit results from it; and by far the greatest number of horticulturists take no notice of it whatever. Laying is certainly a most material point in the culture of the early cucumber; and it is impossible to ensure a good crop without a strict attention to it: in fact, the Author principally attributes his success in the production of fine fruit, to his extreme care in this particular. It should be done every fortnight or three weeks after the plants have come into bearing; and, if continued in a regular manner, good fruit may be obtained until October. Some imagine that October sown plants will soon be worn out, after producing a few cucumbers early; but this is a mistaken idea, for, if the laying is continued regularly, they will bear good fruit equally as long as any young plants sown in the spring. Leaf-mould, mixed with a little road sand, is the best thing to lay them in until the latter end of March, when you may add a stronger soil, composed of one-fourth of leaf-mould or rotten dung, mixed with bog or light meadow earth. Soft water is essentially necessary for the plants, as hard is almost certain of producing the canker, unless particular means are adopted to prevent it. In some situations it may be impossible to obtain soft water; in such a case, let the water stand in a tub for at least twenty-four hours; if two or three days even it will be the better, as in that time it will be in some degree softened by the sun, and the raw coldness expelled from it. After the plants have come into bearing, sheeps dung is an excellent thing to mix with the water, if used in a moderate manner. The following proportion will be necessary:--To six pots of water put in the tub one shovel-full of dung; let this be stirred up continually for the space of two or three days, and when wanted for use, it must be again well stirred up. In watering with this mixture, be particular in having a small thin spouted pot, without a rose, so that it may be easily poured under the leaves. A gallon or six quarts will be a sufficient quantity for one light, and in watering be careful that it is not sprinkled over the leaves. Sheeps dung, mixed with the water, will be found very beneficial to the plants, if used moderately, as too great a freedom will tend to injure them. When the plants are first ridged out, they will require water every third day, until about the middle of December; and when applied, it must be sprinkled all over the plants and bed, observing to give a larger quantity where the heat seems most to prevail. In general more water is requisite at the back than the front: unless there is much heat in the front from the middle of December until the middle of January, once in five or six days will be sufficient to water the plants. Round the side of the box, and at the back, however, should be watered every night, while there is much heat. About two or three quarts of water at each time to a light will be sufficient for the plants until the middle of January and from that time more will be necessary. In applying the water you must be guided in a great measure by the state of the weather. Take the opportunity of watering when the sun is out, and then close them down for about a quarter of an hour or more, according to the season of the year. At all times, before watering, admit double the usual quantity of air about a quarter of an hour previous to the application, for the purpose of hardening the plants. Water may be applied at any time of the day, if the heat is good, but the most preferable time is certainly about eleven o'clock in the morning, particularly as the season advances towards the months of April and May, and the weather becomes more temperate, and the sun has greater power. After they are watered, shut them down for about ten minutes or a quarter of an hour, and let them have the benefit of a clear sun; then shade them with a mat for two or three hours, and shut the frame close down, in order that a moist sweet steam heat may be produced, which will cause the fruit to swell very quick. At one or two o'clock take off the mat and admit a little air. When the sun is clear and the weather hot, let them be shaded from eleven to two o'clock; some evergreen boughs or pea-sticks are very good things. Should the above directions be found inconvenient to attend to, the difficulty may be obviated by adopting the following method. After the plants are watered in a morning, shut them down, for the space of about ten minutes, then give them a little air; in about the same time increase it, and so gradually until the proper quantity is admitted. The gradual admission of air is extremely important, and ought, therefore, to be particularly attended to. The frames should never be shut down too long in the morning of the spring and summer months; a little air should be given at eight o'clock, if the weather is fine, in an hour it will be necessary to increase it; afterwards attending to it according to the state of the weather. In order to produce fine fruit in the early part of the season, that is in February and March; let only one grow on a plant at a time. Keep the male blossoms rubbed off when young, to prevent their weakening the plants; the best method of doing which is with a small pointed stick. As soon as the plants begin to show fruit, leave a few male blossoms to set the fruit with. If this be not attended to in the early part of the season the fruit will not swell off, as it is the female blossom alone that bears it, and if these be not impregnated with the male they will prove unfruitful. The female flower may easily be distinguished from the male, by the appearance of the fruit at the bottom of the blossom which the other does not possess. When the female flower is in full bloom, take a male blossom which is in full bloom also, and hold it in one hand, with the other split it down, and tear off the flowers, being careful at the same time not to injure the male part; then hold the male blossom between the forefinger and thumb of the right hand, while the female flower is held between the middle and forefinger of the left hand; then put the male blossom in the centre of the female, and the farina will adhere to it, and have the desired effect; should it, however, happen to fall out after it is done, it is of no consequence whatever, as the impregnation is received the instant it is put in. The proper time to set the fruit is in the morning, as it always comes in bloom at night, and if left until the afternoon the blossom of the fruit closes a little, in consequence of which it is doubtful whether fruition will be effected. In order to ascertain whether the male blossom is good; after you have prepared it as above described for use, draw the farina, or genitals, across the thumb-nail, and if good, it will leave a glutinous substance resembling gum. As soon as the fruit becomes the size of your finger let no more than one be upon a plant at a time to swell off, and when beginning to grow crooked give the stalk end a twist, place them on their backs, put a peg to the side, and the heat of the bed will soon draw them down and make them straight. A cucumber is a plant that requires much water, particularly when bearing fruit: it will be necessary then to give from one to two gallons each time according to the heat of the bed, and temperature of the weather. If the season is fine and the heat good they will require water every other day, but if the weather is dull, and the heat slack, be very cautious in applying the water lest they should get the canker, which is a dangerous disorder, and very difficult to be removed. The best thing in such a case is to give a strong heat, and be very moderate in the application of water. After the plants have been ridged out a fortnight it will be necessary to shut them down in the afternoon, about an hour before they are covered up. They will, however, require air in the night, generally till the fruit is cut, and even then if the weather is mild; for by being kept close at night when there is a strong heat, the fruit is liable to change colour and become of a yellow cast. The plants should be uncovered in a morning by eight o'clock, or nine at farthest, in the winter, and six or seven as the season advances, unless the weather is very cold or windy, when they may remain an hour longer than usual. Should the frame be infested with woodlice, place some cabbage-leaves or a small quantity of hay in the bed, which will answer the purpose of a trap to collect them, when they may be easily destroyed by boiling water. Care, however, is necessary in this expedient, for should the plants have taken root at the side of the box, the hot water will materially injure them; but if the plants are kept healthy, little danger is to be apprehended from this description of vermin, as they always like a sickly stagnated plant to a thriving vigorous one. Mice are sometimes extremely troublesome, but may be destroyed by procuring from a Chemist some ground ox vomicae, and applying it in the following manner. Mix the drug with some water, stir it up well, and let it boil about ten minutes; take it off the fire and put in some wheat or cucumber seed, letting it steep for ten or twelve hours; or spread some ox vomicae not boiled upon bread and fresh butter, place this in the bed near the holes at which they enter, which will effectually extirpate them. With regard to the time of cutting fruit from October sown plants, much depends upon the weather, some seasons being much finer than others. Fruit from the October seed has been cut off by the Author as early as the middle of January, while at another time it has been as late as the beginning of March; he, however, is well satisfied if it is ready to cut by the middle of February: indeed, upon an average this may be fairly considered as the probable time for its mature growth. It is not advisable in any young beginner to sow seed in November or December until about the twentieth of the latter month, as plants grown in that season are very liable to be retarded in their growth, while those sown from about the twentieth of December to the beginning of January will grow much stronger and quicker, as they possess the advantage of the increase of the season. An experienced framer, however, can grow plants at any time of the year, and from those sown at the above time, he may expect to cut fruit by the twentieth of March or towards the latter end of that month, according to the weather; much depending upon that and the situation of the framing grounds, which should at all times be open to the sun, and defended from the winds.
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