To produce cucumbers at an early season, is an object of emulation with every gardener; and there is scarcely any person who has not a cucumber-bed in his garden. Cucumbers are forced in hot-beds, pits, and hot-houses, and the heat of fire, steam, and dung have been applied to their culture; but dung is the only thing yet found out, by the heat of which the cucumber may be advantageously cultivated.
Cucumbers, like every other plant, will grow in any soil, though not with the same degree of vigor, provided they be supplied with a sufficiency of heat, light, water, and air.
Abercrombie recommends a mould or compost of the following materials. One-third of rich top spit earth, from an upland pasture, one-half of vegetable mould, and one-sixth of well decomposed horse dung, with a small quantity of sand.
McPhail used vegetable mould made from a mixture of the leaves of elm, lime, beech, sycamore, horse and sweet chestnut, spruce and Scotch fir, walnut, laurel, oak, evergreen, oat, ash, etc., and among them withered grass, and weeds of various sorts. This vegetable mould is preferable to any other.
Of light loam, a few months from the common, one-third part, the best rotten dung, one-third part, leaf mould, and heath earth equal parts, making together one-third part: the whole well mixed for use.
If one light frame will be large enough for ordinary purposes, choose a dry sheltered part of the melon ground, and form abed. When high winds are suffered to blow against a cucumber bed, they have a very powerful effect on it; therefore, when a cucumber bed is about to be formed, the first object of consideration should be to have it sheltered from the high winds and boisterous stormy weather. Having put on the frame, and waited till the bed is fit for moulding, lay in five or six inches depth of the proper earth or compost.
Abercrombie sows some seeds in the layer of the earth, which he spreads over the bed, putting them in half an inch deep. He also sows some seeds in two, three, or more small pots of the same kind of earth, which may be plunged a little into that of the bed.
Instead of raising cucumber plants from seed, they may be raised from cuttings, and thus kept on from year to year, in the following manner; Take a shoot which is ready for stopping, cut it off below the joint, then cut smooth the lower end of the shoot or cutting, and stick it into fine leaf or other rich mould, about an inch deep, and give it plenty of heat, and shade it from the rays of the sun till it be fairly struck. By this method cucumber plants may readily be propagated.
After sowing continue the glasses on the frame; giving occasional vent above for the steam to evaporate. the plants will be up in a few days; when it will be proper to admit air daily, but more guardedly at the upper ends of the lights. In frosty weather hang part of a mat over the aperture. When the plants are a little advanced, with the seed leaves about half au inch broad, take them up and prick some in small pots of light earth previously warmed by the heat of the bed. Put three plants in each pot, and insert them a little slopingly, quite to the seed-leaves. Plunge the pots into the earth; and prick some plants also into the earth of the bed. Give a very little water just to the roots; the water should be previously warmed to the temperature of the bed. Draw on the glasses; but admit air daily, to promote the growth of the plants, as well as to give vent to the steam rising in the bed, by tilting the lights behind from half an inch to an inch or two high, in proportion to the heat of the bed and the temperature of the weather. Cover the glasses every night with garden mats and remove them timely in the morning. Give twice a week, once in two days or daily, according to the season, a very light watering. Keep up a moderate lively heat in the bed by requisite linings of hot dung to the sides.
Lay a pane of glass over the pot or pan till the, have come up and afterwards at night cover with a pot of equal size till the seed-leaves have expanded and the husks have dropped; for, until then, the plants are liable to be destroyed. The cover, however, should always be removed by sunrise, and replaced in the evening. It is at night these vermin generally commit their depredations. No air need be admitted till the heat begins to rise, and steam begins to appear; but after that the light should be tilted a little every day, in whatever state the weather may be, until the plants break ground. Air must then be admitted with more care; and if frosty, or very chill, the end of a mat should be hung over the opening, that the air may sift through it, and not immediately strike the plants.
As soon as the seed-leaves of the plants are fully expanded, transplant them singly into pots of the 48th size, and give a little water and air night and day. The temperature for seedlings is from 65 to 75. With this heat and water, as the earth in the pots becomes dry, and a little air night and day so as to keep the internal air in the frame sweet and fluctuating between the decrees of heat abovementioned, the plants will be fit for finally transplanting out in one month, that is, by the 14th of November, into the fruiting frames.
Begin to make preparations for the fruiting bed' about three weeks before the plants are ready to be planted out for good. The dung collected, after being well worked, is made up into a bed about four or five feet high, and the frames and lights set upon it. It is afterwards suffered to stand for a few days to settle, and until its violent heat be somewhat abated, and when it is thought to be in a fit state for the plants to grow in, its surface is made level, and a hill of mould laid in just under the middle of each light, and when the mould gets warm the plants are ridged out in it. Alter this, if the bed has become perfectly sweet, and there be heat enough in it, and the weather proves fine, the plants will grow finely.
When the temperature is ascertained to be right, bring the plants in their pots, turn over the hills of mould, forming them again properly, and then proceed to planting. Turn those in pots clean out one at a time, with the ball of earth whole about the roots; and thus insert one patch of three plants which have grown together, with the ball of earth entire into the middle of each bill, earthing them neatly around the stems. Also any not in pots having been pricked into the earth of the bed, if required for planting, may be taken up with a small ball of earth and planted similarly. With water warmed to the air of the bed, give a very light watering about the roots, and shut down the glasses till next morning. Shade the plants a little from the mid-day sun a few days, till they have taken root in the hills, and cover the glasses every evening with large mats, which should be taken off in the morning.
First, lay clean single mats on the lights in length and breadth, nearly to cover the sashes, taking care not to suffer any part of the mats to hang over the sashes on or above the linings, for that would be the means of drawing the steam into the frames in the night time. On these mats spread equally a covering of soft hay, and on the hay lay another covering of single mats, upon which are laid two, and sometimes three or four, rows of boards to prevent the covering from being blown off by the winds. The mats laid on next to the glass are merely to keep the seeds and dust which may happen to be in the hay from getting into the frames among the plants. If the bed be high, in covering up, steps or short ladders must be used by those whose office it is to cover and uncover; and great care must be taken not to break or injure the glass.
the cucumber bears male and female blossoms distinctly on the same plant. The latter only produce the fruit, which appears first in miniature close under the case, even before the flower expands. There is never any in the males; but these are placed in the vicinity of the females, and are absolutely necessary, by the dispersion of their farina, to impregnate the female blossom; the fruit of which will not otherwise, swell to its full size and the seeds will be abortive. the early plants under the glass, not having the fall current of the natural air, nor the assistance of bees and other winged insects to convey the farina, the artificial aid of the cultivator is necessary to effect the impregnation.
At the time of fructification watch the plants daily, and, as soon as a female flower and some male blossoms are fully expanded, proceed to set the fruit the same day. Take off a male blossom, detaching it with part of the foot-stalk; hold this between the finger and thumb; pull away the flowerleaf close to the stamens and central part which apply close to the stigma of the female flowr, twirling it a little about, to discharge thereon some particles of the fertilizing powder. Proceed thus to set every fruit, as the flowers of both sorts open, while of a lively full expansion; and generally perform it in the early part of the day, using a fresh male, if' possible, for each impregnation, as the males are usually more abundant than the female blossoms. In consequence the young fruit will soon be observed to swell freely. Cucumbers attain the proper size for gathering in about fifteen or twenty days from the time of setting; and often, in succession, for two or three months or more, in the same bed, by good culture. The above artificial operation will be found both necessary and effectual in forcing the cucumber, between the decline of autumn and May, while the plants are mostly shut under glass. In plants more fully exposed to the free air the impregnation is effected mostly or wholly by nature.
Select some best summer fruit, from good productive plants, which permit to continue in full growth till they become yellow. Then cut them from the vine, and place them upright on end,, in the full sun, for two or three weeks, when they may be cut open, and the seed being washed out from the pulp, spread it to dry and harden; then put it up in papers or bags for future sowing. It will remain good many years; and seed of three or four years' keeping is preferable for early frame crops.
INSECTS AND DISEASES:
The thrips sometimes attack early cucumbers, and are to be destroyed by fumigation. The red spider rarely makes its appearance; when it does water must have been improperly withheld. Some soils produce canker in the shoots, especially where they branch from the main stem. When this is the case, the only resource is to renew the soil and the plants.
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