Marathon, Pa., April 2.
This is a very embarrassing time of year for us. Every morning when we get on the 8:13 train at Marathon Bill Stites or Fred Myers or Hank Harris or some other groundsel philosopher on the Cinder and Bloodshot begins to chivvy us about our garden. “Have you planted anything yet?” they say. “Have you put litmus paper in the soil to test it for lime, potash and phosphorus? Have you got a harrow?”
That sort of thing bothers us, because our ideas of cultivation are very primitive. We did go to the newsstand at the Reading Terminal and try to buy a Litmus paper, but the agent didn’t have any. He says he doesn’t carry the Jersey papers. So we buried some old copies of the Philistine in the garden, thinking that would strengthen up the soil a bit. This business of nourishing the soil seems grotesque. It’s hard enough to feed the family, let alone throwing away good money on feeding the land. Our idea about soil is that it ought to feed itself.
Our garden ought to be lusty enough to raise the few beans and beets and blisters we aspire to. We have been out looking at the soil. It looks fairly potent and certainly it goes a long way down. There are quite a lot of broken magnesia bottles and old shinbones scattered through it, and they ought to help along. The topsoil and the humus may be a little mixed, but we are not going to sort them out by hand.
Our method is to go out at twilight the first Sunday in April, about the time the cutworms go to roost, and take a sharp-pointed stick. We draw lines in the ground with this stick, preferably in a pleasant geometrical pattern that will confuse the birds and other observers. It is important not to do this until twilight, so that no robins or insects can watch you. Then we go back in the house and put on our old trousers, the pair that has holes in each pocket. We fill the pockets with the seed, we want to plant and loiter slowly along the grooves we have made in the earth. The seed sifts down the trousers legs and spreads itself in the furrow far better than any mechanical drill could do it. The secret of gardening is to stick to nature’s old appointed ways. Then we read a chapter of Bernard Shaw aloud, by candle light or lantern light. As soon as they hear the voice of Shaw all the vegetables dig themselves in. This saves going all along the rows with a shingle to pat down the topsoil or the humus or the magnesia bottles or whatever else is uppermost.
Fred says that certain vegetables–kohl-rabi and colanders, we think–extract nitrogen from the air and give it back to the soil. It may be so, but what has that to do with us? If our soil can’t keep itself supplied with nitrogen, that’s its lookout. We don’t need the nitrogen in the air. The baby isn’t old enough to have warts yet.
Hank says it’s no use watering the garden from above. He says that watering from above lures the roots toward the surface and next day the hot sun kills them. The answer to that is that the rain comes from above, doesn’t it? Roots have learned certain habits in the past million years and we haven’t time to teach them to duck when it rains. Hank has some irrigation plan which involves sinking tomato cans in the ground and filling them with water.
Bill says it’s dangerous to put arsenic on the plants, because it may kill the cook. He says nicotine or tobacco dust is far better. The answer to that is that we never put fertilizers on our garden, anyway. If we want to kill the cook there is a more direct method, and we reserve the tobacco for ourself. No cutworm shall get a blighty one from our cherished baccy pouch.