HERE is always recurrent danger of hard frost at an unexpected moment. There fore it is essential at night to protect potatoes von are sprouting in shallow boxes by means of a sheet of thick brown paper or cloth. Do not cover during the day unnecessarily, for if the seed potatoes are left too long in the dark the young shoots forming from the eyes will become drawn. Then the food reserves of the tuber will be exhausted. and the weak, spindly growth will Suffer at planting lime.
With these risks before us, some of us may he unwisely hesitating to bring on seed potatoes for sprouting. Sprout ing much improves the speed and growth of the subseqtlent emit. Even main crop potatoes should now be prepared for their April planting by being exposed in this way to the light in shallow boxes. Large tubers are often cut in two; but I find that this is better done at planting time. Each half should have two good eyes, and the cut surface is smeared with slaked lime Or' soot.
Roots in store, such as carrots and parsnips, especially if they are in a warm place, often begin to sprout at this time of year. You should go over your store and cut off the tops, or the roots will become flabby and poor. In the case of swedes you may like to take out one or two of the roots specially for sprouting. The tops are good as a blanched vegetable at this season.
Out of doors the perennial herb Good King Henry (or mercury) Is just beginning to show through the topdressing of leaves given it for the winter. A little gentle forcing with boxes will soon produce some tasty shoots. In summer the leaves are used like spinach, especially in cold, upland places where spinach does not do well.
Those of us with established gardens can be looking forward to (and perhaps proceeding with) the work in the onion bed. These require a deep and well-worked soil which can be kept firm. The young onions we sowed last autumn have stuck out the weather rather well. On the first congenial occasion I think they might be transferred to the quarters they are to occupy. Each young plant should preferably have only its roots buried, great care being taken not to break them, so that the base of the embryo bulb tests on the surface.
Chives are a member of the onion tribe which can be sown soon to provide welcome leaves for salads. Bulbs of them can be obtained instead of seed if preferred. And do not forget shallots for a quick and profitable crop—the same requirements as onions, except that the bulbs are half buried a foot apart each way.
Gaps in the bed of spring cabbages we planted in October can still be made good by planting in from the seed bed. There are more gaps than usual this year. The cabbages will yield in June.
Black currants suffering from big bud should have infected shoots cut right out and burned. A lime sulphur wash applied later when the first leaves are opening will do a lot of good. Old fruits generally are much the better for a sprinkling of superphosphate round the roots, especially gooseberries. Newly planted raspberries should be cut back within six inches of the ground.
New land has often a great excess of wireworms and white grubs. Mercifully these are easy to see and pick out. Encourage a robin to follow you about, and the pests will soon be consumed. That is, the pests that the bird sees. The others will be removed to a large extent by a dressing either of some fumigant such as Vaporite or of lime. With proprietary brands the makers' instructions must be followed, and the land must sometimes be left idle for a short while.
Animal manure and lime should not be mixed; but if your animal manure is well distributed about two or three feet below the surface, a sprinkling of lime (enough to make the surface white) will do all the good in the world, especially on very new land or sour and exhausted land. Rain will wash it down; you need not dig it in.
Potatoes are the better for this lime dressing, unless your garden overlies a chalk subsoil, and cabbages are unhealthy without a certain amount. Slugs are deterred by it as well as underground enemiee. Moreover, a lime dressing now will accelerate the breaking down of clay and the release of valuable foods from it. You can select a site on which you will be sowing onions out of doors in a month or so, and treat it in this way. A few fine ashes (provided they are fairly gritty) will improve the surface of heavy soils for these purposes.
Seed beds will very shortly be required out of doors for turnips and lettuces. These will soon give you a crop, especially if you care to start the latter in boxes or in a frame, The Early Red Milan turnip is something to swear by. and the Early French Frame lettuce. If you decide to make use of boxes, let them be shallow, about two inches of soil, and with a layer of crocks or fibrous roughage over the drainage holes you have made in the bottom. Press the earth fiat with a piece of wood before sowing; then sprinkle fine earth lightly over the seeds, and finally water by standing in a tin or bath and letting the water soak up till the surface is black.