Thursday, April 12, 2012

A Glimpse into the Kitchen Garden: April 1867

The 19th-century kitchen garden bares remarkable resemblance to its modern counterpart.  Lettuce, beets, peas, and radishes were all common choices for early planting.  Cold frames were utilized to protect early crops, like lettuce, from frost.  I've been identifying many of these similarities as I've perused the historical collection of North Western Farmer (aka Indiana Farmer) newspaper issues. 

The month of April was a busy one in the kitchen garden, as it was prepared for the year ahead.  Refuse was cleared, manure spread, and soil spaded.  Once these tasks had been completed, planting began.  Without the use of modern electricity, farmers could not start heat-loving plants like tomatoes and peppers indoors.  Instead, they used a hot-bed, which was essentially a cold frame heated with an under planting of fresh, "hot" manure.

Here's a list of the planting tasks undertaken in 1867 kitchen gardens throughout the month of April:
  • Established beds of Asparagus were treated to a mix of manure with a little added salt.  New beds, if needed, were planted.
  • A few early bean plants were started in hot-beds on inverted pieces of sod.  These would be moved to open garden space after danger of frost had passed.
  • Beats were sowed early with a large quantity of manure.
  • Cabbage was most commonly sowed by first burning a brush heap in the desired garden location.  While the ground was still warm, the ash was spaded into the ground.  Finally, cabbage seeds were sowed by raking or brushing them evenly into the mixture.
  • Lettuce was sowed in the cold frame, or directly into garden beds later in the month.
  • Onions sets were planted in the ground.  If seeds were used, these were not planted until later in the season.
  • Parsnips were sown as soon as the soil had been prepared, in drills 18 inches apart.  They were thinned to 8-10 inches in rows.
  • Peas were direct-sown throughout the month.
  • Peppers were started in the hot-bed.
  • The Irish potato was sometimes planted in the kitchen garden, if space allowed.  Otherwise, it was planted in the fields.
  • Radishes were sown in rich, not sandy, soil.
  • Rhubarb was propagated by division of roots and planted in deep, rich soil.  Recommended varieties included Linnaeus (Myatt Wine), Large New Hybrid, Magnum Bonum, and Peach.  
  • Tomatoes, which had been started from seed in March, were potted into 2-3 inch pots.
(Source: "Kitchen Gardens." The North Western Farmer, vol. 2, no. 4 (April 1867): 62.)

Image Credit:
Wm. Henry Maule, Maule's Seed Catalogue for 1888 (1888), available at Smithsonian Digital Collections,

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