Gateway to the Classics: Plant Life in Field and Garden by Arabella B. Buckley
Plant Life in Field and Garden by  Arabella B. Buckley

Underground Vegetables

Now you will be able to understand how it is that we get such nourishing vegetables from the kitchen garden. The bees take honey and pollen from the flowers  of plants. We take the sugar and starch and other food, which they store up in their leaves,  and stems,  and roots.

Carrots, Parsnips, and Beet-roots are plants which store up food in their roots the first year, and flower the second year. So we sow them, and feed them very well the first year, and when they have laid up a good store of sweet food, we pull them up and eat them before they can flower.

If you can get your father to leave one of these plants in the ground till the second year, you will see it flower and make its seeds. But a turnip will flower in the first year, if you sow it early in the spring, and leave it all the summer. This is why we sow our largest stock of turnips in June and July so that they may not flower before we want them in the winter.

Now I think I hear a little boy saying, "She has forgotten potatoes." No, I have not. But potatoes are not roots, like carrots and turnips. Cut one open and you will see some dark spots in it called "eyes." Indeed you may see them without cutting if you wash it and look carefully.

Each of these eyes is a little bud, with a growing tip, and the beginning of leaves. Now you know that a root cannot bear leaves. It can only have one bud on the top where the stem begins. So the Potato cannot be a root.

Neat time you dig up some potatoes for dinner, look at the roots carefully before you shake off the potatoes. You will then see that each potato grows at the end of a white stalk, very different from the roots. For a potato is a swelling at the end of a stem, which grows underground. It is a "tuber" like the Jerusalem Artichokes, which I expect you also have in the garden.

If you cut up either an artichoke or a potato into pieces, and leave a bud in each piece, it will grow up into a new plant, and send down food into the stems below the ground, and form more tubers. The potato plant flowers, and forms seed every year. The seed-box is poisonous, and so are the seed-boxes of many of the Potato Family. The Deadly Nightshade, with its dark black berries, belongs to this family. It is never safe to eat any berry, or other fruit, unless you know what it is, for many berries which even the birds eat, are poisonous to some animals and to man.

The potato plant stores its poison only in its seed-box, which is green, there is none in the potato. The potato disease which gives us so much trouble is a little plant like the mould on jam, which eats the potato away.

In Celery we eat the stems which grow above ground. But we earth them up to keep them white. For plants cannot become green without sunlight. In Asparagus we eat the green stem with the bud at the top. Those buds which we do not eat branch out in summer, and have beautiful leaves and bright red berries.

Lastly in Onions, Leeks, and Shallots we eat the bulbs, or underground buds, like that of the hyacinth. They have plenty of good food in them stored up in the scaly leaves.


Underground Vegetables

Now let us see what you must do if you want your roots, bulbs, and stems to grow into good vegetables. First you must drain the ground if it wants it, and dig it deeply and break the earth up so that the roots have no hard lumps in their way and can grow straight and strong. Then you must dig in some manure. And be careful that you dig it in deep, for grubs and maggots like carrots and onions as much as we do; and in the autumn and spring, when you dig the garden, they are lying about in their cocoon shells. If you bury them deeply in the ground, then when they turn into flies they cannot get out to lay eggs.

There is another way in which you can get the better of them. Each plant has its own grub which feeds upon it. There is the grub of the onion fly, of the carrot fly, and so on. So when you sow your seed, if you sow the carrots where the onions were last year, and the onions in the old parsnip bed, when the fly is hatched she does not find the leaves for her eggs close at hand, and you may save your roots.

Then in such plants as carrots and onions you must keep the roots and bulbs well covered, and when you thin them out you must make the ground firm again. For the onion fly and the carrot fly lay their eggs on  the root or bulk), and if they cannot find their way in, the root is safe.

Lastly, you know the troublesome wireworm which wriggles along just underground and eats everything it finds. To be even with him you must keep the ground clean, for he likes rubbish to hide in, and you had better mix some salt or lime with the earth. If he is still troublesome you can put some slices of potato just under the ground and stick a twig in, to show where they are, and you are pretty sure to find him underneath in the early morning.

Bring six vegetables—1. root; 2. bulb; 3. stem; 4. tuber; 5. leaves; 6, flowers.

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