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barren and unfit to turn up on the top of the other ; but, at all events, break it: even if you let it lie where it is the atmosphere can penetrate and the water can pass through freely; but neither can do so, except you keep the earth open. For instance, if you go to any wood or hedge-row, and grub up trees that have sprung up naturally, without the assistance of man, you will there find the nature of the earth is porous ; partly from roots decaying, and partly by moles, mice, worms, and insects working through in all directions, which, of course, allows both air and water to pass through in its natural way. Why should we, under pretence of cultivating and assisting nature, puddle and trample the earth for four or five inches on the surface, to stop up all the pores ? It seems strange, but I am sorry to say I have seen it so, and so it is likely to continue. I have never had the pleasure of seeing but one subsoil plough since I have been in Devonshire; and what gave me pleasure did not do so to others. I laugh to think of the many curious remarks I heard made on that “ugly plough," as it was called; they were certain it never would answer hereabouts.
Whilst I think of it, I must tell you how they get up their potatoes in Devonshire, which, I think, will make you laugh too. They do not take them up with a fork of any kind, but have what they call a “ tibble;" that is, two bills, what you would, perhaps, call a mattock. I have always heard it so called everywhere but in Devonshire. What we call a fork, too, they call a pick. Well, they go into the garden with this tibble and a maun (they call a basket of any size a maun); they thrust this tool amongst the potatoes with all their might, the same as we used to do at Norwood amongst the oak stubs in clearing the woods. As soon as two or three potatoes are rooted out, they let go their tool and pick them up; then taking hold of the tool again, as before, they root out two or three more. This is their manual of grubbing up potatoes : in wet bad weather you may guess they lose nothing by the job; for they and their tibble are besmeared all over with slub. I think there should be some fine enforced for robbing the fields of so much good carth. I have often asked them why they did not get proper potato forks, and have told them that they would take up a larger quantity, and in better condition ; and that they ought to have some to fork out, others to pick up, and bag: but they always replied that it would never answer in this part of the country, and that a man could get up a larger quantity with the tibble; though they acknowledged they had never tried my way, or used any kind of fork, but had seen them ploughed out.
I omitted to observe in the proper place that when potatoes are allowed to grow in a shady situation, under hedges or trees, they do not come to proper perfection, and are mixed with the others which were grown in the open field, which accounts for some being found waxy or watery amongst the others when cooked; likewise in the next season, when planted again, for finding a few in one row and a few in another curled.
As I have before observed, all potatoes that are meant for seed should be ripe, and hardened by the sun and air before stowing away; that they should be kept in an airy dry situation, and never allowed to grow until they are planted out, under any consideration; that a thoroughly good winter fallow should be made, and the ground well broken up at this season of the year, and laid as rough as it can possibly be made, for the sun, wind, and frost to penetrate through it. Any good stabledung, cow-dung, dung from the pigsties, or any other good manure, will grow potatoes well, if the ground is only properly prepared, and thoroughly sweetened with the atmosphere; taking care to plant them in good time for general crops. I like to have them all in between the middle of March and the last week in April.
For the growing of potatoes in pots in hothouses, &c., to have them good in January, they should be planted the first week in October in a 60-sized pot, placed at the back end, or in any part of the hothouse where you can put them thick together; as fast as they get up and are three inches high, take them out into a colder place, such as a vinery or a peach-house. When you have a quantity in readiness, fill as many good-sized pots as you can spare; get some good, open, rich, sweet mould; fill the pots three parts full, not sifted but rough ; place them where you intend them to stand in rows. A peach-house is the best place; in one where you intend beginning early, you get the first crop off before the leaves of the peach trees shade the house at all. In planting them into the larger pots from the sixties, pull off all the shoots except the one that is the strongest; never allowing more than one shoot to each plant at this season of the year: put three or four plants into a large pot, according to the size. Be careful never to water with cold water, or they will come on very slowly; also be sure you do not overwater them, or the flavour of the potato will be lost; a little manure liquid, with some soot in it, once, is a fine thing. When fit to earth up, fill up the pots; and when they have made their growth, leave off watering them altogether, if you wish to have a good-flavoured and dry potato. If you have not small sixties to spare, use pans, shallow boxes, or an old basket, or lay them inside of a hotbed, either in a frame or in a hothouse, which will hatch them quite as well.
For growing them in pits or frames, I make a very slight hotbed with a few leaves and rubbish (for bottom-heat does not suit a potato by any means). Get some good, prepared, sweet, open earth, and put it all over the bed 12 or 14 inches deep; have your seed all ready hatched as before recommended; turn them all out as near of a size as possible, taking care to pull off every shoot but the strongest one.
With bestowing this care and attention I have had as fine crops this
way as I ever saw out of doors. I always grow the Albion, or Dwarf ash-leaved Kidney, for all early purposes ; having proved it to be the best sort for that. I have now at this time my third crop planted: the first is all up as strong as on May-day; the second coming on; the third just planted; and so I continue to plant again into the sixties as fast as I turn the others out.
I hatch the whole for all early work, likewise for hooping, and the first turned out on the border; they will stand in any corner out of the way to hatch. In hooping or sheltering potatoes with mats or canvass, I make it a rule to throw out 4 ft. in width across the garden where I take up my asparagus for forcing, throwing the earth out right and left to swecten, to the depth of a foot; then the dung and leaves which come away at that season of the year from the sea-kale, that has been in use all the winter, is put into this trench about 12 or 14 inches thick, and the earth thrown back over it. I next take the scarlet-runner sticks, and lay them on and across; tie them to the height of about 12 in. above the bed, and then turn the potatoes out as above recommended, all ready hatched either in pots, or any of the conveniences which at that season of the year are plentiful, such as pine-stoves, vineries, cucumber and melon beds, &c. It is astonishing what time you gain by having them always ready hatched : not only that, but it requires so little of any sort of fermenting materials ; only wanting a very slight warmth, just to start them at first going off, for potatoes do not like bottom heat. By hatching a few to turn out into a sheltered situation in the borders or elsewhere, and by following the practice I have recommended, I find I have always a plentiful supply of good new potatoes all the season, until such time as they come naturally out of doors.
To prepare for the out-of-door potatoes, it is only necessary to do as I have before stated. Get the ground well-worked, sweetened, and manured, and planted in the proper season with whole seed that has neither been heated nor allowed to grow before planted. If what I have recommended is attended to, the curl, dry rot, or sloping, will never trouble you; but you will be satisfactorily repaid for all the labour and expense you have been at to bring them to perfection.
To grow them in cellars or sheds is nothing more than procuring a quantity of last year's old potatoes in August and September, and stacking them in rows on shelves, or on the
ground with a quantity of old tan or light earth between them, when numbers of young potatoes of a bad quality form themselves. It is not much practised now by the London marketgardeners, but it was twenty years ago, when the London purchasers soon got tired of them.
To cook a potato well, the following is the best and most simple method I know of. An iron saucepan is the best for cooking them in, as the copper ones, if not quite clean, are apt to be dangerous. They should be dressed with the skins on, and not be drowned with water ; done quickly, and the water poured off directly they are about done, shaking a little salt amongst them, leaving them near the fire, with the cover of the saucepan loose, so as to admit of the steam passing off. This will insure you a dry mealy potato.
Exchanging seed, one neighbourhood with another, is very essential; and a very beneficial improvement will be obtained thereby, both in crop and quality. All seed should be changed once in two years; not only potatoes but all sorts of corn and vegetables ; the benefit of a general system of exchanging throughout the whole country would be very astonishing.
I have known, for some years, that it is the opinion of various persons that over-ripeness in the seed potatoes is the cause of their curling. Of this I have no doubt whatever, although in my own practice I have had no proof of it; having always made it a standing rule to take up all kinds of potatoes before getting over-ripe, that is, as soon as they are moderately ripe. I have had practical proof that, if the unripe and imperfect seed potatoes are planted, they cause the curl; therefore, it appears quite reasonable to me to hear of over-ripe seed potatoes getting the curl, as well as those which are unripe. The former curl because they have lost part of their properties and substance; the latter curl through not possessing these properties and substance at all. The same is the case with all kinds of fruit, either under-ripe or over-ripe; of course, either way, it does not possess its full properties. Corn over-ripe, every one knows, more particularly wheat, loses a considerable quantity of its properties : with all kinds of seeds the effect is the same; of which I, myself, have in many instances had ample proof, which, at present, I will not enlarge on.
In a short time I think of giving you a rough sketch of my management of the kitchen-garden, cropping, trenching, hoeing, &c. &c.
Bicton Gardens, Nov. 7. 1842.
P.S. -- June 29. 1843. Having met last week an old experienced farmer, I asked him how his potatoes were looking this season. He informed me that they were very indifferent; that
he had been a considerable distance about the county, and found those of many persons much worse than his own; that many acres were ploughed up as a complete failure; and that in many situations he had observed the missed places planting with fresh seed. My own opinion is, that planting and filling up with seed more exhausted than the first is of but little use; for this reason, if any of them should grow they will be much later than the others, and spoil the sample, particularly if they should be for sale. I should recommend calculating on the crop; then, at certain distances, taking up with a spade the plants of so many rows, and planting them in the vacancies, right and left, as they are taken up. The cleared ground could then be planted with other potatoes, or sown with turnips, to be pulled off early. No vegetable that I am acquainted with transplants better than the potato, if properly done; it is the means of checking the overluxuriance of the stalk, and increasing the size of the tubers.
I asked the above-mentioned farmer what was the principal failure or disease so prevalent amongst the potato crops, and the cause of it. The latter he could not account for otherwise than that it was his opinion, and that of most others he had conversed with, that it was through the wet unkind season ; although, to their surprise, the dry rot was very prevalent, as well as sloping, or wet rot. Besides, he says, there is another failure very prevalent this season, that much of the seed produces underground tubers without shooting up, or producing any stems. - What could be the cause of that,” says the farmer; “if not the wet cold season ?”. " Exhaustion of the seed before planting,” I answered, " is the cause of each disease you complain of.” — “How can that be,” asked the farmer, “when last autumn was one of the finest I ever remember for ripening the potato crop; so that many persons' potatoes were ripened and taken
several weeks sooner than usual? Besides, we had a very mild favourable winter.; no frosts to injure them in any way.' “ The more likely to get exhausted," I replied, “by heating and growing.”—“Very likely, very likely,” replies the farmer, “I am sure; though I never once gave that a thought, although we have suffered from dry rot and sloping for years, hereabouts. On second thoughts," he says, “ that cannot be the cause of all three of these diseases : dry rot, sloping, and tubering under ground without sending up stems.”—“I am perfectly satisfied it is," I replied. “ The dry rot affects those most from the middle of the heap, that have been the hottest. Those have gone sleepy, dead, and druzy [? drowsy], like an over-ripe apple, looking fair to the eye although perished ; and they are to be found amongst old potatoes, for several months in spring and early summer, on many people's tables, spotted, black, and flavourless, amongst others tolerably good. The sloping, or