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moist rot, is caused by the same; but, probably by their being nearer the outside of the heap, the steam and moisture cause them to grow freely, or, I should say, shoot in the heap freely. Thus potatoes that were good in autumn are found in spring to be waxy, watery, and black. Pulling the shoots off in spring, and exposing the seed to the atmosphere, which is very frequently done with the seed potato when it is considered safe from frost and they are are not required to eat, are the means of producing tubers without stems; and I will give you my reason for forming that opinion. When a boy I was set to clear out the bins in a potato cellar. I particularly noticed in one bin, near a window that had been standing open for a considerable time to allow the air to draw through to dry and sweeten the cellar, and where the morning sun shone in, that the few old potatoes there left had mostly formed plenty of tubers, and but few shoots. I well knew they had their shoots and roots pulled off two or three times in the previous winter and spring. Boylike, I collected some of the largest of the young tubers, took them to some of the garden men just by, telling them there were larger young potatoes in the cellar than they had out of doors. On going to London afterwards to follow my business at market-gardening, I observed new potatoes were produced from potato cellars before we could grow them by forcing. It was a practice in some of the gardens
to stack a quantity in old tan or light earth, in cellars or sheds, to cope with the others; but sometimes they grew all in one matted mass of roots and shoots. In my efforts to get over this difficulty, I remembered the potato bin; and by allowing them to grow a considerable length before making use of them, pulling off clean all roots and shoots, and exposing them to the sun and wind for a time, they answered expectation tolerably well, only that a large quantity was always lost with dry rot and wet rot, instead of producing tubers.
I am perfectly satisfied, from practice only, that were the seed properly sorted out in autumn, and prepared and taken care of through the season afterwards, as before recommended, we should hear of but few complaints about any disease amongst the potato crops : “ prevention is the only profitable cure.”
Hearing so much of disease in this valuable vegetable this season, and observing questions asked in the Gardener's Chronicle, and remarks made in that and other papers, I have been induced, in my humble way, to state the above, which I have entirely learned by practice. I also feared that I had not explained myself sufficiently, in the foregoing letter, on the subject of potato-growing
LETTER XVII. System of Kitchen-Gardening. Culture of the Strawberry,
Asparagus, Sea-kale, Celery, and Cauliflower. In my last I promised I would give you a short account of my rough System of Kitchen-Gardening, which, I am sorry to say, is still in a very imperfect state; not one job having been done in Bicton kitchen-gardens yet to please me. They, as you observed when here, are on a level (an artificial level though), well supplied with water all the year round, from a beautiful stream which runs through it. The ground a sandy loam ; the subsoil a body of dry, coarse, red sand, inclining rather in some places to a sort of rocky flat stones. This garden was formed at an immense expense, having thousands of loads of loam to make the borders, &c., and yet in places the sand is still near to the surface: but since you were here I have got home about 500 yards of beautiful loam and marl; intending to make a good preparation for every tree that is planted, and to wheel a quantity of it on every piece of ground, as the crops are cleared off
, giving the ground a good trenching, breaking the subsoil with a strong fork and leaving it where it is. I make it a standing rule to return as much as possible of the refuse of vegetables back to the ground again, by trenching down cabbage leaves, broccoli stumps, pea haulm, and all such articles, in a green state. The benefit to the soil is great, and the saving of labour considerable; for I have seen much time lost in clearing a piece of ground of the vegetable rubbish on its surface, previously to trenching
Now the kitchen-gardening business, before I came here, had been done in a very different manner from what I had been in the habit of seeing done and practising myself. The tools the most paltry I ever met with. It is some trouble to get a Devonshire man to use a spade with an eye to it. Their spade (which no doubt you noticed when in this county) is an ugly, home-made, heart-shaped bit of heavy iron, with a great socket to it; and they form the handle of it themselves, by cutting a great, heavy, lumbering stick out of a hedge, 6 or 7 feet in length, about the size of a Kentish hop-pole, so that they can always use it without bending their backs; although the generality of men in Devonshire are a shortish race. How ever, this long-handled spade and the homespun tibble are almost the only tools you can get them to use; and they have the ugliest-made wheelbarrow too, the most awkward and cumbersome that can be imagined. Any kind of improved tool they appear to dislike; so that you need not wonder. at our being a little out of order. For instance, a few days since, a load of potatoes was wanted from the field, for the use of the house. I had already had two potato forks from Essex. Some
of my men saw them, and asked my foreman (who is a Scotchman, and had seen such forks before) what use they were of; and when he told them, and added he expected I was going to teach them how to take up potatoes, they laughed, and said that I should find I was mistaken, for such things would not answer hereabouts. I took a couple of my forks, and a boy to pick up, and I set to work myself, and told one of my men to take the other, and look at me, and follow on digging with it; and they all confessed they never saw such a quantity of potatoes turned out in so short a time before, but they still did not exactly relish taking them up in that way.
I found their system of working in the kitchen-garden was puddling it over; with scarcely depth enough, when digging, to cover an earwig. They had amongst them but one bit of a spade the length of my hand, and two long-handled spades, so worn that there was no fear of the men over-fatiguing themselves by lifting too great a weight; one two-pronged fork with a broken handle; one old drain-hoe; and two old Dutch hoes: and this was about the stock of tools I found in Bicton kitchen-gardens, and I thought them the most miserable lot I had ever met with. However, I had fortunately brought a set of my goose-necked hoes with me; but I could not persuade any of them to use them, for weeding was the order of the day, and my hoes appeared to them the most ridiculous things imaginable. I wondered how the work was done with such tools; but soon found hoeing and raking to keep a smooth surface formed their method (for they had an old rake or two), and digging shallow and breaking fine, picking out all the stones (the very thing I thought the ground wanted more of). The strawberries were old, and all run together into a mat, which is the surest way to keep up a stock of different kinds of weeds for seed, so that they must remain in the garden ; it likewise was a good harbour for slugs and snails to breed in, and for the birds to feed and hide themselves in. I soon found that when showery weather set in everything was devoured by slugs, which the men told me it was a wonderful garden for; and they accounted for it by saying it was a newly formed garden taken out of a field. I could not agree with them, so I set to work and destroyed an amazing quantity in a short time by the following method. Getting some fresh grains from the brewhouse, I went round, inside and out, dropping about a table-spoonful of them as I walked, at small distances in all directions, at dusk in the evening; I then went round with a pail of fresh-slacked lime from nine to ten o'clock the same evening, and found them heaped on each other like bees when swarmed: by dusting them with lime, I killed those that were so collected. I sent a woman or boy round with a pail and trowel the next morning,
to take them up, and bury them. It was astonishing what a quantity was destroyed by following this method closely for a month or six weeks : but it is the best plan to keep slugs away altogether, which is easily done by trenching, ridging rough, and continually hoeing and stirring the ground, which is congenial to all vegetation, but destructive not only to slugs, by turning them and their broods out, but to every other sort of vermin, which it lets have no peace, and either destroys them altogether or drives them away, as they do not like such usage.
No strawberry plants ought to be planted less than 2 ft. apart each way, and never allowed to stand more than two years, taking care always to keep all runners cut closely off'; by these means there is a greater weight to be obtained, finer fruit, and better flavoured, as the sun and air can circulate more freely amongst them; and mulching them with clean short grass, just as they come into bloom, keeping them clean and the ground moist, makes them flourish. If they are obliged to be watered, it must never be done with a rose on the watering-pot, but by pouring round the roots from the spout, so that they get a good soaking without wetting the fruit ; for it spoils the flavour of the fruit if it is over-watered. The best-tasted and most prolitic strawberries that I know of are Myatt's British queen, Myatt's Eliza, Myatt's pine, Downton, Keen's seedling, and the old true Scarlet pine. I find that the plants that have been forced, by being turned out as soon as done with into a good bit of ground well prepared, always make fine stools for the next season, or bring a good crop the same autumn, which is found to be very useful. Any good holding loam will grow strawberries, and bring them to a good flavour, if well prepared and sweetened by the atmosphere first; and some good rotten dung worked in amongst it, and a little soot sprinkled in amongst them and hoed in in the month of April, will make an astonishing difference in the quality and flavour of the fruit; and, if the ground has become steely * and unkind by heavy rains, sow some charcoal dust amongst them, and hoe it in, which will soon purify the earth, and improve the crop wonderfully.
Asparagus, to be grown well, should have the ground well prepared, broken up to a considerable depth, and well manured, with some sea-weed or salt worked into the ground; which should be trenched in autumn or early winter, and laid in rough ridges so that the air, sun, and frost can penetrate through it. Forking the
Steely. Clayey soil that has been poached when wet, and when the water cannot get away, is, when dry, difficult to penetrate with the spade or hoe, and in that state is said to cut out steely, or leathery. When wet it is shining, close, and tough, like liver; and when dry, hard, steely, and unkind, like iron.
3d Ser. — 1813. VIII.
ground at every opportunity with a strong fork or pick-axe on every frosty morning, routing and turning it about when frozen, will not only sweeten and mellow it, but will kill all slugs and other insects. Never put in your asparagus plants until April; when the young plants are grown or shot 2 or 3 inches they always do best: if planted before they begin to grow, and the weather should turn out cold and harsh, oftentimes there will be many plants that will lie dormant and not break at all, which causes so many blanks in the beds. If you intend sowing the seeds, do so à month earlier in drills 2 ft. apart; which should also be the distance at which to plant them; thinning out the plants sown from 12 in. to 18 in. apart in the drills; never putting more than two rows of plants in each bed of 4 ft.; and leaving from 2 ft. to 3 ft. alley, which is essential, and is a good shaded situation in hot dry summer weather to grow the late cauliflower and Cape broccoli. The system of covering the beds with earth to such a depth as is done by the London market-gardeners early in the spring I do not approve of, always considering it completely in opposition to nature. They say they cannot get a sale for it amongst
the London people if it is not a considerable length: but of what use is it? The London people cannot eat those long, tough, hard stalks ; for after all only the very top can be eaten. I always find that noblemen and gentlemen's families are most fond of asparagus in its natural beautiful green colour, and just long enough for the cook to tie into a bunch; then you do not rob and smother the plants, but have asparagus fit to eat, tender, and high-flavoured. It is one of the most wholesome and delicious vegetables grown, but wonderfully abused.
Sea-kale should have the ground prepared in a similar manner to asparagus, with salt and sea-weed, which it is very fond of; planting one-year-old small plants that have been saved on poor ground, the rows 2 ft. apart, and 2 ft. from plant to plant in the rows, not two or three together as is generally done; for, if the preparation is good, one plant is always sufficient. It is as beautiful and delicious a vegetable as any
that is grown, for winter purposes, if grown and blanched as it ought to be; but it requires time and attention to bring it properly to perfection. If it is hurried with too much heat, it is spindly, weak, and without flavour; if too slow, it is as bitter and worthless. In my opinion, it is in its full perfection when from 4 in. to 6 in. long. When cutting it, take care always to cut the crown just under the earth: this should be particularly attended to. If the crown of the plant is left above the ground to be exposed to the frost after it has been forced, it causes the canker so generally complained of amongst sea-kale; but take care always to leave a little litter or leaves amongst it, so that the frost may not