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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 sweeten, 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.
Το 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 up 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 druxy [? 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
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. Boy, like, 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. However, 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