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mandy seem a superior race of men to those of Brittany ; in short, more like English farmers. I remember seeing at a fair, between Dinan and Rennes, many hundreds of Breton farmers: they seemed all of one grade, neither rich nor poor. I observed many returning from the fair with their purchases of stock. A Suffolk farmer would have turned up his nose with contempt at the smallness of their ventures. Some had one cow and a calf; these were great men: for the majority had some two, some three, others four, sheep of the goatish breed beforementioned; these they were leading by a line round their necks. The whole affair looked, by contrast with our own farmers, poor and miserable enough. Still these people are happy. They have small farms, which in most cases are their own freeholds; they have few wants, and these are all supplied. In that part of Brittany the country seemed peopled by these small farmers ; no common labourers were to be seen. Undoubtedly this contributes to the happiness of the people, and offers a striking contrast to the wealthy farmers, large farms, and numerous and ill-paid labourers in our agricultural districts. Whether the general welfare of the country is promoted by this system is another question, and one requiring much consideration to answer.
Honfleur, July 29. — At Lisieux we found that no diligence could be taken to carry us to this little town; we, therefore, bargained for a “cabriolet” for the journey of twenty miles, for which we paid twenty francs. Let it not be supposed that by this name was designated a roomy chaise on springs. Oh, no; our cabriolet was a large market-cart on springs, in which were double seats.
In this my three friends, myself, and the driver, were amply accommodated, and our “bonne jument,” as our driver affectionately called his old mare, jogged along at the rate of four miles an hour to Pont l'Evêque, about half-way, where we rested and partook of “café noir ;” thence, after walking up a tremendous hill, a three miles' ascent, we arrived here, descending to the town through a magnificent avenue of elms. The famous Honfleur melons, we ascertained, were grown to the south of the town, at some distance from it: our time did not permit us to view the melon gardens, and we found no other matter of any horticultural interest, so that we crossed the Seine to Havre as soon as possible by the steamer, thence by steam to Southampton; thus terminating a rapid, agreeable, and mentally profitable tour of twelve days.
Sawbridgeworth Nursery, April 4. 1843.
Art. V. Bicton Gardens, their Culture and Management, in a Series
of Letters to the Conductor. By James Barnes, Gardener to the Right Honourable Lady Rolle.
(Continued from p. 166.)
LETTER XIII. Growing Mushrooms. I SHALL now fulfil the promise I made you when here, to give you a description of my method of growing mushrooms; which is a very easy, simple, but sure method to get them of a good quality, and in great abundance, at all times of the year, if you only manage to get good spawn. There is no vegetable cultivated that is so sought after in a nobleman's or gentleman's kitchen as the mushroom; as I once heard a French man-cook say, “ de mushroom is de very life and soul of de kitchen."
The prettiest and most interesting of all vegetable-growing is the mushroom culture. I was always devotedly fond of it, and have been in the practice of cultivating them for the last 25 years. I have seen many different systems tried, but have decided on one settled one of my own for many years; yet
I do not say it is superior to any other, neither am I recommending it, or asking any one to follow my advice. I have heard of treatises being written on mushrooms, but I never met with one of them; neither did I ever read a book of any kind on gardening, nor take any interest in reading them, until the Gardener's Gazette made its appearance, as I always fancied it was loss of time ;. but now I am resolved to get every book I can possibly procure, as from time to time I can buy them. Out of the many hundreds of mushrooms, there are but three varieties that I would venture to eat myself. I do not know the specific name for any of them, but I will send you a specimen of each as they come in season; and, if you will be so kind as to try and find out the proper names of them, you will greatly oblige me, as, in my humble opinion, the public ought to be particularly cautioned against purchasing and eating any of those of a dangerous quality, which are sometimes offered for sale.
I will tell you how I discovered the dangerous qualities of mushrooms. When I was about eight years old I was sent to a dairy for a can of milk, and I took care to go early before the dairy-maid was up, that I might go foraging about, as I have since seen all boys will do, after apples, crabs, nuts, walnuts, chestnuts, or any other fruit I could lay hands on. That very morning I was on one of those excursions, and fell in with two fine-looking mushrooms under some chestnut trees. I took them home and got my mother to cook them for my breakfast, ate them, and went about my business; but it was not long before I was taken so dreadfully ill that I can never forget it. I swelled all over from head to foot, and rolled over and over in my agony. I have often thought since, if I had been nursed for it I should have died; but, being out of the sight of any body, the agony causing me to roll about on the ground was the means of keeping me alive. At the end of three hours I was at the height of my misery, and after that I began to get better gradually; but, when I went home at night, I looked so ill that my mother guessed what was the matter with me. I could not taste, or scarcely look at, a mushroom, for a long time afterwards. I remember well the time when I lived in Essex, I and my men were moving some trees in a plantation, and one of the makers of mushroom catchup came by us, just where there was a quantity of this unwholesome variety of mushrooms, which he thought great luck to meet with, and he eagerly collected them. I addressed him, and asked him how he could make use of such mushrooms. He told me they made the best of catchup, and, by putting plenty of salt and spices to it, the cockneys did not know the difference. I told him he had gathered a sufficient quantity to kill a regiment of soldiers, and that it would be no easy matter to persuade me to taste them.
Before I proceed to describe my system, I must observe that I do not desire any one else to follow it, as it may be an imperfect one, and I do not profess to be perfect in anything, though I intend to try to be so. I do not profess to be a scientific gardener, but I have followed the profession all my life with the greatest pleasure and interest; I know nothing of any other profession; and it is not my intention to answer any letter or questions put to me, on any subject, without the writer puts his own name and address to it.
Every body, after one moment's consideration, must know that nature produces the greatest abundance of mushrooms in parks, old pastures, and meadows, where the ground has not been disturbed for some time. After a tolerably dry summer, in the autumn season, when the weather is temperate and the nights and days nearly of an equal length, get horse-droppings and cow-dung of equal quantities; one barrow of good maiden loam to four of the above; mix it well together backwards and forwards, until it is regularly incorporated; then wet it the same as you would mortar, and well chop and beat and tread it together, just as a potter does his clay for making pots. Then spread it on a smooth surface three inches in thickness to get steady; if it is fine dry weather, it will in two days be ready to cut into pieces the size of a brickmaker's bricks. Leave it to dry, taking care never to allow it to get washed by rain to any extent, or the principal part of its virtue will be lost. When tolerably dry take it to a shed, or some other darkish place. Procure, if possible, some natural spawn from an old pasture or mill-track.
Stack your bricks, and place some of the spawn between every alternate row. Cover it up closely with litter, taking care to look at it in two days' time to see that it does not get too hot; if it does so, uncover it, or it will quickly destroy the spawn, and injure the bricks so much, that, if spawned again, it never works so kindly and strong. If it goes on kindly it will in about 35 or 40 days be ready to unpack. Sort out what is well worked; the remainder, that is not worked enough, stack and cover up as before, taking care to put what is ready into a dry place (without a draught) to get steadily firm, or it will perish. If put into a damp place the spawn will soon run out of it and perish. This must be all particularly attended to. If you
do not have good spawn, how can you expect to get good mushrooms? Many people that I have seen use spawn did not know good from bad, and were ignorant of the qualities and properties of it, whether it was perished spawn or not. One observation I must here make, that, when mushroom spawn is once good, if it is taken proper care of, it will be as good after it has been kept seven years as the first day it was ready: the oldest that I ever used was 8} years made; but I have no doubt it would have been as good if it had been kept 20 years.
To make a bed of any size or shape, take the dung fresh from the stable, litter and all together; but, if it is very strawy, shake out some of the long straw. I like to have well-made table dung. Then have it wheeled into the mushroom shed, or wherever you mean to make the bed, and add a quantity of good heavy loam to it; enough to keep the dung from heating or fermenting to any extent, and so that it may be altogether of one congenial warmth and moisture, which it will be if made with foresight and judgement; but, if it is allowed to ferment and steam, the very life and soul of the dung is gone. If it is allowed to lie and get washed with rain, it is like the brewer's grains after the liquid has been extracted; the grains will not fatten a beast, neither will the dung, when allowed to lose its good qualities, grow good mushrooms; but they will become of a bad quality, poor and thin: the bed will not continue long in bearing, and will probably show large quantities of small mushrooms that will never come to perfection.
I saw a question that was asked about a fortnight since in the Gardener's Chronicle, by a man who appeared to be in trouble about his mushrooms, which showed well, but did not come to perfection; and it was answered, but I believe not exactly as I should have done.
The bed made on my principle will be quite ready to be spawned in about a fortnight after being made. Put the spawn in the bed shallow, just covered; let the bed lie quiet for a week or ten days before casing it, which must be done with about three inches of good stiff holding loam ; beat it as firmly as possible down on the bed. Let the bed remain quiet another week; then well beat it with the back of a spade again, and cover it over lightly with hay, litter, and straw mixed together; for, if you cover it with hay alone, it is very apt to quickly draw all the spawn out into it an
ruin your bed. Take care to give the spawn plenty of time to work itself regularly all through the bed before covering the bed to any extent, or you will certainly be disappointed, and only get very few mushrooms, and those of a bad quality. I have had beds made on the above principle that have produced mushrooms of the first quality in great abundance for four, five, or six months, picking them constantly two or three times a week.
When the bed has been covered about 20 or 25 days, uncover it, and brush it all over, to take the short rubbish out; shake the litter well, and take all the rubbish clean out. Examine the bed, and, if you find it dry, get a stake or broomhandle and make a row of good-sized holes, all up the centre of the bed; get some boiling water and pour two or three quarts into each hole, stopping the heat and steam in immediately with a whisk of mulching dung to retain the evaporation; it will moisten the bed, and cause a nice congenial warmth. I always make it a rule to water the casing of the bed likewise, with boiling water out of a watering pot with a rose on it.
After the bed has been made about 30 or 35 days, this watering causes a fine congenial warmth if covered down immediately, which should be done. I generally repeat it two or three times, allowing three days to intervene between each time, according to the state of the bed. It destroys every slug, woodlouse, or any other kind of insect whatever that is about, and sweetens the bed to such a degree that mushrooms thrust themselves up through it of a firm good quality all over the bed. But never water a mushroom bed after it is in full bearing, or it will stop bearing, or send them up of a bad quality generally afterwards, and will not continue long. For instance, observe mushrooms when they are growing naturally in parks, pastures, or fields, as soon as the heavy rains come on them they stop bearing. Damp the litter occasionally with hot water, to raise a gentle mist; and if the bed is in a shed sprinkle it all over now and then with boiling water, which destroys every kind of insect, and raises a sweet congenial mist that mushrooms are particularly fond of.
How I came first of all to discover the good effects of using loam amongst the dung was this. Some years ago, whilst working for a market-gardener, I was short of dung to form the mushroom beds with, so as to make them come into bearing at the time wanted. I recollected having accidentally seen a
3d Ser. - 1843. V.