As I have not in the article Potato, page 86, attempted to give its History, I would here inform the reader, that the Potato was cultivated in Britain, by Gerard, the English Botanist, in 1590, and was soon afterwards recommended by Sir Walter Raleigh as a nutritious vegetable; but although first discovered on this continent, it spread so slowly, that nearly a century elapsed before this excellent root had become a regular dish on the Farmer's table in New England. The following account of the early reception is too good to be lost It is recorded in the N. Y. Farmer and Mechanic that two brothers, named Clarke, settled in Connecticut, early in the 18th century, and purchased a farm near Chatham. "On a hill which still bears the name of Clarke Hill, half a peck of potatoes were planted, and after the balls had ripened on the vines, it was proposed to gather some with a view to taste the wonderful product; some balls were accordingly picked and boiled, and being placed on the table, were approached with great caution. It was at length concluded that an old negro should first taste of this rare vegetable, whose report was by no means satisfactory; others also tasted, and the dish was condemned as unworthy their table and attention; the negro was therefore directed to go and destroy the vines; in doing so, he pulled up some potatoes with the tops; and, amazed at the sight, soon elicited the discovery that the real fruit was to be looked for at the root end of the plant."
As this vegetable is now considered one of the most important productions of the earth, upwards of one hundred millions of bushels being raised in the United States in a single year, a deficient or defective crop is acknowledged by all to be such a serious calamity as to incite the most diligent enquiry into the nature and cause of the defect, or deficiency.
As the seasons of 1843 and 4 were unfavorable to the growth and preservation of late potatoes, the American Institute encouraged an investigation and discussion of the subject amongst the members of the Farmers' Club; the result of which was published in the "New - York Farmer and Mechanic,"vol. ii., November, 1844, from which I have selected the following extracts:
"That the disease may proceed from some chemical action in the atmosphere, or from peculiar location, as high or low, new or old land, and that some varieties are more liable to disease than others," page 290.
"That the potato disease was imported from Great Britain two or three years ago; and that a gentleman, from microscopic examination, discovered in the tubers a growth of fungus, a plant analagous to the mushroom family. These fungi seeds although invisible to the naked eye are readily carried about by the winds, and will penetrate wherever air will. Being once introduced from Europe, their extensive dissemination here is very easy. These seeds falling on the potato in favourable circumstances as to moisture, etc. cause the disease," 291.* The application of common salt to the soil, previous to planting, is suggested as a remedy. Lime and charcoal dust sown on the ground after plant ing is also recommended.
Another correspondent asserts, "that the disease is an old one, having been long known in Germany, as well as in England, and that there are in fact two distinct distempers, one of which is called dry rot, and the other wet rot; the dry rot often appears in a whitish surface; ii the wet rot sets in, it is black, and soft worms are to be found in the putrifying parts. The direct origin of the disease is a fungus, the remote origin is something else. One of the most fertile causes of this disease is the habit of using farm yard manure in a state of fermentation. Plants, in a healthy growing state, are rarely attacked by the fungus; probably, therefore, some change takes place in potatoes before the fungus begins," page 307.
* If it be true that an infectious disease exists amongst the potatoes of that country, which contains a less quantity of land than one of our largest States, it may be asked, how a proportion could be shipped here in an eatable and plat table condition, after reserving a sufficiency
Tor a population of upwards of twenty millions of inhabitants, who raise them for their cattle as well as for table use.
It is upwards of thirty years since I commenced cultivating potatoes, which, according to the seasons, has been attended with variable success. In 1820 my potatoes were so bad as to be scarcely eatable, I however planted some of them for seed the year following, on land situated near the Bowery, where Third street now is, which was manured with livery stable dung; and the product was the best I ever eat. Last season several of my acquaintance raised their early and late crops from the same lot of seed, with different results. Those planted in April produced an abundance of excellent potatoes, while the product of those planted in Juno and July were represented as diseased and scarcely worth digging. The difference in all those cases must have been occasioned by the weather and not by the seed. A change of soil how-fever, will sometimes cause a difference in the quality of potatoes.
"That the disease in the potato arises from a small fly which lays its eggs in the vines shortly after they come up, which turn into maggots and pass through the tube of the vine into the potato. A table spoonful of poudrette to each plant is in this case recommended as a preventive," page 324.
Others contend that as every plant cultivated in the same soil for a long period is liable to become deteriorated, a new generation of plants from seed of a healthy crop is essential to preserve their pristine excellence. A gentleman present, however, informed the Club, that his seedlings were found in a decayed state the same as others," page 290
As it is not my intention to discourage a farther investigation of this subject, I shall not pass censure upon the ideas above advanced, but offer a few remarks founded on observation and the study of nature, which, I trust, will prove acceptable to the public.