The subject of the periodical overflow of the Thames and other rivers should be the means of directing more attention to the possible improvement of wet ground in marshy situations by the planting of "osiers," which, under the technical name of "rods" and "willows," are a merchantable commodity, regularly in request by basket-makers, which will yield a more certain return, perhaps, than many agricultural crops that are subject to casualties arising from adverse seasons, the profit being very considerable, and the management comparatively easy and simple.
Nature, indeed, spontaneously suggests this application; for the goat-willow, or sallow (Salix caprea), may often be found indigenous in moist ground, more particularly in those waste and marshy situations that are, under usual practice, so difficult to deal with. A 2-year old seedling plant of the goat-willow will often produce several shoots 3-4 ft. high, and if allowed to grow longer still, and cut down every 3-4 years, no tree will produce so great a bulk of fagot wood, for a well established stock will sometimes give out in one year shoots 8-12 ft. long, straight and well proportioned, some of them 1 in. in diameter at 1 yd. from the ground. Ultimately the goat-willow becomes a fine tree, often attaining a height of 40-50 ft., with a trunk varying from 1 1/2 to 2 ft. in diameter, and for hoops, poles, rods, crates, sheep-fences, and other purposes, the earlier produce of the goat-willow is extremely valuable.
But it is in the form of osiers regularly cropped, that can be grown upon land subject to tidal overflow, that a definite produce and consequent regular income can be relied on, and as there is a good deal of confusion existing as to the various species of Salix, we will briefly indicate them.
The green-leaved osier, or ornard (Salix rubra), is strong and tough, and in request for carboy baskets.
The Spaniard, or Spaniard rod (Salix triandra), has several varieties, some very good and others very inferior. The black-budded Spaniard is used for the bottoms, rims, and handles of large baskets. The grey Spaniard comes in useful for coarse brown baskets. The horse Spaniard is a very poor kind.
The old common osier, being soft, of course, and brittle, is not worth cultivating in many instances; but there are some varieties of the Salix viminalis that are extremely useful, and the good and inferior ones bear such a close resemblance to each other that the difference often cannot be detected except in the working. The best variety is known under several names, as those of the snake osier, brindled osier, blotched osier, and speckled osier. The yellow-barked osier is also a good one, while the long skin is of smaller growth, but has the good qualities of being heavy, firm, and tough. The brownrod, brownard, or silver osier (Salix hoffi-manniana), has a whitish hue on the under side of the leaf, eel baskets being usually made of this variety. The gelsler partakes somewhat of the nature of the Spaniard, but is of more tapering habit, with a thick butt. The new kind (Salix forbyana) is also akin to the Spaniard, being equally strong, but more pliable in working. The Hollander resembles the new kind in its qualities, but is different in appearance, and these may be seen growing in large quantities on the Dutch coast.
The blunt-leaved ornard (Salix lam-bertiana), the bastard French (Salix lanceolata), and the rose ornard (Salix helix) are very inferior, used only for fish baskets and hampers, their ends snapping in the working inward and outward, which consequently makes inferior work; but the bitter ornard (Salix purpurea) grows tough and slender, and. like all the other ornards, will thrive in water.
The French, French rod, or real French has been imported from France, where it is much used in the manufacture of small ornamental baskets. On the Continent, it is much in request by wine coopers, who bind on their wooden hoops to the wine casks with it.
The rods, or willows, as they are termed in the trade, comprise several varieties, as the skit willow, the gold-stone, or hornrod, of which there are 2 subdivisions - the wire hornrod, which is thin and tough, and the water hora-rod, which is very inferior. The rods (osiers, etc.) grow best on strong and loamy soils.
And here we should remark that soil exercises as material an influence upon the growth of osiers as upon other crops. They require a compact subsoil that retains moisture and thus they will not answer in strong clay soils, which in summer become hard and dry; for these crack, and the moisture of the land evaporates. The Spaniard, new kind, and French sometimes answer very well upon light land, where the subsoil is kept moist by land springs; but where the supply of moisture is imperfect, an osier plantation lasts a comparatively much shorter time, and requires renewing in 15-20 years; but in land the best adapted for their growth, by the margins of rivers subject to tidal overflow, they will last for fully 70 years with occasional mending. On light land, the osiers are smaller and shorter, and the crop is less bulky than when grown upon strong loam.
Upon the first formation of an osier plantation, the ground should be well trenched to the depth of 1 1/2 ft., and in light soil the sets should be planted in rows 18 in. apart and 15 in. from each other in the row; for where the supply of moisture is not continuous, the shoots are fewer and shorter, and it is in such situations that the smaller varieties suited for the manufacture of small baskets are grown; and there is an advantage in thus planting them close, for if more space were allowed, instead of drawing each other up long and slender, they would branch out and grow crooked and "clubby" near the stools.
Upon soil better adapted for their growth, which is rich and continuously moist, they are planted at wider intervals, for upon such they will reach a length of 8-12 ft., so that the rows should be placed 2 ft. asunder, and the sets stand 1 1/2 ft. apart in the rows. If these were planted as close as the former, the result Would be that, there not being room enough for the number of shoots that the stronger plants will throw out, a few of the leading ones would get very tall, and their growth would prevent the action of light acting upon the others, which in consequence would become of inferior quality and not ripen their wood in the course of the season, which in this state would be soft and pithy, and consequently unfit for manufacturing purposes.
The action of light upon osiers is somewhat remarkable. In ordinary seasons they are of a yellowish brown, but they sometimes assume a dull green colour. The willows in cloudy seasons are of a dull brown mahogany colour, but in clear seasons the shoots grow of a bright red colour.
The sets are cut from the lower part of the shoots, and are generally used about the thickness of one's little finger for the larger varieties. The small part of the rods would strike just as quickly, but they produce smaller shoots. The sets should be about 16 in. long, and be inserted into the ground at about half their length.
In severe seasons some of the plants will die, the most injurious weather to an osier plantation being when mild winters are succeeded by hard frost in early spring. The plantations will then require "mending," which is done in the following manner : The longest and smoothest rods are chosen, which are cut from their butt ends in a slanting direction, and are thrust into the ground by the side of the dead stool, to a depth of 8-9 in. These are inserted as they have grown, without being shortened, for if this were done they would be smothered by the shoots of the older stools, and by being inserted of their full length, they hare the benefit of air and light for a considerable time, which enables them to establish themselves before the others grow high enough to overtake them, when the summer will be considerably advanced.
Osiers may also be grown upon springy land that is sometimes met with near the bottoms of elevations, the slopes of which are kept moist by the drainage of higher lands; and although such springs might often be cut off and drained by means of a few deep drains, aided by auger holes driven down into the porous watery strata which form their reservoirs by the method known as the Elkington system, after the name of the farmer who first practised it, such drainage is very often left undone; and there are many waste spots upon which osiers could be profitably cultivated, which would prove a source of profit to owners or occupiers of land, that are frequently entirely neglected and overlooked.
Osiers can be cut any time between the fall of the leaf and the rising of the sap in the spring. And although they are often cut before and after this time, it is not good practice to do so, especially when cut late in the spring, as it weakens the succeeding crop.
According to the accounts which have been published, the osier grounds upon the estate of Holkham, that are planted with Salix viminalis, commence their profitable return the second year after their formation, the first crop averaging 34/. 17s. per acre, after which they are cut down yearly and realise about 27/. 10s. per acre.
The principal obstacle to general cultivation of the osier is the labour of peeling it, a work that must be performed at or near the locality of its growth. The shoots are cut after the ground is frozen, to prevent the roots from being pulled from the soil in the act of cutting. They are bound in large bundles and placed in a tank, or on a level piece of ground, supported in an upright position, and water to the depth of 2-3 in. is allowed to flow over the butts. After standing until spring, the stem has absorbed water enough, by capillary attraction, to render the removal of the bark easy. This is done by drawing the shoots through a split sapling or between 2 upright pieces of iron. This is a labour of patience, and cannot be slovenly performed. Although machines have been devised for the work, they have not proved entirely satisfactory, though a passage between brushing rollers ought to be effective.
(a) Good linseed oil is boiled in a capacious vessel until a drop of it when poured upon a cold stone slab becomes so viscid that it strongly adheres to the finger when touched, and can be drawn out in long threads. This is mixed with 20 times the quantity of good, fat copal varnish, and the varnish is reduced with as much turpentine oil as is required to bring it to the desired consistency. To colour this varnish if required, it is best to add aniline colours dissolved in benzol, and to mix the solution intimately with the varnish.
(6) Mix 1 oz. shellac and 3 oz. rosin with 1 pint naphtha; shake till well dissolved, and allow to settle before use.