This section is from the book "The Gardener V2", by William Thomson. Also available from Amazon: The New Organic Grower: A Master's Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener.
Nearer London there are large farms given up entirely to growing vegetables, and it is among these that gardeners can gain the most practical information. The quantity of vegetables grown on a comparative small area is something extraordinary. Rotation of crops is to a certain extent, but not strictly, carried out, neither is it necessary, as they use immense quantities of manure, which is being constantly brought to them by water, railway, and traction engines, not three parts exhausted, as that too often used by private gardeners is, but strong fresh manure only sufficiently decomposed to render it workable. With the help of this the soil can be constantly cropped (and must be too, or it will soon be too rich for anything) and the crops are much stimulated, Cabbages especially coming off very quickly. Failing these heavy supplies of manure, it is absolutely necessary to rotate with such crops as Rye, Turnips, Rape, etc, to be fed on by sheep, and thus to a certain extent restoring the fertility to the soil previously much exhausted by a vegetable crop.
Late Potatoes are frequently planted with the spade between Cabbage; and the earliest Peas I saw this season were dibbled in in a similar position. The Cabbage in this instance evidently affording protection to the growth and warmth to the root, taking up much moisture, which in other instances proved so disastrous to the Pea crop. Celery often follows Cabbage, and is planted direct from the seed bed into trenches principally prepared by horse power. The sides of the trench is made sloping, and oftentimes are planted with Lettuce or Coleworts. A line of Kidney Beans is sown between the trenches (which are about 4 feet apart) and on each side of these a row of Lettuce. Kidney Beans are grown principally for the large firms of pickle makers, as they wont sell when Runner Beans are plentiful. The best for market purposes is the Negro Longpod, and the Newington Wonder for pickling. For the latter purpose one grower contracts to supply 60 tons of beans, but I very much question his ability to grow them this season.
Many more facts and hints might be included, but I have already taken up more room than I anticipated, and will therefore as briefly as possible give a few notes on fruit growing.
Essex is not so much a fruit growing county as is Kent on the opposite side of the Thames, but there are many excellent orchards, and many others are fast being planted. Black Currants and Damson always sell well, the latter if only for making a dye; and the former is perhaps the greatest favourite of any fruit for making into jam. This season, too, a large quantity of Black Currants were exported. As a consequence men " with their wits about them" are planting both extensively, as they don't believe in the chance of the markets being overdone with them. There is a great difference in the varieties of Damson; although apparently alike, some being much more prolific than others. If this was not so, the above mentioned practical men would not go to the expense of having them from near Maidstone in Kent when they could get them so much cheaper nearer home. The same men buy Black Currant bushes rather than lose time by propagating their own, and nurserymen in these districts annually sell large quantities of them. A strong clayey loam appears to suit them best, and on such soil the growers find it necessary to cut back the first year, as they invariably push up plenty of young growth from the stem, and also produce nearly enough fruit the first year to pay for the plant.
Gooseberries are usually a good paying crop, most importance being attached to the prices realised for them when picked in a green state. Opinions vary as to the advisability of having long or short stems, some considering the latter less liable to canker; but the fruit is much cleaner on the former, and in this district they do not canker. Strong pithy growth is discarded at propagating time, moderate, well-ripened growth being found to make the best and most productive bushes. The varieties most commonly grown are Whitesmith, Warrington, Crown Bob, and Golden Drop. Bullfinches are kept down with the gun. Red and Black Currants, Gooseberries, Raspberries, and sometimes Strawberries and Asparagus are all grown between the lines of Standard Apples, Pears, etc., and apparently are none the worse in that they are undergrowth. Of course the overhanging trees are not allowed to get very large, and the bushes are kept well thinned out, and, what is of primary importance, receive liberal mulchings of good manure - a proceeding too often neglected in private where fortunately there is a properly arranged fruit quarter. The lines of standard trees are about 18 feet apart, and are planted the same distance apart in the row.
Three rows of bushes are planted between these lines, and the intervening spaces between each tree are also planted. The Asparagus is planted also in lines, without any extra preparation, but liberal mulchings are given, and the produce is equal to that grown on expensively prepared beds. Asparagus is a very remunerative crop. Fruit of all descriptions as a rule sell the most readily if they will do either for cooking or dessert purposes; this applies particularly to Apples and Plums, and as they are usually the most productive, are as a consequence most extensively planted. Some of the most productive Apples are the Keswick and Manx Codlin, Lord Suffield, Hawthornden, Wellington, Warner's King ("a good sauce apple"), Cellini Pippin, Reinette du Canada, Lemon Pippin, Blenheim Orange, King of the Pippins, Cellini, Red Quarrenden, Fearn's Pippin and Cox's Orange Pippin - all of which I have lately seen carrying, for the year, good crops of fruit, many of which are being fast sent into the markets.
Of Pears the most prolific this season are the Hazel, Williams' Bon Chretien, Crassane, Duchesse D'Angouleme, and Beurre Rance. Other varieties grown are Louis Bonne of Jersey, Beurre Diel, Beurre Easter (this seldom produces good fruit on standards and are being fast weeded out), Chaumontel, Hacon's Incomparable, Beurre d'Aremberg, and the Autumn Bergamot. Of Plums the most profitable to grow are the Victoria, Pond's Seedling, Mitchelson's Prince of Wales, Early Rivers, Coe's Golden Drop, Green Gage, and Washington. Of Cherries the Kentish, Morello, Bigarreau, May Duke, and Elton are most commonly grown, and both these and Plums have borne a fair crop this season. Filberts are not much grown in these districts, but would, I am convinced, pay well, especially if they received the same high cultivation as they do in Kent. Strawberries, when well grown, invariably pay well, any soil, providing the subsoil is tolerably cool, appearing to suit them; the grand secret being to get a few varieties that succeed best on any particular soil, sticking to them, and growing extensively. The most successful grower, who in fact makes a speciality of it, grows but three varieties - Alice Maud, British Queen, and Eleanor - and nothing could be better than these.
Three miles from this farm neither of the varieties succeed well, but Stirling Castle, President, and Dr Hogg are good substitutes. The former will eventually be replaced by Vicomtesse Hericart de Thury, which is found to be very productive and good for the early supply. Sir J. Paxton sells well, but is of too luxuriant growth to be profitable. The above mentioned grower devotes 30 acres to Strawberry culture, and during the season employs upwards of 100 pickers. The best fruit are carefully packed in punnetts which hold about 1 lb. weight, and these are tightly packed in shallow boxes, and being carefully handled by the railway officials, etc., arrive at the markets in good condition. Packed in this manner I have seen plenty of good fruit come up to the metropolitan markets from Hampshire apparently not much the worse for the journey. The bloom is kept closely pinched off the young Strawberries the first year, the second year they produce the earliest and finest fruit, and the heaviest crop on their third and last year - being then ploughed up as soon as the runners from them are fit for planting.
It is a well-known fact that many gardeners start as nurserymen on their own responsibility, often ending, I am sorry to say, in their being obliged to return to their old occupation, seeing when too late the folly of giving up what was perhaps a comfortable situation for an uncertain livelihood. This being the case, it may not be thought presumptuous in me if I suggest to those who are bent upon being "independent," the advisability of their turning their attention to growing fruit and vegetables for market. What is necessary is a fair amount of capital and a good practical knowledge of their profession, without both of which they had better not attempt it.