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.
Every critic of Darwin's book on Worms, from the 'Athenaeum' downwards, has instanced the horticultural writer as one whose "inability to sum up the effects of a continually concurrent cause" has retarded the progress of science; but really it may be doubted if Mr Darwin could appeal to any class of observers who could substantiate his views and credit his statements so readily as gardeners. The "stupen-duous" work of the worms any gardener can comprehend who ever swept the worm-casts off a lawn. Many a gardener has grumbled at the time and labour lost removing these at certain seasons of the year; and recognised that the accumulations of mould raised daily by the worms on the smooth surface of a good lawn was equal to a man's work to remove on a not very large space of ground. It has also been recommended before now to roll the worm-casts down in preference to sweeping them off, on the plea that the fine mould cast up exercised a manurial influence upon the grass. Indeed, in many poor lawns where the turf is never enriched artificially, it cannot be doubted that the worm-casts exercise a beneficial influence, like the excrement of any other animal; and if the operations of the Annelids are not too much disturbed, a very considerable dressing of rich mould will be raised to the surface in a short while.
Their worst fault is, that they are always most active in that way where they are least needed - that is, in a rich soil; and gardeners would gladly dispense with their services under such circumstances. Whatever services they may render, however, by their additions to the virgin mould of the earth, it is certain that worms are not regarded with favour near the roots of choice plants in pots or growing in the bed; and we cannot remember an instance in which their operations in such quarters were attended with any benefit, but the contrary.
"In spite of the large importations of foreign Grapes into this country, home-grown Hamburgs of good quality still command remunerative prices, and I think that I may with safety say that any grower who may not wish to be troubled with keeping his produce until a late period in the year, when naturally higher prices are to be looked for, may calculate upon a profitable return if he should determine upon marketing his fruit as soon as ripe. Let it be understood, however, that I am speaking of good Grapes only; for bad Grapes are often a complete drug in the market, and neither fruiterers nor salesmen care to be troubled with them".
Notwithstanding the fact that Grapes last week were quoted in Covent Garden as low as 6d. per lb., there is truth in these remarks. A well-known Covent Garden man said once to the writer, "Good Grapes can always find a remunerative market in Covent Garden, if delivered in good condition." They require to be good, however, nowadays, and the majority of samples are indifferent. The same writer in your contemporary points out a fact which is not always sufficiently realised - viz., that from the time a bunch of Grapes is quite ripe, a process of deterioration goes on. Hamburgs especially spoil quickly; and a curious fact in relation to this Grape is, that no matter how black the berries may be, they turn red again after hanging for a time, and lose flavour as well. No other variety has this fault that we know of. The Alicante, Lady Downes, and other late and thick-skinned kinds retain their colour to the last; and the bloom of the berries, which early in the season rubs off with the slightest touch, "sets," and in spring will endure considerable friction without injury.
All those, too, who hold their late crops with the object of getting better prices, must also lay in their account for loss in the shape of decayed berries, and a very sensible reduction of weight in the bunches, which grow lighter the longer they hang.
In a week or two, or by the time this is in print, the exhibition of smoke-preventing appliances for domestic fireplaces, etc., will be held at South Kensington, in the arcades of the Royal Horticultural Society. Numerous prizes in money are to be awarded, and competitors are said to be coming from all the great towns in the kingdom with their various inventions, for which numerous patents have already been taken out. Putting aside the saving of fuel effected by such means in towns - which would amount to millions in London alone - the advantages to the health of the inhabitants, and to vegetation in and near great centres of industry, would be almost incalculable. In some manufacturing towns there are already laws in force for the consumption of smoke from furnaces and the like, but they are practically a dead letter. The smoke hangs like a pall over towns and the surrounding district for miles, and settles in the form of black smut on field and forest, and may frequently be seen resting on the surface of reservoirs and lakes in a thick black scum of the consistency of cream. A smoke-consuming appliance is also much wanted in stokehole furnaces in gardens.
The smoke produced by these is a serious nuisance in all large gardens : hothouses and conservatories get quite blackened in a short time by the soot, which greatly spoils the appearance of these structures. There is a way of consuming the smoke to some extent, if the stoking is intelligently performed; but this cannot be depended upon in gardens, and none of our horticultural boilers present facilities for effecting that end themselves. The use of coke instead of coal will go far to lessen the evil. Indeed a coke-fire is absolutely smokeless soon after it is lit; but gardeners complain that they cannot keep up temperatures with it sufficiently, unless the quantity of piping is greater than is usually provided. Coke, too, is more expensive. Any of our hot-water engineers who will provide a readily available smoke-consuming apparatus for garden furnaces will make his fortune.
After all, those who have entertained and acted upon the idea that the potato-disease might be eventually overcome by the selection of disease-resisting varieties, and propagating from these, are justified by the discoveries of M. Pasteur, which have attracted so much attention of late. The silk-worm disease, this investigator discovered, was caused by tiny microscopic corpuscles or organisms in the juices of the diseased worms, which even extended to the eggs produced by them. By careful breeding from eggs, however, which happened to be free from the disease-germs, although produced by disease-affected worms, he showed that in a short time it would be possible to regenerate the race and entirely stamp out the disease; and that when circumstances did not admit of elaborate precautions, a seed might be secured, which, if not absolutely free from disease, would still afford a very satisfactory crop of silk. The silk-worm and the potato are two very different subjects, no doubt, but there is no physiological reason whatever for supposing that the potato-disease cannot be overcome in the same way; although fungologists who have given attention to the subject, hope far more from isolation from infection than from constitutional resistance of disease, promoted by healthy culture and the judicious selection of healthy seed.
A gentleman whose vocation in connection with art and science brings him in frequent contact with the great critic and philanthropist Ruskin, called on us the other day to talk about the subject of fruit-culture. In answer to an inquiry, he said that if the great modern philosopher entertained any particular opinions on the subject of horticulture, they were in favour of its simplification and extension, so as to confer the greatest amount of benefit on the greatest number of people. Our visitor said, speaking for himself, that he was of that opinion also, and he thought much was written on the subject of horticulture that was calculated to mystify if not to absolutely deter people from attempting gardening in many branches, and being a reader of horticultural papers, he instanced statements that corroborated this opinion. The gardening papers were, he said, like the 'Pall Mall Gazette,' written for gentlemen more than for the general public and those who were interested in horticulture as an industry, not to mention the number of humble persons who were concerned in the subject.
When our visitor called, we had just a few minutes previously received the weekly copy of a contemporary from the postman, and had been reading the following statement by a writer, to the effect that, "in order to insure success for any reasonable length of time " with Pears on walls and on the natural stock, "it is an absolute necessity in ninety-nine cases out of every hundred" to have borders 30 feet wide, 3 feet deep, concreted if needful, and composed of good heavy loam! Pointing the passage out, we observed: "This, we suppose, is what you mean?" "Just so," was the reply; "such preparation and expense, if credited, would render the culture of Pears an impossibility in ninety-nine cases in a hundred." The author of the passage was, of course, talking perfect nonsense - unconsciously maybe, but still nonsense; but we do meet with the like very frequently. Reader.