This section is from the book "The Gardener V3", 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.
I have read the interesting articles on the above subject in your March and April numbers, by Messrs Simpson and Cramb. I do not lay claim to near the experience of either, but, as far as mine goes, it proves that Keen's Seedling is one of the best forcing varieties we have for our early crops. I generally force from 500 to 600 of that variety, and can fairly say with satisfactory results. Like Mr Cramb, I find it necessary to go over the beds yearly and root out all the barren plants, which are easily distinguished by their gross habit and more upright growth. We have a plantation now made from forced plants in 1869, and although selected with great care as to weeding out all barren ones, I believe there is a sixth part of them that will not fruit much this season. With these drawbacks, I still am of opinion that in most places it would be unwise to discard an old favourite altogether. About ten days ago we removed from a leaf-pit 140 plants, and out of that number we only had occasion to throw away six or seven as unfit to go to the shelves in our Peach-house, and at this time the same plants are perfect masses of flower, many of them having no less than five trusses of bloom.
We have also a shelf of Keen's in a Cucumber-pit, containing about sixty-five plants, from which we picked 2 lb. of fine fruit to-day; and I have no doubt that we shall be able to get 4 lb. more within ten days from this time, many of the plants having from ten to a dozen good-sized fruit on them.
I find that, if grown in a close moist pit, this variety is apt not to pack well, unless removed for a few days as soon as they are ripe into a cool temperature. Like your correspondent Mr Cramb, I saw the stock of plants that failed with Mr Simpson, and (with the exception of a batch I once saw in Coombe Abbey, in Warwickshire) they were the finest-looking lot of "Keen's" I ever saw, either before or since; and on calling at Wortley again in the spring following, I was much surprised to hear of their turning out so bad. Our other forcing sorts are - Sir Charles Napier, Rifleman, and La Marguerite, which latter, for fine showy fruit, is a first-rate one. Many persons object to Sir Charles as being too acid, but otherwise it answers well with us. I am of opinion that, in places where British Queen does not do well, Rifleman will be a good substitute. We have 100 plants just throwing up their bloom-trusses, and they are looking remarkably strong and free. We have grown a small quantity in previous years which turned out satisfactorily.
I may mention that this variety is one of our best outdoor varieties.
My friend Mr Wild smith of Heckfield forces a variety called President very largely. He told me to-day that he had been picking two dishes per week for the last six weeks - one good trait in its character is its being such a free-setting sort. I had the pleasure of seeing some of his crops last spring, and they certainly were very fine. Not being able to command a supply of saucers, we adopt the old plan of laying an inverted turf on the shelves, giving the turf a good soaking with manure-water after it is up, being careful to keep it continually moist by watering at the same time the Strawberries are watered. On the whole, we find it answers our purpose well. There is this drawback to it - viz., that if necessary to remove the plants during the time they are swelling, they are liable to be checked by the roots which pass into the turf being broken, which is not the case with saucers. Our practice is, to set the fruit in a bed of leaves, then thin and place on the shelves on turf, and not again to remove them until ripe. We find it necessary to give the pots a lift once or twice while in the leaf-bed, so as to prevent their rooting through too much.
Last season we tried an experiment by putting a quantity in boxes after the fruit was set and placing the boxes on shelves, the same as pots: we did this to save watering; on the whole, it answered well. Should we ever have any more boxes made for Geraniums, I will have a quantity made the proper depth and width to suit Strawberries, after the Geraniums are potted in early spring. An active man would soon box off 100 plants, simply turning them out, rubbing the thumb round the top of the ball, placing them in the boxes as close as possible, and filling in with some light rich soil. "We found it necessary to run a small stick through the ball in two or three places, so that the water might find its way through. Ours did not require water oftener than every second day, which is a great consideration in hot dry weather, and when placed on shelves that are difficult to get at. North Hants, April 6th.