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 should not again have recurred to this subject were it not owing to certain statements made by Mr Young, of the Gardens, Wentworth, in a private letter received some weeks ago. What Mr Young has said is an entire confirmation of Mr Simpson's statements. There does appear to be a veritable difficulty in that locality of cultivating some kinds of the Strawberry. Mr Young says, "I have been obliged to dismiss Keen's Seedling as quite useless for any purpose. Rivers's Eclipse produced splendid crops for a few years, and also Elton improved, but now are worthless. The Black Prince is the only variety that holds its own with me, and the one upon which our supply depends." It would be an inherent absurdity to doubt the evidence of two such respectable men, and little short of heresy to attribute their failure to want of skill in the hands of such excellent gardeners. We admit the effect; and now it is the duty of these gentlemen diligently to trace out the cause for the benefit of their fellow-labourers, as it is by no means likely to be confined to one locality.
I have no means of knowing the geological formation of the soil at Wentworth and Wortley, but have a strong suspicion that it is entirely of the same character, as the two places are only a few miles apart, which no doubt accounts for the unity of results. I quite believe that the cause of failure is to be sought in the mineral constituents of the soil; else why should Keen's Seedling do so well in one place and not in another 1 We cannot for an instant suppose that the atmosphere exercises any influence in this matter. Soil has a greater effect on the growth and fructification of plants than some of us are willing to admit. While urging strongly the necessity of properly-selected soil, we have also to consider its physical basis as of equal importance. In confirmation of what I have said, I may notice that, when situated on the Wiltshire Chalk, I could never, with every imaginable contrivance, produce a satisfactory crop of Strawberries, till I happened accidentally to select a pure silicious loam, after which I had not the slightest difficulty with my forced crops. Here our soil is composed of nearly the same constituent, and year by year Keen's Seedling fruits abundantly.
[The different effects of different soils are almost incredible to persons who have not practised in various parts of the country. - Ed].
If all has gone on well these will now be an interesting crop, and one that will be most acceptable at dessert as a companion dish to late Grapes and Pine-apples. Crops that are swelling off will do with a night temperature of 60° to 75°. When colouring commences they should have more air, to give flavour. After this season we have often moved crops out of Pine-pits into cooler quarters in which to finish, with much advantage; and when required to hang a few days after being quite ripe, they keep much better in a cooler and more airy house. Plants coming into bloom should have a temperature of 55° to 60° at night - never higher; lower is safer than higher. Put succession batches of plants into Peach-houses and vineries now being started. Keep a sharp look-out on red-spider and green-fly, fumigating and syringing to keep them in check. Do not, however, fumigate plants in bloom, or it will injure them.
Unless carefully managed, these, if grown on shelves in hothouses, are apt to be very troublesome with red-spider. Except those in full bloom, syringe them freely every day to keep them clean, and see that they are never allowed to get dry at the root. A good plan after the first of this month is to fill pots about half full of rich soil and place the Strawberry-pots in them. They root into the soil, and are very much nourished thereby. This is much better than placing the pots in flats of water, which rots the roots and spoils the flavour of the fruit. All plants now done bearing may be hardening off previous to being planted out. The remainder of the stock yet to fruit may be placed in pits and frames near the glass, where they will ripen before Strawberries are ready outdoors.