This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V26", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
Some remarks of the Editor on a quotation from an English paper on the growth of cress induces me to offer a few remarks on the same subject. Water-cress, as a salad, is not as much appreciated as it should be in this country, and in large sections of it where there are abundant facilities for its easy propagation it is now practically unknown.
There are quantities of it, however, gathered for the city markets, from the few localities where it has been introduced and taken care of. For a few-weeks in the spring, before the advent of early vegetables, or while those from the south are high in price, there is an open market for large quantities of it, and it is cut and tied in bundles and shipped in crates or baskets. But as the season advances, the days become longer, the sun hotter, and the cress ditto, the demand for it subsides and it is allowed to run to seed, and no further care is taken of it until next season.
Water-Cress (Nasturtium officinale) belongs to the same natural order (Cruciferae) as our cabbage, radish, mustard, etc. It can not be called hardy, though it does live, from year to year, in spring water, which protects its roots from frost, and that first sent to market in spring, is largely these recumbent stems, with roots from every joint, grown partially under the water, and so close to its surface as to have been protected from freezing by its warmth.
These roots are an encumbrance only, and of no value to it as a salad. They have no unpleasant taste when small, but it is the stem and leaf we want for eating, and it is desirable to avoid cutting roots when bunching it for market.
The writer has never tried the expedient of shading it, to suppress its pungent properties when grown in the hot sun, but has tried the experiment of forcing it for early market (by protecting it) with success. I have no patent on this arrangement, though I suppose it is more worthy of it than many that we are asked to pay a royalty for using.
I have been growing it thus for the past two seasons, and have been able to send to market bunches of young, tender and crisp water-cress, six-inches or more in length, without a root to mar its beauty or a dirty leaf, when there was none in the market, except a small quantity of dirty looking stuff, tangled up with white roots, that has been picked from under the water.
The only trouble at first is to find customers who will appreciate or pay for a first-class article; and there are many who are slow to believe that this is cress, when they see these nice clean bunches, of large cress, four to six weeks in advance of its ordinary season. But those who once buy will always come again, and I suppose a market might be found for unlimited quantities of it, thus early in the season at a paying price, and I have only the spring water and facilities near at hand for growing a moderate amount.
When cut without any roots among it, it wilts quickly, when exposed to the air, and should be shipped in tin or tight boxes. Packed loosely in tin and slightly wet, it will keep fresh a long time in cold weather.
Our domestic animals, cattle and poultry are very fond of cress, and if the latter have access to it they pull and tramp it out, and thus destroy it. The poultry will merely keep it picked off close to the water when other green feed is not at hand. I mention this, lest some amateur cultivator lose his crop and labor from these latter causes, easily guarded against. Colora, Md.