This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
Within the last three years berries have brought extremely good prices, and berry growers have made goodly sums of money. Instances of good fortune have frequently come to light, passed around the neighborhood, and finally reached the' newspapers, detailing the large sums made from one or a few acres of ground. The figures are large - $500, $700, and $1,200 per acre. The prices per quart range from 25 to 50 cents. The attention of readers has been excited and their hearts have been inflamed with the desire to gain those goodly hundreds of dollars. The papers tell him the cultivation is easy, the plants are not costly, that the occupation is desirable, the supply not equal to the demand, that the markets can never be glutted, that population is increasing faster than cultivation, and growers may always rely upon good remunerative returns for any kind, and there need be no fear of failure.
The strongest arguments used to influence the settlement of South Jersey and other points have been the so - called ease of berry culture, their prolific yield, and great demand in the cities for fruit, with the promise of good prices. Thousands have gone thither to engage in the business. Each year has witnessed a great increase of their number. In like manner, the area devoted to fruit culture has rapidly increased, until this spring the result is manifest in a perfect flood of berries upon our markets from ail directions.
Norfolk growers, favored with cool weather for transportation, have sent hither thousands of quarts in indifferent condition, selling first for $1 per quart, and declining rapidly to 30 cents, and still less.
Delaware berries came in first for 60 cents; then fell to 40, then 20; a rainstorm of four days' duration mashed and ruined thousands in the fields, and the balance were sold to canners for 10 cents per quart. But we have no words to express our astonishment at those from New Jersey. Commencing at 20 to 25 cents, the floods of poor, small, inferior fruit, shipped in all sorts of indifferent baskets, rapidly declined to 15 cents; and the majority hardly realized 10 cents per quart net.
Vineland sent 250,000 quarts per week; Hammondton, the same; Burlington, thousands more per day, and other points too numerous to mention sent their thousands also. Good fruit and poor fruit all shared alike - all went cheap. Keyport berries, better than any Norfolk ever sent, went under our eyes for 15, 10, 8 cents, - anything the buyer might give. Peddlers reveled in perfect bliss on the increased amount of fruit for their wagons and the cheap prices.
Growers have footed up credit and debit. Some have made an $100 per acre; others, to our knowledge, show $100 on the wrong side. At last the unwelcome truth forces itself upon our minds, "Strawberries are overdone "The season of 1868 in this city is a perfect failure.
Like accounts reach us from many of our inland cities. Growers say berries sold so cheap, it left no profit. Ten cents a quart hardly pays for the trouble and care. One man reports a profit of $4 on two acres. Others let their berries rot sooner than pick them. We doubt not hundreds of acres will be plowed under by disgusted owners, and devoted to something of more permanent culture and profit.
One season's experience is sufficient to convince a majority of growers of their unfitness for the pursuit. The lesson is hard, and they come to common sense at last.
The key to all this ill-success comes simply from neglect and inferior culture, rather than over-supply. Strawberry growing is like hundreds of other occupations; if men wish to be successful, they must do everything well. First - class plants of paying varieties must be chosen; cultivate them well and thoroughly; do not take too much ground; - an acre or two well cared for is better than five or ten negligently attended to. The fields must be hoed often - kept clear of weeds. Mulch must be used during the winter and the hot days of summer. Fruit must be assorted after picking, and only the best sent to market. No cheap baskets or crates must be used, - only good strong permanent ones will answer. Attention like this will never fail of paying a good profit; and when once a growers' reputation is established, his fears are at an end. There will be plenty of customers who will stick to him through every variation of the market.
It has become a settled conviction among buyers in this city, that the best and most valuable berries here are those which come before "Jersies" arrive, and those which come after "Jersies" are gone. It is as much of an object for growers near New York to raise late berries as early ones, because the prices are more steadily remunerative.
The prospects for the future are not flattering. This spring has witnessed the planting of hundreds of acres by new cultivators and candidates for public favor, and without doubt the next spring will show a state of things much worse than this year.
I would not discourage fruit-growing, but the facts are too apparent that, except in special and favorable instances of location, culture, and customers, strawberry growing as now done for the general market is no longer a sufficiently paying thing.