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.
THE discussion of the Strawberry question, which has occupied the pages of agricultural and horticultural journals so largely for a few years past, has been the means, directly and indirectly, of advancing materially the cultivation of that fruit We find ample evidence of this in the more abundant supply of our markets, and in the production of a large number of seedling varieties. Recent letters from correspondents in all parts of the country, as well as the reports of late exhibitions, all testify to the very general interest which is felt on the subject, and the progress that has been made. But, after all, we are constrained to say that our cultivation is yet very indifferent. The size and appearance of the great bulk of fruit offered in market, convince us of this. Those who know how to cultivate, are in many cases slovenly, or act upon the principle that good culture will not pay; while there are many who fail for the want of correct information. We have now before us a large number of inquiries on the subject One wants to know how to prepare the soil; another, when to plant; and another, haw to plant Several correspondents who are well informed on the subject of cultivation, ask us to give them the names of the best perfect-flowering sorts, as they are tired of keeping separate the staminate and pistillate varieties.
We have therefore thought it might be well to offer a few hints which will serve as a general answer.
We will state here, at the outset, that to cultivate the Strawberry successfully, is but a simple matter. To grow large, handsome, fine-flavored fruit in abundance, it is not necessary to employ a chemist to furnish us with a long list of specifics, nor even to employ a gardener by profession who can boast of long years of experience. Any one who can manage a crop of Corn or Potatoes, can, if he will, grow Strawberries. We say this much by way of encouragement, because so much has been said in regard to various methods of culture, and various applications and specifics, that some people have become persuaded that a vast deal of learning and experience is necessary to produce large crops of Strawberries.
Judging from what we have seen, we believe that the great cause of failure is negligence. The Strawberry plant - not like a tree, which, when once set in its place, remains there - is constantly sending out shoots (runners) in all directions, taking possession of the ground rapidly around the parent plant In a short time, therefore, unless these runners are kept in check, the ground becomes entirely occupied with plants, the parent plants become exhausted, and the ground can no longer be stirred or kept in such a condition as is necessary to sustain their vigor. The result is, the ground is covered with a mass of starved and weakly plants, choking up each other in a hard, uncultivated soil, and producing a sparse crop of small, insipid berries, that dry up on their stalks before they are ripe, unless rain happens to fall every day climate is absolutely necessary; and any system of culture which precludes this, or throws any obstacles in its way, is defective. If any one will examine his Strawberry beds, he will find the plants along the outer edges of the beds, where the soil has been kept clean and fresh by the frequent use of the hoe, vigorous and healthy, with luxuriant dark green foliage, and large, fine fruit; while in the interior of the beds, where the plants have grown into masses, and covered all the ground, so as to prevent its cultivation, they are yellow and sickly looking, and the fruit poor and worthless.
This we see in our own grounds, and everywhere that we find plants growing under similar circumstances. Does not this show the necessity of cultivation close around the plants? No matter how deep we may trench the soil, or how unsparing we may be with manures, or how copiously we supply moisture, this cultivation can not be dispensed with, if we aim at producing fine fruits and abundance of them. "But," says one cultivator, "by allowing the ground to be all occupied with plants, we save all the labor which would be consumed in removing the runners, and we avoid the necessity of applying a mulching to keep the fruit clean." Very true, you save some expense; but what do you get in return? A crop of fruit not fit for the table - small, insipid, and so dirty, if a heavy rain occurs about ripening time, that it must be put through the wash-tub before it is placed on the table. It is possible that the market grower may be able to produce berries of this kind at a less price per quart than he could by a careful, cleanly, and thorough system of culture; but then he can expect to sell such fruit only when no better can be had. We have some doubts, however, as to the economy of bad culture in the long run.
If a proper system were adopted at the outstart, and followed up with regularity, it would not be found so profitless or expensive. In this, as in every other kind of culture, a system is absolutely necessary. A certain routine of operations which are easily executed if taken at the right time, become burthensome when deferred; and being so, they are not unfrequently put off altogether. Precisely thus it is that Strawberry beds are neglected, both in market gardens and private gardens, until they are grown wild beyond hope of recovery. Now, we say to every one who wishes to cultivate Strawberries, resolve at once upon abandoning the "lazy-bed" system; and if you cultivate but a square rod, do it well.
We advise planting in rows not less than two feet apart, unless ground be very scarce, when eighteen inches might suffice, and the plants to be twelve to eighteen inches apart in the rows. In extensive field culture, the rows should be at least three feet apart, in order to admit the use of the plow and cultivator between them, or even the passage of a cart to deposit manures or mulching material. The spade and wheelbarrow are too costly implements for an extensive culture where labor is scarce and high, as with us. From the time the plants are set until the fruit is gathered, the runners should be cut away as fast as they appear, and the ground be kept clean of weeds, and well worked.