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.
Professor Emmons, in his "Agriculture of New-York," makes this commentary: - "The soil must possess all the inorganic substances, as well as organic, which are essential to the perfection of vegetables; if any one is wanting it must be supplied".
This applies so forcibly to the strong common sense of every earnest cultivator in the great vegetable domain, that he feels at once the apparent truth of a rule, which asserts for its result the perfect development of every plant that is legitimately supplied, whether by leaf or root, with its full measure of organic and inorganic nutrition. This rule in its ultiroates, I think, admits of exceptions.
Since Professor Mapes has advocated the use of tan-barks for a mulch for strawberries, asserting that the tannic acid was specifically indicated as an organic constituent of this fruit, his opinion has been canvassed in a spirit of denial, satire and ridicule. Still it may be true; and taking it for granted that the Professor's postulate is correct, the alleged advantages of the tannic acid for the strawberry prove that its efficacy is in an anomalous disproportion to that of the other recognized constituents of this fruit. Again, a reference to my remarks and experiments on the specific nutrition of strawberries, contained in the last August number of the Horticulturist, will disclose further collateral evidence of the caprices of plants in imbibing nutrition at proportional variance with their analyses. These discrepancies from the general rule, and the desire to awaken inquiry and experiment to the highest degree, in order to mature the finest fruit, have rendered me a little presumptuous, perhaps, in suggesting auother rule of specific nutrition:
That some fruits - whatever the organic or inorganic analysis of the plant, or of the fruit, may disclose and stem to require - possess one or more special constituents, each one of which is demanded as an increased, correspondent, and specific nutrition, that bears no proportion to that of the exact analysis.
It will be more satisfactory, in the consideration of this theme, to pursue the investigation in as radical and scientific form as possible, which will be best obtained by a survey of the few exact organic and inorganic analyses which have been so far afforded.
The thanks of every strawberry grower are due to Doctor Hull for this very scientific, practical, and able article. It speaks for itself; and, together with the editorial remarks, will be read with marked attention by every one interested in the subject. There are some positions in it which may be doubted in some parts of our country; but even there, sound instruction may be received from the particularity of cultivation, and the method of applying the special manures which have been used. Every one cannot afford to grow strawberries as Dr. Hull has grown them, even without his application of special stimulants; yet all who grow them for their own tables can afford to cultivate them well, and to provide that aliment which will develope their best qualities.
Fifteen or twenty years ago, good table strawberries, with most people, were scarcely known, and among those who did know them, the Chiliis, Alpines, and a few poor things, both in bearing and flavor, were all that could be found. Now the country housekeeper, with a garden of his own, who cannot, for three months in the summer, furnish his table three times a day, if necessary, with any quantity of the best of strawberries, is considered far behind the times, in any intelligent neighborhood. They are, in fact, as easily produced as tomatoes.
There is one thing, however, against which I must protest, in the zeal to produce large straw berries. These overgrown, highly stimulated fruits of any kind, are, and must be, from the very nature of things, deficient in flavor. There is no fruit we cultivate which produces so much weight of flesh in proportion to its stem and root as the strawberry. It can furnish but a given amount of its own specific flavor, according to the size of the plant, to the fruit it may bear. All beyond that given amount of flavor must, of course, be simply water, and perhaps badly tarted at that, partaking largely of the properties of the stimulant from which its size is made. The experience of every one who remarks it must agree to this assertion, and for high flavor, and the real excellence of the fruit, it is not desirable to cultivate overgrown specimens, or to get them much beyond their natural size. The field strawberry - and of these there are many varieties - when grown in good localities, are acknowledged to be the highest flavored known; and this flavor is acquired by letting nature take its own course, and perfect the fruit in its own way.
Not that I would advocate the field strawberry as superior to others, but merely to illustrate, that beyond a certain point nature will not be forced into the full and complete development of her bounties.
Of the virtues of tannic acid, it may still remain a doubtful point whether it is of any real benefit beyond the very convenient and excellent quality it has as a mulch for the strawberry. Field strawberries certainly get nothing of it beyond the rotten wood and decayed leaves which sometimes reach them in their chance localities. That the tan-bark keeps them clean, and protects them from frost and drouth, is certain, and therefore it may be fully used - (spent tan) but beyond this, good old fashioned manures and stimulants, in soil not naturally rich, are indispensable.