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.
I resume my notes upon fruits with the strawberry - a fruit capable of being brought to great perfection in this climate. To make the most of a strawberry bed, it requires a suitable situation and soil, clean and deep culture, vegetable manures, regular watering in dry weather, and mulching the roots. The varieties we will consider hereafter. As to situation select the lowest part of the garden. A sandy piece of bottom land near some stream where the soil is deep, moist and cool, is particularly suitable for this plant. No trees should be permitted to over-shadow and drin moisture of the soil. Fresh cleared lands are best and most easily kept free from weeds. Dig the ground two spades deep, the better to enable the plants to withstand drouth. A soil rich in nitrogenous matter is not desirable. Decayed vegetable substances are the best applications in order to produce fruit, animal manures increasing the growth of vine and leaf without much increase of fruit. A thick coat of swamp muck or leaf mold decomposed by the action of leached or unleached ashes, and well incorporated with the soil, is decidedly the best application in order to ensure a crop.
When the soil is prepared and levelled, make your rows two feet apart Set the plants fifteen or eighteen inches apart in the row. Select stout healthy runners, rejecting old roots, and plant first three rows of pistillates, then a row of some good hermophrodite variety, then six rows of pistillates, then another of hermaphrodites, and so on until the ground is planted. Choose damp weather for the operation. They may be planted, however, at any time in freshly dug soil in the following manner; - Make holes at the proper distances in the rows; lay the plants carefully therein, spreading out the roots just as they grew; pour on them a half pint or so of water from the spout of a watering-pot, working the earth in about the roots, and finishing by covering them fully with the moistened soil, and over this place some of the dry earth pressing it firmly about the plants. Choose the evening for planting, and keep the roots from exposure to the sun until replanted. Remove the larger leaves to diminish evaporation. Cover the earth between the plants, but not the plants themselves, with a mulching of straw, decayed leaves, or old tanners' bark. They may be transplanted at any time, but the last of September will give them time to establish themselves, so as to produce well the ensuing season.
Newly planted beds are more easily kept in a bearing state through the entire season. As soon as the blossoms begin to appear the ensuing spring the great necessity is water, which should be given liberally, both to swell the fruit and to force the plant to throw up new fruit stems. If three days pass without a shower, sprinkle the foliage every evening. Mr. Peabody is thus able to produce abundant crops from March until frost. Keep the ground always free from weeds and clip off the runners before they emit roots, until late in the season, when they may be allowed to root in order to form new beds and also new stools for the next year's crop. Every winter the plants should be thinned to their original distance, selecting new stools. Dig the bed deeply between the plants and mulch as before. If the crowns of the plants are covered they will generally die out Do not allow the hermaphrodite plants to overrun and crowd out the more productive pistillate varieties.
For a spring crop, the system of culture by alternate strips is the most convenient Indeed, when peaches and other fruits become abundant, one at last grows weary of even strawberries. To condense the whole subject of strawberry culture into a few words, plenty of water and keeping the plants at suitable distances, in well cultivated and mulched soil, will extend the strawberry season almost indefinitely.
The following varieties have been cultivated in our gardens, some of them, however, but for a single season, and among the varieties lately obtained, there have been none which have given us much encouragement to increase the list beyond the first four:
The most valuable hermaphrodite variety. Its points of excellence are, bearing uniformly a good crop planted by itself; great hardiness in resisting drouth, producing fruit of fair size and flavor when other varieties entirely cease bearing without artificial watering. I could not help observing this the present dry season. It is equally hardy in resisting cold. Another good quality is, its distinctness of foliage, enabling the cultivator to leave a due proportion in his beds of perfect flowered and pistillate varieties. Properly cultivated, it is of good size and flavor, and being perfect flowered, if but one variety were cultivated this would be the most desirable. It can be kept in bearing through the season.
If we consider size, flavor, hardiness, firmness of the berry for market purposes, productiveness, ease of gathering, and its habit of long continued bearing when properly cultivated, in connection with its excellent flavor, it is doubtful whether this strawberry will be soon excelled. It is nearly as hardy as the foregoing, but requires more water to make it swell its fruit. As it is pistillate, it needs a fertilizer. It is generally picked for sale before it is ripe, and it is then too acid; but when properly matured, it is excelled by few. For market purposes, the foregoing two varieties are quite sufficient.
Why does no one speak a word in favor of this fine old variety? Mr. Thomas says: "worthless, except in a deep, rich, sandy soil." Mine are on a clay, and they bear profusely for two or three weeks. They are earlier than Hovels, and in quality better than either of the foregoing; and whatever kinds may be raised for market, it is a most desirable variety for home use. While it lasted we preferred it to all other kinds except Burr's New Pine. It is a very hardy and desirable variety.
I have cultivated it two years. It has proved to be of the most sweet and delicious flavor, and new beds well watered show fruit most of the season. But it has not produced with me hitherto a full crop, and newly planted beds are easily killed during the winter and are quite as susceptible to injury from the sun in summer, where they are planted in the spring. If as hardy and productive as the foregoing, it would be the most desirable of strawberries. I liked it better last season than I do now. One can hardly form a judgment this year on account of the drouth.
Of those introduced here, the foregoing are the only ones worthy of cultivation. - We have found no other sorts equal to the common wild fruit of our pine woods and old fields. The following have been tried:
This variety here is only moderately productive, yielding less than either the three first of the list, and is too acid for most tastes. Inferior in quality and productiveness.
Not prolific in fruit and making few runners during our dry summers. It sometimes bears a few fruit the last of October, in wet seas but at no time produces much of a crop. Rejected on this account by our cultiv.
So far seems unworthy of culture. It is by no equal to Burr's New Pine in flavor, and in bearing produces about an equal Boston Pine, and like that variety, does not throw out many runners, but in foliage and fruit is entirely different.
Not productive enough to be of any service. Hardly bears enough to test its quality.
Though a hardy and tolerably productive sort, is not worthy of culture when the first three varieties of this list can be obtained.
I cultivate for the singularity of their fruit and foliage. The fruit is agreeable, but not very abundant The Red Wood was the first strawberry to ripen the present year, which was perhaps owing to its position.
12, 13, 14 and 15. Buist's Early, Methven. Victoria, and Prolific Hautbois - were in our garden and some few plants still remain, but no one has thought it worth while to preserve them when other and more desirable varieties are so readily obtained. They have not proved productive with us.