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.
It must be evident, even to an ordinary observer of what is taking place in American agriculture, that some very remarkable revolutions are going on around us, and that within a few years past some have actually been accomplished. These revolutions embrace the lowly as well as the loftiest productions of the earth, the common garden vegetables equally with the rarest exotics. Their effect has been, in various instances, to elevate what was formerly an insignificant garden product into a great commercial staple. In none of them has this transmutation of values been more remarkable than in the rank which the tomato has been made to assume. This now popular esculent has been domesticated in this vicinity ever since the refugees from San Domingo first brought it with them. Our warm and stimulating soil was soon discovered to be peculiarly adapted for producing it in the highest perfection ; but it was long in working its way up to the position of a general favorite in the market. Its taste and flavor were new sensations, not often relished when first tried, and required time and repeated effort to make them generally popular. The most extensive cultivator in New Jersey raised the tomato during six years before venturing to taste it.
But two generations having been educated to appreciate the gastronomic seductiveness of the tomato, and medical science having shown it to be eminently wholesome, the masses are now devouring it with an avidity which has worked one of the most surprising among. the revolutions referred to.
As a demand grew up for tomatoes, so producers became keen to supply it. Our truckers quickly attained to great expert-ness in causing them to ripen early, thus securing enormous prices for the first week's picking. The seeds are planted in a hotbed, and when grown a few inches high, are shifted into other beds, sometimes twice or thrice. Each transplanting was soon discovered to have two important advantages, that of checking top growth, and increasing the quantity of roots, the grand result being that the plants oftenest shifted were sure to ripen their fruit in advance of all others. Advantage is taken of a cloudy or rainy spell in June to transfer them to the open ground. Cross furrows having been made with the plow, a good shovelful of well-rotted manure is dropped at each intersection, and covered with the hoe. Others open the furrows without crossing, and drop the manure at intervals where a plant is intended to be set. Generally, an acre is made to contain 2,500 plants. The latter are next taken from the hot-bed, with a mass of roots inclosing as much earth as possible.
A boy drops them at the proper locations, and is followed by a man, who with his hand opens a hole in the soil above the manure, and covers the roots by pressing the earth hard around them, using his hands only. One boy will drop as fast as two men can plant. Should the weather be warm, and there be no rain, but clouds only, the afternoon towards nightfall is chosen for planting. This mode of planting is practiced only with such as are to come earliest into market. With what is known as second early, and late tomatoes, the plants are dropped directly on the manure, and the farrow closed with the plow.
Now as the young tomato plant requires a large and unintermitted supply of moisture, this transfer from the hot-bed to the field, by cutting off the supply, occasions a sudden wilting, quite alarming except to those familiar with the habit of the plant. The top falls over and lies flat on the ground, especially if the sun should unexpectedly shine out, and more especially if transplanting while under glass has been omitted. But the plant, though wonderfully sensitive, is also wonderfully hardy, and will survive wilting and drought in a remarkable manner. Such as have been repeatedly transplanted grow short and stocky, and generally hold their heads erect. In a few days they go on growing as if they had suffered no disturbance. Those not so transplanted, run up spindling, and wilt the most. The ground between the rows is kept clear of weeds. No staking of any kind is practiced in field culture, the bushes, as they increase in size, lying over on the ground. It would require the branches from more than one extensive forest to stake up the quantities of tomatoes raised among us.
Moreover, it seems quite certain that the heat reflected from the hot soil has much effect in hastening the crop to maturity.
In producing tomatoes for market, earli-ness has been the great desideratum which all growers have labored to secure. The first, even when only half colored, command from $4 to $5 per basket of three pecks. So universally popular has this esculent become, that the public appetite grows im patient for the first half-ripened supply. Hence there have been numerous efforts to originate new varieties, in hopes that some of them may prove earlier than those already cultivated. It is said that not less than forty new seedlings have been brought before the public since the tomato culture has grown to be so great a business. Others have been imported from the Fejee Islands and Japan. In this crowd of novelties some varieties have been found better adapted for a great market trade than the original West India tomato; and though not better flavored, yet in this quarter they have almost entirely driven the latter out. Our growers now prefer the Tilden, as being smoother and finer in appearance, larger in size, firmer, and a much more generous bearer.
Indeed, when properly cultivated, it shows itself to be very productive.
This new aid to a growing business is one of those certain corollaries which are developed in agriculture or horticulture whenever there is seen to be occasion for them. Demand inevitably creates supply, and generally with improvement in quality. It was seen that tomato culture had grown into a staple business, with every prospect of immense extension. There was room for improvement, with a fair promise of profit in accomplishing it. Hence ingenious propagators originated better varieties. But while conferring lasting benefits on cultivators, they secured for themselves only an ephemeral profit from the sale of seeds. Having no patent on their invention, the sales of one or two seasons exhausted the harvest, though they opened a perpetual one to others. But the effort to produce new and better varieties continues. We, shall yet hear of some one which will outstrip in productiveness all its predecessors, and probably run up the ordinary yield of an acre to a thousand bushels.