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.
This morning at sun-up the thermometer marked 48, and corn is in tassel; cucumbers and squashes in use, and yesterday a hailstorm occurred, with hail as large as one's little finger-end; and one night last week it rained as if it were being poured out - such a rain as seldom occurs North, yet before that it was too dry for Irish potatoes to keep alive in this land. This is the climate, too, where some knowing ones, with many years' observation, suppose and imagine, in the face of the experiments of thousands of old cultivators of the soil, that figs can be successfully dried for commerce, and packed fit to eat, without preserving; that the foreign grape can live and produce a paying crop; that peaches can be raised successfully, as well- as pineapples, coffee and many other such things. It seems to be impossible to convey to the ignorant how much moisture the air of Florida contains, and what peculiar effect it has upon vegetation. The soil of Florida in many places could not support the growth there is on it, was it not in an atmosphere charged with so much wet. This wetness completely prevents the fig from maturing, so as to make dried figs for commerce. Grapes are so affected by it that they fail to do well, either in growing wood regularly or ripening fruit.
Any gardener knows well the foreign grape does not thrive well in an undrained soil, and there are times in Florida when all the soil is loaded with water, and after such times the vines that have borne two or three crops die to the ground. Peaches are so uncertain south of Palatka, that it does not pay to raise them; also apricots and nectarines; and near the coast north the fruit ripens very uneven, and the trees soon die with the roots very knotty. Some had them on the plain to avoid that effect.
There is one orange tree in this town, only four inches high, that came from seed since Christmas, and it bloomed and set fruit. I went to see it last week, and the fruit was then the size of a pea of small size. Another in the lot bloomed, but did not set fruit. I grew an Oleander from seed last year, that bloomed before it was six months old. I tell these things to show how different plants do in different climes.
Much moisture in the air, and a poor, wet, sandy soil enable many flowers and vegetables to grow flowers well, but fail to produce fruit. This is manifested by the tomato, as the Trophy, if planted from the finest specimens possible, will not have fruit the next year much over one inch through. That vegetables can be grown on the St. John's at Lake Monroe, and shipped North, so as to pay expenses, no one need to hope, as the first cargo or lot sent by the boat is all that pays to ship, and the remainder of the crop is wasted.
I wish to inform Al Fresco that I had my first summer at a spot between Enterprise and Eaton's grove; and I would inform him that the next grove below was thrown out for want of a tenant, and also that some of the largest trees in Eaton's grove have died since then by the rise in the river. I also tried another summer at the settlement of Sand Point, and there tried faithfully to cultivate a large garden on the edge of the noted Turn bull's swamp. I also put in several thousand orange buds in a grove ten miles south of Gape Canaveral, and contemplated purchasing one of Capt. Burnham's groves. I was told, before I went to Indian River, that I would find rich hammock land there, as rich as anywhere else. Such statements are utterly untrue, and their circulation a cruel wrong. One hogshead of sugar per acre cannot as easily be raised in the richest of these hammocks as two can in Louisiana, according to the statements of those persons who have tried both, and then the crop cannot be repeated on the same land in Florida.
Will Al Fresco please remember that the grape he so much recommends does not ripen its crop all on one day or one week, but gradually, and when ripe, they fall off and leave the green ones behind; therefore his process for gathering will be more troublesome than a cow-milking machine. Cordial and brandy may be made from Scuppernong grapes, but a good wine only at high costs.
Fourth month, 30th. This morning thermometer marks 47 in the shelter of the greenhouse, before sun-up. Mulberries have been ripening two weeks past. I counted 176 specimens on one twig that measured one - third of an inch through the stem. Please ask Al Fresco if his fertile brain can contrive some crop to grow in the garden, so as to enable the good people of Florida to have an abundance of healthy, juicy fruits or vegetables (such as they have North), say from the middle of July till the middle of October. I have worked hard for five summers in four different places, and very sorry do I say it, I find it far more difficult to supply a family with an abundance of fruit and vegetables anywhere in the State, where one can live clear of malaria. I was led to believe, e'er I entered the State, that the extreme frost line was at or near Enterprise, but I find it sometimes reaches to the extreme south end of the State.
Does Al Fresco presume to imply that the good people of Florida are more careless in packing fruit than people in other lands? If so, I think he had better inform them how others pack them; and if 45 per cent, are lost in shipping from Cuba, what per cent, does he suppose waste in going from Florida? Coffee and quinine I hope may never be the product of Florida, and I don't fear they will; and I consider such poisonous things like the too vivid productions of the imaginative brains they often pervert.
One who has Florida on his hands. Apalachicola, March 29, 1874.