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.
As I presume a large part of your readers prefer practice to theory, perhaps some of them, about to plant strawberry beds, may take an interest in the following hints, though they are neither novel nor original: -
I have seen a great deal written about the sexual character of the strawberry, but not half enough about plain and straight-forward ways of cultivating it.
Now I must be permitted to say that I have cultivated for years the Early Scarlet, Hudson, and Hovey's Seedling - three unexceptionable sorts. The first, peculiarly valuable for early maturity, the second for preserving, and the third for large size and good quality; and I have paid no attention whatever to staminate or pistillate plants. All I have cared for, was to get the soil in the right state, and let the blossoms and berries take care of themselves. I have had the satisfaction of gathering very large crops of first-rate fruit, while some of my neighbors who have studied the nature of the blossoms, and thought too little of the soil, have had very sorry crops. Not that I mean to say that there is not something in this matter of the difference in the blossoms; but that I have found it of little or no importance to intermix them in any given proportions in the same bed. All that I do, is to cultivate a bed of "staminates," like the Virginia, or the Early Scarlet, in the same part of my garden as my Hoveys and Hudsons, and let them take the whole matter of fertilization into their own hands.
Now it seems to me, that the point most difficult to hit is that of manuring the soil well for the strawberry. If you use stable manure, in the ordinary way, you are certain to fill your soil with weeds to such an extent, that you give yourself a deal of needless trouble in keeping the weeds down; and if, as is not unlikely, you use it fresh, you will be likely to burn up your young plants, if the season is dry.
Two points must be understood, to grow the best strawberries: 1st, that the soil must be deep; and 2d, that it must be rich. If you look at the leaves of a strawberry, and, because they are not very large, presume that the roots will extend but little depth, you are greatly mistaken. I have seen the roots of strawberries extend five feet down in a rich deep soil; and those plants bore a crop of fruit five times as large, and twice as handsome and good, as the common product of a soil only one foot deep.
And this reminds me of a capital instance of strawberry delusion, which most of your readers doubtless know something about, but which many even yet do not, perhaps, fully understand. I mean the history of the " Washington. Alpine Strawberry," which Mr. Stoddart, of Western New York, advertised, and sold a great many dollars' worth of, some four or five years ago. Mr. Stoddart, I believe, was quite honest in the transaction; and yet the whole public were completely deluded by the " Washington Alpine," which was nothing but the old Alpine or Monthly Strawberry. The long and short of the matter was, that Mr. Stoddart had a corner of his garden which was made ground - a- rich, deep, moist soil (I think it had been an old bog, or bit of alluvial, afterwards filled up), not less than eight or ten feet deep. Mr. Stoddart had raised some seedling Alpines (which, so far as I know, always come the same from the seed); he had, by lucky chance, planted them in this corner of his garden, where the soil was so unusually rich and deep. There they grew so finely, and bore such enormous crops, that his neighbors could scarcely credit their senses. The story of the miraculous crop got into the papers. People came to see with their own eyes.
In short, they bought and carried Away the "Washington Alpines," at extravagant prices, with the fall conviction that "seeing is believing/' and that such strawberries were never before grown, gazed on, or tasted. Well, great was their surprise to find, on planting and cultivating the "Washington Alpines," that there was nothing new or wonderful about them; and that, in fact, they all dwindled down to the old-fashioned Alpine Strawberry. Mr. Stoddart, naturally enough, now has as many bard names bestowed on him for the fancied deception, as he had before had hard dollars for really great crops. And yet, Mr. Stoddart sold his plants in good faith, and was probably as much deluded as the buyers. The whole secret of his unheard-of crops, and the large size of bis fruit, lay in the depth and richness of his soil; and as none of his customers had, like him, a rich ten feet mould to grow giants in, they had no "Washington Alpines".
The " moral" your readers are to draw out of this digression is, that they cannot well make their soil too deep for the strawberry. Perhaps they cannot afford to make it three feet deep, which is the right depth for an extra fine crop; but, at all events, they can make it two feet deep. And now, a word as to mannring it.
It is all very well to talk about composts and " well rotted manure." The real truth is, that in our careless country, not one gardener in a hundred has such things ready for use at the moment he wants to prepare his strawberry patch. What people have at hand, from one end of the country to the other, is fresh stable or barnyard manure; and the question is, how to use that to the best advantage.
The true way to do this, is to throw out the soil where your beds are to be made two feet deep. Fill up the bottom eight inches or a foot deep with fresh stable manure, mixed with the litter, treading it down firmly. Then cover this with two-thirds of the soil thrown out, rejecting the worst part of it This will raise the bed four inches above the surface; and as it will settle about four inches, it will be about level after it is settled.
This is all the preparation which I give my soil, and it is all that any soil of fair quality needs; only that I would much prefer to have it three feet deep than two feet, and to have sixteen inches of stable manure and litter at the bottom than eight, though the latter brings heavy crops in a good soil.
You may put out your plants in August or April. The only difference is, that if planted in August, you may lose half of them by the heat and drought, unless it is a rainy season; while, in April, you are certain not to lose a single plant, unless it is unsound when you transplant it.
To my mind, there is no way of growing strawberries so complete as in beds three and a half feet wide, with three rows in each - the plants in the rows kept clipped of their runners, and the ground between the rows nicely covered with straw all the year round. The largest .and finest fruit is obtained in this way, and the beds themselves will last many years; while, if they are allowed to cover the bed, you can, at the most, expect only two crops, and, generally, the fruit is of little or no value after the first crop.
It is very idle and useless to attempt to make a new strawberry plantation on old strawberry ground. You may add double the usual quantity of manure, but the soil has been so robbed of other needful elements, that you will fail in growing a healthy crop.
A word or two may also not be thrown away, respecting the choice of plants. Of course, you will always put out young runners, and not old plants; but something more than this is needful. You must take care to see that they are not runners from an old and worn-out bed; for nothing is more certain than that, while runners from a fruitful bed will make fruitful plants, so, also, runners from an old and exhausted bed, will very often produce only barren plants. Nurserymen ought to attend to this; for any respectable and intelligent nurseryman should be ashamed of sending out plants from a bed which is not in a healthy and fruitful state, since his customers at a distance depend wholly upon his integrity in sending them sound and healthy plants; not such as inherit feeble constitutions from "along line" of decrepid ancestors. Tours, etc, An Old Digger.