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.
The improvement of vegetable races by hybridizing is one of the most direct and important means which we possess in modifying and adapting them to our purposes, and a subject worthy of special attention. The field of experiment is boundless, and some sections of it have scarcely been trod upon. The florists of the old world have, by this means, enriched their parterres and green-houses with an endless variety of flowers, and, by perseverance and assiduity, attained a degree of exact application of the process, which has been attended by results at once hopeful and suggestive to those who desire similar improvements in objects more worthy the attention of utilitarians.
The improvement of the various kinds of fruits, and their better adaptation to domestic purposes, is a section of this field which presents enticing inducements to the experimentalist. It may safely be presumed that none of our available fruit productions have attained the highest degree of excellence of .which they are capable, nor do they afford the variety, or continue their productive season to the extent which is evidently possible. We have fruits which, individually, possess certain desirable properties, associated with qualities equally tending to depreciate their merits. Thus size is almost invariably united with deteriorated flavor. Earliness, again, is frequently the only merit of some, and, from the experience and success of the past, there is abundant evidence of the possibility of one variety possessing the combined excellencies of those already existant. Take, for instance, that most desirable and available of small fruits, the raspberry, and originate a variety with the adaptability for general culture and hardihood of the Allen, combining the luscious flavor and size of the Orange and Fastolf, having in addition the continuous fruiting character of the Catawissa, and we should have a near approach to perfection in this fruit.
The native grape, above all fruits, offers great inducements to the hybridizer. We have not, as yet, a standard grape possessing the qualities of a fine table fruit, uniformly productive and perfectly hardy. By hardiness, I do not mean, exclusively, their ability to withstand the colds of winter, but the possession of a constitutional vigor that will be proof against such destructive maladies as mildew and rot. When we produce a grape of the size of the Isabella or Catawba, with the flavor.of the Diana or the Delaware, and entirely hardy, it will be an acquisition in our fruit lists. A "good native wine grape is one of the greatest desideratums of the times, and, from present indications we have reason to hope that it will soon be supplied.
The operation of hybridizing plants consists in fertilizing the stigma of the flower of one plant with the pollen of another of allied kind; if these two flowers are from plants having different characters, the effect will be to originate a new form, possessing properties intermediate between its parents.
With many plants the operation is attended with some slight difficulties, and in all a delicacy of manipulation is required which deters, in some measure, experiments of this kind from becoming general; but carefully conducted operations will be certainly followed by valuable results.
Accidental hybridization often occurs through the agency of insects and other causes: it is very common to find one berry in a bunch of grapes larger than the others. It is presumable that a greater portion of developing agencies has been concentrated in such berries, and, by saving and sowing the seeds, a superior production may be obtained. Currants, raspberries, strawberries, etc, may be rapidly improved by this means - saving always the largest berry on the plant; and if every cultivator of fruit were to carefully select and plant the seeds of the largest specimens, an improvement would speedily be effected.
Strawberries are very productive when planted on deeply trenched soil only moderately enriched with putrescent manures. A rich surface soil without depth will produce a large amount of leaves, but will not ripen a proportionate quantity of fruit. Dry weather will injuriously and speedily affect a shallow soil, no matter how rich it is; but when the roots can reach a depth beyond the scorching of a week's dry sunshine, the crop will ripen equally and satisfactorily, 'the end of the month is a favorable time to form new plantations. Many of the later foreign importations are " promising well;" but for general use we must still plant chiefly of native seedlings.