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- Success With Small Fruits - 20/57 -


sour, black, and even a little mouldy. In this case, wash them in clean water from which the chill has been taken. Trim carefully, taking off the blackened, shrivelled ends. Sprinkle a couple of tablespoonfuls of fine bone meal immediately about the plant after setting, and then water it. If the weather is warm, soak the ground and keep it moist until there is rain. Never let a plant falter or go back from lack of moisture.

How often should one water? Often enough to keep the ground _moist all the time_, night and day. There is nothing mechanical in taking care of a young plant any more than in the care of a baby. Simply give it what it needs until it is able to take care of itself. The plant may require a little watching and attention for a few days in warm weather. If an opportune storm comes, the question of growth is settled favorably at once; but if a "dry spell" ensues, be vigilant. At nine o'clock A.M., even well-watered plants may begin to wilt, showing that they require shade, which may be supplied by inverted flower-pots, old berry-baskets, shingles or boards. A handful of weeds, grass, or even of dry earth, thrown on the crown of the plant in the morning, and removed by five P.M., is preferable to nothing. Anything is better than stolidly sticking a plant in the ground and leaving it alone just long enough to die. Many, on the other hand, kill their plants with kindness. They dose the young things with guano, unfermented manure, and burn them up. Coolness, moisture, and shade are the conditions for a new start in life.

As has been explained already, pot-grown plants, with a ball of earth clinging to their roots, can be set out during the hot months with great ease, and with little danger of loss. At the same time, let me distinctly say that such plants require fair treatment. The ground should be "firmed" around them just as strongly, and they should be so well watched as to guard against the slightest wilting from heat and drought.

In ordinary field culture, let the rows be three feet apart, and let the plants stand one foot from each other in a row. At this distance, 14,520 are required for an acre. When land is scarce, the rows can be two and a half feet from each other. In garden culture, where the plow and cultivator will not be used, there should be two feet between the rows, and the plants should be one foot apart as before. With this rule in mind, any one can readily tell how many plants he will need for a given area.

CHAPTER XV

CULTIVATION

The field for experiment in cultivation with different fertilizers, soils, climates, and varieties is indeed a wide one, and yet for practical purposes the question is simple enough.

There are three well-known systems of cultivation, each of which has its advantages and disadvantages. The first is termed the "matted bed system." Under this plan the ground between the rows is cultivated and kept clean during the spring and early summer. As soon, however, as the new runners begin to push out vigorously, cultivation ceases, or else, with the more thorough, the cultivator is narrowed down till it stirs scarcely more than a foot of surface, care being taken to go up one row and down another, so as always to draw the runners one way. This prevents them from being tangled up and broken off. By winter, the entire ground is covered with plants, which are protected as will be explained further on. In the spring the coarsest of the covering is raked off, and between the rows is dug a space about a foot or eighteen inches wide, which serves as a path for the pickers. This path is often cheaply and quickly made by throwing two light furrows together with a corn plow. Under this system, the first crop is usually the best, and in strong lands adapted to grasses the beds often become so foul that it does not pay to leave them to bear a second year. If so, they are plowed under as soon as the fruit has been gathered. More often two crops are taken, and then the land is put in some other crop for a year or two before being planted with strawberries again. This rude, inexpensive system is perhaps more followed than any other. It is best adapted to light soils and cheap lands. Where an abundance of cool fertilizers has been used, or the ground has been generously prepared with green crops, plowed under, the yield is often large and profitable. But as often it is quite the reverse, especially if the season proves dry and hot. Usually, plants sodded together cannot mature fine fruit, especially after they have exhausted half their vitality in running. In clayey loams, the surface in the matted rows becomes as hard as a brick. Light showers make little impression on it, and the fruit often dries upon the vines. Remembering that the strawberry's chief need is moisture, it will be seen that it can scarcely be maintained in a hard-matted sod. Under this system the fruit is small at best, and it all matures together. If adopted in the garden, the family has but a few days of berries instead of a few weeks. The marketman may find his whole crop ripening at a time of over-supply, and his small berries may scarcely pay for picking. To many of this class the cheapness of the system will so commend itself that they will continue to practice it until some enterprising neighbor teaches them better, by his larger cash returns. In the garden, however, it is the most expensive method. When the plants are sodded together, the hoe and fork cannot be used. The whole space must be weeded by hand, and there are some pests whose roots interlace horizontally above and below the ground, and which cannot be eradicated from the matted rows. Too often, therefore, even in the neatest garden, the strawberry bed is the place where vegetable evil triumphs.

There are modifications of this system that are seen to better advantage on paper than in the field or garden. The one most often described in print--I have never seen it working successfully--may be termed the "renewal system." Instead of plowing the matted beds under, after the first or second crop, the paths between the beds are enriched and spaded or plowed. The old plants are allowed to fill these former paths with new plants; which process being completed, the old matted beds are turned under, and the new plants that have taken the places of the paths bear the fruit of the coming year. But suppose the old beds have within them sorrel, white clover, wire-grass, and a dozen other perennial enemies, what practical man does not know that these pests will fill the vacant spaces faster than can the strawberry plants? There is no chance for cultivation by hoe or horse power. Only frequent and laborious weedings by hand can prevent the evil, and this but partially, for, as has been said, the roots of many weeds are out of reach unless there is room for the fork, hoe, or cultivator to go beneath them.

In direct contrast with the above is the "hill system." This, in brief, may be suggested by saying that the strawberry plants are set out three feet--more or less--apart, and treated like hills of corn, with the exception that the ground is kept level, or should be. They are often so arranged that the cultivator can pass between them each way, thus obviating nearly all necessity for hand work. When carried out to such an extent, I consider this plan more objectionable than the former, especially at the North. In the first place, when the plants are so distant from each other, much of the ground is left unoccupied and unproductive. In the second place, the fruit grower is at the mercy of the strawberry's worst enemy, the _Lachnosterna_, or white grub. Few fields in our region are wholly free from them and a few of the voracious pests would leave the ground bare, for they devour the roots all summer long. In the third place, where so much of the ground is unoccupied, the labor of mulching, so that the soil can be kept moist and the fruit clean, is very great.

In small garden-plots, when the plants can be set only two feet apart each way, the results of this system are often most admirable. The entire spaces between them can be kept mellow and loose, and therefore moist. There is room to dig out and eradicate the roots of the worst weeds. By frequently raking the ground over, the annual weeds do not get a chance to start. In the rich soil the plants make great, bushy crowns that nearly touch each other, and as they begin to blossom, the whole space between them can be mulched with straw, grass, etc. The runners can easily be cut away when the plants are thus isolated. Where there are not many white grubs in the soil, the hill system is well adapted to meet garden culture, and the result, in a prolonged season of large, beautiful fruit, will be most satisfactory. Moreover, the berries, being exposed on all sides to the sun, will be of the best flavor.

In the South, the hill system is the only one that can be adopted to advantage. There the plants are set in the summer and autumn, and the crop is taken from them the following spring. Therefore each plant must be kept from running, and be stimulated to do its best within a given space of time. In the South, however, the plants are set but one foot apart in the rows, and thus little space is lost.

I am satisfied that the method best adapted to our Eastern and Western conditions is what is termed the "narrow row system," believing that it will give the greatest amount of fine fruit with the least degree of trouble and expense. The plants are set one foot from each other in line, and not allowed to make runners. In good soil, they will touch each other after one year's growth, and make a continuous bushy row. The spaces between the rows may be two and a half to three feet. Through these spaces the cultivator can be run as often as you please, and the ground can be thus kept clean, mellow, and moist. The soil can be worked--not deeply, of course--within an inch or two of the plants, and thus but little space is left for hand- weeding. I have found this latter task best accomplished by a simple tool made of a fork-tine, with a section of the top left attached thus: T. Old broken forks can thus be utilized. This tool can be thrust deeply between the plants without disturbing many roots, and the most stubborn weed can be pried out. Under this system, the ground is occupied to the fullest extent that is profitable. The berries are exposed to light and air on either side, and mulch can be applied with the least degree of trouble. The feeding-ground for the roots can be kept mellow by horse-power; if irrigation is adopted, the spaces between the rows form the natural channels for the water. Chief of all, it is the most successful way of fighting the white grub. These enemies are not found scattered evenly through the soil, but abound in patches. Here they can be dug out if not too numerous, and the plants allowed to run and fill up the gaps. To all intents and purposes, the narrow row system is hill culture with the evils of the latter subtracted. Even where it is not carried out accurately, and many plants take root in the rows, most of them will become large, strong, and productive under the hasty culture which destroys the greater number of the side-runners.

[Illustration: NARROW ROW AND HILL SYSTEMS]

Where this system is fairly tried, the improvement in the quality, size, and, therefore, measuring bulk of the crop, is astonishing. This is especially true of some varieties, like the Duchess, which, even in a matted bed, tends to stool out into great bushy plants. Doctor Thurber, editor of the "American Agriculturist," unhesitatingly pronounced it the most productive and best early variety in my specimen-bed, containing fifty different kinds. If given a chance to develop its stooling-out qualities, it is able to compete even with


Success With Small Fruits - 20/57

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