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- Success With Small Fruits - 4/57 -
things save his impudence. If he tells his obsequious employers that it is easier and cheaper to buy their fruit than to raise it, of course there is naught to do but go to the market and pick up what they can; and yet Dr. Thurber says, with a vast deal of force, that "the unfortunate people who buy their fruit do not know what a strawberry is."
In all truth and soberness it is a marvel and a shame that so many sane people who profess to have passed beyond the habits of the wilderness will not give the attention required by these unexacting fruits. The man who has learned to write his name can learn to raise them successfully. The ladies who know how to keep their homes neat through the labors of their "intelligent help," could also learn to manage a fruit garden even though employing the stupidest oaf that ever blundered through life. The method is this: First learn how yourself, and then let your laborer thoroughly understand that he gets no wages unless he does as he is told. In the complicated details of a plant farm there is much that needs constant supervision, but the work of an ordinary fruit garden is, in the main, straightforward and simple. The expenditure of a little time, money, and, above all things, of seasonable labor, is so abundantly repaid that one would think that bare self-interest would solve invariably the simple problem of supply.
As mere articles of food, these fruits are exceedingly valuable. They are capable of sustaining severe and continued labor. For months together we might become almost independent of butcher and doctor if we made our places produce all that nature permits. Purple grapes will hide unsightly buildings; currants, raspberries, and blackberries will grow along the fences and in the corners that are left to burdocks and brambles. I have known invalids to improve from the first day that berries were brought to the table, and thousands would exchange their sallow complexions, sick headaches, and general ennui for a breezy interest in life and its abounding pleasures, if they would only take nature's palpable hint, and enjoy the seasonable food she provides. Belles can find better cosmetics in the fruit garden than on their toilet tables, and she who paints her cheeks with the pure, healthful blood that is made from nature's choicest gifts, and the exercise of gathering them, can give her lover a kiss that will make him wish for another.
The famous Dr. Hosack, of New York City, who attended Alexander Hamilton after he received his fatal wound from Burr, was an enthusiast on the subject of fruits. It was his custom to terminate his spring course of lectures with a strawberry festival. "I must let the class see," he said, "that we are practical as well as theoretical. Linnaeus cured his gout and protracted his life by eating strawberries."
"They are a dear article," a friend remarked, "to gratify the appetites of so many."
"Yes, indeed," replied the doctor, "but from our present mode of culture they will become cheap."
It is hard to realize how scarce this fruit was sixty or seventy years ago, but the prediction of the sagacious physician has been verified even beyond his imagination. Strawberries are raised almost as abundantly as potatoes, and for a month or more can be eaten as a cheap and wholesome food by all classes, even the poorest. By a proper selection of varieties we, in our home, feast upon them six weeks together, and so might the majority of those whose happy lot is cast in the country. The small area of a city yard planted with a few choice kinds will often yield surprising returns under sensible culture.
If we cultivate these beautiful and delicious fruits we always have the power of giving pleasure to others, and he's a churl and she a pale reflection of Xantippe who does not covet this power. The faces of our guests brighten as they snuff from afar the delicate aroma. Our vines can furnish gifts that our friends will ever welcome; and by means of their products we can pay homage to genius that will be far more grateful than commonplace compliments. I have seen a letter from the Hon. Wm. C. Bryant, which is a rich return for the few strawberries that were sent to him, and the thought that they gave him pleasure gives the donor far more. They are a gift that one can bestow and another take without involving any compromise on either side, since they belong to the same category as smiles, kind words, and the universal freemasonry of friendship. Faces grow radiant over a basket of fruit or flowers that would darken with anger at other gifts.
If, in the circle of our acquaintance, there are those shut up to the weariness and heavy atmosphere of a sick-room, in no way can we send a ray of sunlight athwart their pallid faces more effectually than by placing a basket of fragrant fruit on the table beside them. Even though the physician may render it "forbidden fruit," their eyes will feast upon it, and the aroma will teach them that the world is not passing on, unheeding and uncaring whether they live or die.
The Fruit and Flower Mission of New York is engaged in a beautiful and most useful charity. Into tenement-houses and the hot close wards of city hospitals, true sisters of mercy of the one Catholic church of love and kindness carry the fragrant emblems of an Eden that was lost, but may be regained even by those who have wandered farthest from its beauty and purity. Men and women, with faces seemingly hardened and grown rigid under the impress of vice, that but too correctly reveal the coarse and brutal nature within, often become wistful and tender over some simple flower or luscious fruit that recalls earlier and happier days. These are gifts which offend no prejudices, and inevitably suggest that which is good, sweet, wholesome and pure. For a moment, at least, and perhaps forever, they may lead stained and debased creatures to turn their faces heavenward. There are little suffering children also in the hospitals; there are exiles from country homes and country life in the city who have been swept down not by evil but the dark tides of disaster, poverty, and disease, and to such it is a privilege as well as a pleasure to send gifts that will tend to revive hope and courage. That we may often avail ourselves of these gracious opportunities of giving the equivalent of a "cup of cold water," we should plant fruits and flowers in abundance.
One of the sad features of our time is the tendency of young people to leave their country homes. And too often one does not need to look far for the reason. Life at the farm-house sinks into deep ruts, and becomes weary plodding. There are too many "one-ideaed" farmers and farms. It is corn, potatoes, wheat, butter, or milk. The staple production absorbs all thought and everything else is neglected. Nature demands that young people should have variety, and furnishes it in abundance. The stolid farmer too often ignores nature and the cravings of youth, and insists on the heavy monotonous work of his specialty, early and late, the year around, and then wonders why in his declining years there are no strong young hands to lighten his toil. The boy who might have lived a sturdy, healthful, independent life among his native hills is a bleached and sallow youth measuring ribbons and calicoes behind a city counter. The girl who might have been the mistress of a tree-shadowed country house disappears under much darker shadows in town. But for their early home life, so meagre and devoid of interest, they might have breathed pure air all their days.
Not the least among the means of making a home attractive would be a well-maintained fruit garden. The heart and the stomach have been found nearer together by the metaphysicians than the physiologists, and if the "house-mother," as the Germans say, beamed often at her children over a great dish of berries flanked by a pitcher of unskimmed milk, not only good blood and good feeling would be developed, but something that the poets call "early ties."
There is one form of gambling or speculation that, within proper limits, is entirely innocent and healthful--the raising of new seedling fruits and the testing of new varieties. In these pursuits the elements of chance, skill, and judgment enter so evenly that they are an unfailing source of pleasurable excitement. The catalogues of plant, tree, and seed dealers abound in novelties. The majority of them cannot endure the test of being grown by the side of our well- known standard kinds, but now and then an exceedingly valuable variety, remarkable for certain qualities or peculiarly adapted to special localities and uses, is developed. There is not only an unfailing pleasure in making these discoveries, but often a large profit. If, three or four years ago, a country boy had bought a dozen Sharpless strawberry plants, and propagated from them, he might now obtain several hundred dollars from their increased numbers. Time only can show whether this novelty will become a standard variety, but at present the plants are in great demand.
The young people of a country home may become deeply interested in originating new seedlings. A thousand strawberry seeds will produce a thousand new kinds, and, although the prospects are that none of them will equal those now in favor, something very fine and superior may be obtained. Be this as it may, if these simple natural interests prevent boys and girls from being drawn into the maelstrom of city life until character is formed, each plant will have a value beyond silver or gold.
One of the supreme rewards of human endeavor is a true home, and surely it is as stupid as it is wrong to neglect some of the simplest and yet most effectual means of securing this crown of earthly life. A home is the product of many and varied causes, but I have yet to see the man who will deny that delicious small fruits for eight months of the year, and the richer pleasure even of cultivating and gathering them, may become one of the chief contributions to this result. I use the words "eight months" advisedly, for even now, January 29, we are enjoying grapes that were buried in the ground last October. I suppose my children are very material and unlike the good little people who do not live long, but they place a white mark against the days on which we unearth a jar of grapes.
SMALL FRUIT FARMING AND ITS PROFITS
A farm without a fruit garden may justly be regarded as proof of a low state of civilization in the farmer. No country home should be without such simple means of health and happiness. For obvious reasons, however, there is not, and never can be, the same room for fruit raising as there is for grain, grass, and stock farming. Nevertheless, the opportunities to engage with profit in this industry on a large scale are increasing every year. From being a luxury of a few, the small fruits have become an article of daily food to the million. Even the country village must have its supply, and the number of crates that are shipped from New York city to neighboring towns is astonishingly large. As an illustration of the rapidly enlarging demand for these fruits, let us consider the experience of one Western city, Cincinnati. Mr. W. H. Corbly, who is there regarded as one of the best informed on these subjects, has gathered the following statistics: "In 1835 it was regarded as a most wonderful thing that
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