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- Success With Small Fruits - 6/57 -


Mr. William Parry, a veteran fruit grower in New Jersey, states the truth I wish to convey very clearly, and gives a fair mean between these two extremes:

"YIELD AND PROFIT

"There are so many circumstances connected with strawberry growing, such as varieties, soil, climate, location, markets, and the skill and management of the grower, that the results of a few cases cannot be relied on for general rules.

"We have grown over two hundred bushels per acre here, and realized upward of six hundred dollars per acre for the crop; but that is much above the general average. Having kept a careful record, for fourteen years past, of the yield per acre and price per quart at which our strawberries have been sold, we find the average to be about 2,500 quarts per acre, and the price eleven cents per quart in market, giving the following results:

"Commissions, 10 per cent $27.50 Picking 2,500 quarts, at 2c. per quart 50.00 Manure 17.50 Use of baskets 10.00 Cultivation, etc 25.00 Net profits per acre 145.00

"Gross proceeds, 2,500 quarts at 11e $275.00"

In the year 1876 the same gentleman had ten acres of Brandywine raspberries that yielded about eighty-two bushels to the acre, giving a clear profit of $280, or of $2,800 for the entire area. This crop, so far from being the average, was awarded a premium as the most profitable that year in the section.

J. R. Gaston & Sons, of Normal, Ill., have given the following record of a plantation of Snyder blackberries: "We commenced to pick a field of seven acres July 12th, and finished picking August 22. The total amount gathered was 43,575 quarts, equal to 1,361 bushels and 22 quarts. The average price was eight cents per quart, making the gross proceeds equal to $3,486. We paid for picking $435.75. The cost of trimming and cultivating was about $400; cost of boxes, crates, and marketing was $1,307.25, leaving a net profit of $1,343."

A gentleman in Ulster Co., N.Y., stated that 200 bushes of the Cherry currant yielded him in one season 1,000 lbs. of fruit, which was sold at an average of eight cents per pound. His gross receipts were $80 from one-fourteenth of an acre, and at the same ratio an acre would have yielded $1,120. Is this an average yield? So far from it, there are many acres of currants and gooseberries that do not pay expenses. Thus it can be seen that the scale ranges from marvellous prizes down to blanks and heavy losses; but the drawing is not a game of chance, but usually the result of skill and industry, or their reverse.

I might have given many examples of large, and even enormously large, profits obtained under exceptional circumstances; but they tend to mislead. I write for those whose hearts prompt them to co-work with nature, and who are most happy when doing her bidding in the breezy fields and gardens, content with fair rewards, instead of being consumed by the gambler's greed for unearned gold. At the same time, I am decidedly in favor of high culture, and the most generous enriching of the soil; convinced that fruit growers and farmers in general would make far more money if they spent upon one acre what they usually expend on three. In a later chapter will be found an instance of an expenditure of $350 per acre on strawberry land, and the net profits obtained were proportionately large.

CHAPTER IV

STRAWBERRIES: THE FIVE SPECIES AND THEIR HISTORY

The conscientious Diedrich Knickerbocker, that venerated historian from whom all good citizens of New York obtain the first impressions of their ancestry, felt that he had no right to chronicle the vicissitudes of Manhattan Island until he had first accounted for the universe of which it is a part. Equally with the important bit of land named, the strawberry belongs to the existing cosmos, and might be traced back to "old chaos." I hasten to re-assure the dismayed reader. I shall not presume to follow one who could illumine his page with genius, and whose extensive learning enabled him to account for the universe not merely in one but in half a dozen ways.

It is the tendency of the present age to ask what is, not what has been or shall be. And yet, on the part of some, as they deliberately enjoy a saucer of strawberries and cream,--it is a pleasure that we prolong for obvious reasons,--a languid curiosity may arise as to the origin and history of so delicious a fruit. I suppose Mr. Darwin would say, "it was evolved." But some specimens between our lips suggest that a Geneva watch could put itself together quite as readily. At the same time, it must be said that our "rude forefathers" did not eat Monarch or Charles Downing strawberries. In few fruits, probably, have there been such vast changes or improvements as in this. Therefore, I shall answer briefly and as well as I can, in view of the meagre data and conflicting opinions of the authorities, the curiosity, that I have imagined on some faces. Those who care only for the strawberry of to-day can easily skip a few pages.

If there were as much doubt about a crop of this fruit as concerning the origin of its name, the outlook would be dismal, indeed. In old Saxon, the word was streawberige or streowberrie; and was so named, says one authority, "from the straw-like stems of the plant, or from the berries lying strewn upon the ground." Another authority tells us: "It is an old English practice" (let us hope a modern one also) "to lay straw between the rows to preserve the fruit from rotting on the wet ground, from which the name has been supposed to be derived; although more probably it is from the wandering habit of the plant, straw being a corruption of the Anglo-Saxon strae, from which we have the English verb stray." Again tradition asserts that in the olden times children strung the berries on straws for sale, and hence the name. Several other causes have been suggested, but I forbear. I have never known, however, a person to decline the fruit on the ground of this obscurity and doubt. (Controversialists and sceptics please take note.)

That the strawberry should belong to the rose family, and that its botanical name should be fragaria, from the Latin fragro, to smell sweetly, will seem both natural and appropriate.

While for his knowledge of the plant I refer the reader to every hillside and field (would that I might say, to every garden!), there is a peculiarity in the production of the fruit which should not pass unnoted. Strictly speaking, the small seeds scattered over the surface of the berry are the fruit, and it is to perfect these seeds that the plants blossom, the stamens scatter, and the pistils receive the pollen on the convex receptacle, which, as the seeds ripen, greatly enlarges, and becomes the pulpy and delicious mass that is popularly regarded as the fruit. So far from being the fruit, it is only "the much altered end of the stem" that sustains the fruit or seeds; and so it becomes a beautiful illustration of a kindly, genuine courtesy, which renders an ordinary service with so much grace and graciousness that we dwell on the manner with far more pleasure than on the service itself. The innumerable varieties of strawberries that are now in existence appear, either in their character or origin, to belong to five great and quite distinct species. The first, and for a long time the only one of which we have any record, is the Fragaria vesca, or the "Alpine" strawberry. It is one of the most widely spread fruits of the world, for it grows, and for centuries has grown, wild throughout Northern and Central Europe and Asia, following the mountains far to the south; and on this continent, from time immemorial, the Indian children have gathered it, from the Northern Atlantic to the Pacific. In England this species exhibits some variation from the Alpine type, and was called by our ancestors the Wood strawberry. The chief difference between the two is in the form of the fruit, the Wood varieties being round and the Alpine conical. They are also subdivided into white and red, annual and monthly varieties, and those that produce no runners, which are known to-day as Bush Alpines.

[Illustration: SEEDS AND PULP OF THE STRAWBERRY]

The Alpine, as we find it growing wild, was the strawberry of the ancients. It is to it that the suggestive lines of Virgil refer:--

"Ye boys that gather flowers and strawberries, Lo, hid within the grass an adder lies."

There is no proof, I believe, that the strawberry was cultivated during any of the earlier civilizations. Some who wrote most explicitly concerning the fruit culture of their time do not mention it; and Virgil, Ovid, and Pliny name it but casually, and with no reference to its cultivation. It may appear a little strange that the luxurious Romans, who fed on nightingales' tongues, peacocks' brains, and scoured earth and air for delicacies, should have given but little attention to this fruit. Possibly they early learned the fact that this species is essentially a wildling, and like the trailing arbutus, thrives best in its natural haunts. The best that grew could be gathered from mountain-slopes and in the crevices of rocks. Moreover, those old revellers became too wicked and sensual to relish Alpine strawberries.

Its congener, the Wood strawberry, was the burden of one of the London street cries four hundred years ago; and to-day the same cry, in some language or other, echoes around the northern hemisphere as one of the inevitable and welcome sounds of spring and early summer.

But few, perhaps, associate this lovely little fruit, that is almost as delicate and shy as the anemone, with tragedy; and yet its chief poetical associations are among the darkest and saddest that can be imagined. Shakespeare's mention of the strawberry in the play of Richard III. was an unconscious but remarkable illustration of the second line already quoted from Virgil:--

"Lo, hid within the grass an adder lies."

The bit of history which is the occasion of this allusion is given in the quaint old English of Sir Thomas More, who thus describes the entrance to the Council of the terrible "Protector," from whom nothing good or sacred could be protected. He came "fyrste about IX of the clocke, saluting them curtesly, and excusing himself that he had been from them so long, saieing merily that he had been a slepe that day. And after a little talking with them he said unto the bishop of Elye, my lord, You have very good strawberries at your gardayne in Holberne, I require you let us have a messe of them." He who has raised fine fruit will know how eagerly the flattered bishop obeyed. According to the poet, the dissembler also leaves the apartment, with his unscrupulous ally, Buckingham.


Success With Small Fruits - 6/57

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