The Home Acre by Edward Payson Roe
Chapter VII. Strawberries
There is a very general impression that light, dry, sandy soils are the best for the strawberry. Just the reverse of this is true. In its desire for moisture it is almost an aquatic plant. Experienced horticulturists have learned to recognize this truth, which the Hon. Marshall P. Wilder has suggested in the following piquant manner: "In the first place, the strawberry's chief need is a great deal of water. In the second place, it needs more water. In the third place, I think I should give it a great deal more water."
While emphasizing this truth the reader should at the same time be warned against land whereon water stands above the surface in winter and spring, or stagnates beneath the surface at any time. Moisture is essential to the best results; good drainage is equally so. The marvellous crops of strawberries raised in California under well-directed systems of irrigation should teach us useful lessons. The plants, instead of producing a partially developed crop within a few brief days, continue in bearing through weeks and months. It may often be possible to supply abundantly on the Home Acre this vital requirement of moisture, and I shall refer to this point further on.
My first advice in regard to strawberries is to set them out immediately almost anywhere except upon land so recently in grass that the sod is still undecayed. This course is better than not to have the fruit at all, or to wait for it A year without strawberries is a lost year in one serious respect. While there is a wide difference between what plants can do under unfavorable conditions and what they can be made to do when their needs are fully met, they will probably in any event yield a fair supply of delicious fruit. Secure this as soon as possible. At the same time remember that a plant of a good variety is a genius capable of wonderful development. In ordinary circumstances it is like the "mute, inglorious" poets whose enforced limitations were lamented by the poet Gray; but when its innate powers and gifts are fully nourished it expands into surprising proportions, sends up hundreds of flowers, which are followed by ruby gems of fruit whose exquisite flavor is only surpassed by its beauty. No such concentrated ambrosia ever graced the feasts of the Olympian gods, for they were restricted to the humble Fragaria vesca, or Alpine species. In discovering the New World, Columbus also discovered the true strawberry, and died without the knowledge of this result of his achievement.
I can imagine the expression on the faces of those who buy the "sour, crude, half-ripe Wilsons," against which the poet Bryant inveighed so justly. The market is flooded with this fruit because it bears transportation about as well as would marbles. Yes, they are strawberries; choke-pears and Seckels belong to the same species. There is truth enough in my exaggeration to warrant the assertion that if we would enjoy the possible strawberry, we must raise it ourselves, and pick it when fully matured--ready for the table, and not for market. Then any man's garden can furnish something better than was found in Eden.
Having started a strawberry-patch without loss of time wherever it is handiest, we can now give our attention to the formation of an ideal bed. In this instance we must shun the shade of trees above, and their roots beneath. The land should be open to the sky, and the sun free to practice his alchemy on the fruit the greater part of the day. The most favorable soil is a sandy loam, verging toward clay; and it should have been under cultivation sufficiently long to destroy all roots of grass and perennial weeds. Put on the fertilizer with a free hand. If it is barnyard manure, the rate of sixty tons to the acre is not in excess. A strawberry plant has a large appetite and excellent digestion. It prefers decidedly manure from the cow-stable, though that from the horse-stable answers very well; but it is not advisable to incorporate it with the soil in its raw, unfermented state, and then to plant immediately. The ground can scarcely be too rich for strawberries, but it may easily be overheated and stimulated. In fertilizing, ever keep in mind the two great requisites--moisture and coolness. Manure from the horse-stable, therefore, is almost doubled in value as well as bulk if composted with leaves, muck, or sods, and allowed to decay before being used.
Next to enriching the soil, the most important step is to deepen it. If a plow is used, sink it to the beam, and run it twice in a furrow. If a lifting subsoil-plow can follow, all the better. Strawberry roots have been traced two feet below the surface.
If the situation of the plot does not admit the use of a plow, let the gardener begin at one side and trench the area to at least the depth of eighteen inches, taking pains to mix the surface, subsoil, and fertilizer evenly and thoroughly. A small plot thus treated will yield as much as one three or four times as large. One of the chief advantages of thus deepening the soil is that the plants are insured against their worst enemy--drought. How often I have seen beds in early June languishing for moisture, the fruit trusses lying on the ground, fainting under their burden, and the berries ripening prematurely into little more than diminutive collections of seeds! When ground has been deepened as I have said, the drought must be almost unparalleled to arrest the development of the fruit. Even in the most favorable seasons, hard, shallow soils give but a brief period of strawberries, the fruit ripens all at once, and although the first berries may be of good size, the later ones dwindle until they are scarcely larger than peas. Be sure to have a deep, mellow soil beneath the plants.
Such a bed can be made in either spring or fall--indeed, at any time when the soil is free from frost, and neither too wet nor dry. I do not believe in preparing and fertilizing ground during a period of drought.
We will suppose the work has been done in the spring, as early as the earth was dry enough to crumble freely, and that the surface of the bed is smooth, mellow, and ready for the plants. Stretch a garden line down the length of the plot two feet from the outer edge, and set the plants along the line one foot apart from each other. Let the roots be spread out, not buried in a mat, the earth pressed firmly against them, and the crown of the plant be exactly even with the surface of the soil, which should also be pressed closely around it with the fingers. This may seem minute detail, yet much dismal experience proves it to be essential. I have employed scores of men, and the great majority at first would either bury the crowns out of sight, or else leave part of the roots exposed, and the remainder so loose in the soil that a sharp gale would blow the plants away. There is no one so economical of time as the hired man whose time is paid for. He is ever bent on saving a minute or half-minute in this kind of work. On one occasion I had to reset a good part of an acre on which my men had saved time in planting. If I had asked them to save the plants in the year of '86, they might have "struck."
The first row having been set out, I advise that the line be moved forward three feet. This would make the rows three feet apart--not too far in ground prepared as described, and in view of the subsequent method of cultivation. The bed may therefore be filled up in this ratio, the plants one foot apart in the row, and the rows three feet apart. The next point in my system, for the kind of soil named (for light, sandy soils another plan will be indicated), is to regard each plant as an individual that is to be developed to the utmost. Of course only young plants of the previous season's growth should be used. If a plant has old, woody, black roots, throw it away. Plants set out in April will begin to blossom in May. These buds and blossoms should be picked off ruthlessly as soon as they appear. Never does avarice overreach itself more completely than when plants are permitted to bear the same season in which they are set out. The young, half- established plant is drained of its vitality in producing a little imperfect fruit; yet this is permitted even by farmers who would hold up their hands at the idea of harnessing a colt to a plow.
The plants do not know anything about our purpose in regard to them. They merely seek to follow the law of Nature to propagate themselves, first by seeds which, strictly speaking, are the fruit, and then by runners. These slender, tendril-like growths begin to appear early in summer, and if left unchecked will mat the ground about the parent with young plants by late autumn. If we wish plants, let them grow by all means; but if fruit is our object, why should we let them grow? "Because nearly every one seems to do it," would be, perhaps, the most rational answer. This is a mistake, for many are beginning to take just the opposite course even when growing strawberries by the acre.
Let us fix our attention on a single plant. It has a certain amount of root pasturage and space in which to grow. Since it is not permitted to produce an indefinite number of young plants, it begins to develop itself. The soil is rich, the roots are busy, and there must be an outlet. The original plant cannot form others, and therefore begins to produce fruit-crowns for the coming year. All the sap, all the increasing power of root and foliage, are directed to preparation for fruit. In brief, we have got the plant in traces; it is pulling in the direction we wish, it will eventually deliver a load of berries which would surprise those who trust simply to Nature unguided.
Some one may object that this is a troublesome and expensive way of growing strawberries. Do not the facts in the case prove the reverse? A plant restricted to a single root can be hoed and worked around like a hill of corn or a currant-bush. With comparatively little trouble the ground between the rows can be kept clean and mellow. Under the common system, which allows the runners to interlace and mat the ground, you soon have an almost endless amount of hand-weeding to do, and even this fails if white clover, sorrel, and certain grasses once get a start. The system I advocate forbids neglect; the runners must be clipped off as fast as they appear, and they continue to grow from June till frost; but the actual labor of the year is reduced to a minimum. A little boy or girl could keep a large bed clipped by the occasional use of a shears or knife before breakfast; and if the ground between the plants is free of runners, it can be hoed over in an hour. Considering, therefore, merely the trouble and expense, the single-plant system has the facts in its favor. But our object is not to grow strawberry plants with the least trouble, but to have strawberries of the largest and finest quality.
In addition to ease and thoroughness of cultivation, there are other important advantages. The single narrow row of plants is more easily protected against winter's frosts. Light, strawy manure from the horse-stable serves well for this purpose; but it should be light and free from heat. I have seen beds destroyed by too heavy a covering of chunky, rank manure. It is not our purpose to keep the beds and plants from freezing, but from alternately freezing and thawing. If snow fell on the bed in December and lasted till April, no other protection would be needed. Nature in this latitude has no sympathy for the careless man. During the winter of 1885, in January, and again in February and March, the ground was bare, unprotected plants were badly frozen, and in many instances lifted partly out of the ground by midday thawing and night freezing. The only safe course is to cover the rows thoroughly, but not heavily, early in December. If then light stable-manure is not at hand, leaves, old bean-vines, or any dry refuse from the garden not containing injurious seeds will answer. Do not employ asparagus-tops, which contain seed. Of course we want this vegetable, but not in the strawberry bed. Like some persons out of their proper sphere, asparagus may easily become a nuisance; and it will dispossess other growths of their rights and places as serenely as a Knight of Labor. The proper balance must be kept in the garden as well as in society; and therefore it is important to cover our plants with something that will not speedily become a usurper. Let it be a settled point, then, that the narrow rows must be covered thoroughly out of sight with some light material which will not rest with smothering weight on the plants or leave among them injurious seeds. Light stable-manure is often objected to for the reason that employing it is like sowing the ground with grass-seed. If the plants had been allowed to grow in matted beds, I would not use this material for a winter covering, unless it had been allowed to heat sufficiently to destroy the grass and clover seed contained in it. I have seen matted beds protected with stable-manure that were fit to mow by June, the plants and fruit having been over run with grass. No such result need follow if the plants are cultivated in a single line, for then the manure can be raked off in early spring--first of April in our latitude--and the ground cultivated. There is a great advantage in employing light manure if the system I advocate is followed, for the melting snows and rains carry the richness of the fertilizer to the roots, and winter protection serves a double purpose.
We will now consider the proper management for the second year, when a full crop should be yielded. I know that many authorities frown upon cultivation during the second spring, before plants bear their fruit. I can not agree with this view, except in regard to very light soils, and look upon it as a relic of the old theory that sandy land was the best for strawberries. Take the soil under consideration, a sandy loam, for instance. After the frost is out, the earth settled, and the winter covering raked off, the soil under the spring sun grows hard, and by June is almost as solid as a roadbed. Every one knows that land in such condition suffers tenfold more severely from drought than if it were light and mellow from cultivation. Perennial weeds that sprouted late in the fall or early spring get a start, and by fruiting-time are rampant. I do advocate early spring cultivation, and by it I almost double my crop, while at the same time maintaining a mastery over the weeds.
As soon as the severe frosts are over, in April, I rake the coarsest of the stable-manure from the plants, leaving the finer and decayed portions as a fertilizer. Then, when the ground is dry enough to work, I have a man weed out the rows, and if there are vacant spaces, fill in the rows with young plants. The man then forks the ground lightly between the rows, and stirs the surface merely among the plants. Thus all the hard, sodden surface is loosened or scarified, and opened to the reception of air and light, dew and rain. The man is charged emphatically that in this cultivation he must not lift the plants or disturb the roots to any extent. If I find a plant with its hold upon the ground loosened, I know there has been careless work. Before digging along the row the fork is sunk beside the plants to prevent the soil from lifting in cakes, and the plants with them. In brief, pains are taken that the plants should be just as firm in the soil after cultivation as before. Let the reader carefully observe that this work is done early in April, while the plants are comparatively dormant. Most emphatically it should not be done in May, after the blossoms begin to appear. If the bed has been neglected till that time, the surface merely can be cultivated with a hoe. When the plants have approached so near to the fruiting, the roots must not be disturbed at all. Early cultivation gives time for new roots to grow, and stimulates such growth. Where the rows are sufficiently long, and the ground permits it, this early loosening of the soil is accomplished with a horse-cultivator better than with a fork, the hoe following and levelling the soil and taking out all weeds.
My next step during the second season is to mulch the plants, in order to keep the fruit clean. Without this mulch the fruit is usually unfit for the table. A dashing shower splashes the berries with mud and grit, and the fruit must be washed before it is eaten; and strawberries with their sun-bestowed beauty and flavor washed away are as ridiculous as is mere noise from musical instruments. To be content with such fruit is like valuing pictures by the number of square inches of canvas! In perfecting a strawberry, Nature gives some of her finest touches, and it is not well to obliterate them with either mud or water. Any light clean material will keep the fruit clean. I have found spring rakings of the lawn--mingled dead grass and leaves--one of the best. Leaves from a grove would answer, were it not for their blowing about in an untidy way. Of course there is nothing better than straw for the strawberry; but this often costs as much as hay. Any clean litter that will lie close to the ground and can be pushed up under the plants will answer. Nor should it be merely under the plants. A man once mulched my rows in such a way that the fruit hung over the litter on the soil beyond. A little common-sense will meet the requirement of keeping the berries well away from the loose soil, while at the same time preserving a neat aspect to the bed. Pine-needles and salt-hay are used where these materials are abundant.
Make it a rule to mulch as soon as possible after the plants begin to blossom, and also after a good soaking rain. In this case the litter keeps the ground moist. If the soil immediately about the plants is covered when dry, the mulch may keep it dry--to the great detriment of the forming berries. It is usually best to put on the mulch as soon as the early cultivation is over in April, and then the bed may be left till the fruit is picked. Of course it may be necessary to pull out some rank-growing weeds from time to time. If the hired man is left to do the mulching very late in the season, he will probably cover much of the green fruit and blossoms as well as the ground.
After the berries have been picked, the remaining treatment of the year is very simple. Rake out the mulch, cultivate the soil, and keep the plants free of weeds and runners as during the previous year. Before hard freezing weather, protect again as before, and give the plants similar treatment the following spring and summer. Under this system the same plants may be kept in bearing three, four, and five years, according to the variety. Some kinds maintain their vigor longer than others. After the first year the disposition to run declines, and with the third year, in most instances, deterioration in the plant itself begins. I would therefore advise that under this system a new bed be made, as described, every third year; for, it should be remembered, the new bed is unproductive the first year. This should never be forgotten if one would maintain a continuous supply of berries, otherwise he will be like those born on the 29th of February, and have only occasional birthdays.
If the old bed is just where you wish, and has been prepared in the thorough manner described, it can be renewed in the following manner: When the old plants begin to decline in vigor--say the third or fourth spring--a line of well-decayed compost and manure from the cow-stable a foot wide may be spread thickly down between the rows, dug under deeply, and young plants set out just over the fertilizer. The old plants can be treated as has already been described, and as soon as they are through bearing, dug under. This would leave the young plants in full possession of the ground, and the cultivation and management for three or more years would go on as already directed. This course involves no loss of time or change of ground for a long periods. If, however, a new bed can be made somewhere else, the plants will thrive better upon it. Unless there are serious objections, a change of ground is always advantageous; for no matter how lavishly the plot is enriched, the strawberry appears to exhaust certain required constituents in the soil. Continued vigor is better maintained by wood-ashes perhaps than by any other fertilizer, after the soil is once deepened and enriched, and it may be regarded as one of the very best tonics for the strawberry plant. Bone-meal is almost equally good. Guano and kindred fertilizers are too stimulating, and have not the staying qualities required.
As has been intimated before, the strawberry bed may often be so located on the Home Acre as to permit of irrigation. This does not mean sprinkling and splattering with water, but the continuous maintenance of abundant moisture during the critical period from the time the fruit begins to form until it ripens. Partial watering during a drought is very injurious; so also would be too frequent watering. If the ground could be soaked twice a week in the evening, and then left to the hardening and maturing influence of the sun and wind, the finest results would be secured. I am satisfied that in most localities the size of the berries and the number of quarts produced might be doubled by judicious irrigation.
The system given above applies not only to sandy loam, but also to all varieties of clay, even the most stubborn. In the latter instance it would be well to employ stable-manure in the initial enriching, for this would tend to lighten and warm the soil. Care must also be exercised in not working clay when it is too wet or too dry. Mulch also plays an important part on heavy clay, for it prevents the soil from baking and cracking. One of the best methods of preventing this is to top-dress the ground with stable- manure, and hoe it in from time to time when fighting the weeds. This keeps the surface open and mellow--a vital necessity for vigorous growth. Few plants will thrive when the surface is hard and baked. Nevertheless, if I had to choose between heavy clay and light sand for strawberries, I should much prefer the clay. On the last-named soil an abundant winter protection is absolutely necessary, or else the plants will freeze entirely out of the ground.
The native strain of cultivated strawberries has so much vigor and power of adaptation that plenty of excellent varieties can be grown on the lightest soil. In this instance, however, we would suggest important modifications in preparation and culture. The soil, as has been already shown, must be treated like a spendthrift. Deep plowing or spading should be avoided, as the subsoil is too loose and leachy already. The initial enriching of the bed should be generous, but not lavish. You cannot deposit fertilizers for long-continued use. I should prefer to harrow or rake in the manure, leaving it near the surface. The rains will carry it down fast enough. One of the very best methods is to open furrows, three feet apart, with a light corn-plow, half fill them with decayed compost, again run the plow through to mix the fertilizer with the soil, then level the ground, and set out the plants immediately over the manure. They thus get the benefit of it before it can leach away. The accomplished horticulturist Mr. P. T. Quinn, of Newark, N. J., has achieved remarkable success by this plan.
It is a well-known fact that on light land strawberry plants are not so long-lived and do not develop, or "stool out," as it is termed, as on heavier land. In order to secure the largest and best possible crop, therefore, I should not advise a single line of plants, but rather a narrow bed of plants, say eighteen inches wide, leaving eighteen inches for a walk. I would not allow this bed to be matted with an indefinite number of little plants crowding each other into feeble life, but would leave only those runners which had taken root early, and destroy the rest. A plant which forms in June and the first weeks in July has time to mature good-sized fruit-buds before winter, especially if given space in which to develop. This, however, would be impossible if the runners were allowed to sod the ground thickly. In principle I would carry out the first system, and give each plant space in which to grow upon its own root as large as it naturally would in a light soil, and I would have a sufficient number of plants to supply the deficiency in growth. On good, loamy soil, the foliage of single lines of plants, three feet apart, will grow so large as to touch across the spaces; but this could scarcely be expected on light soil unless irrigation were combined with great fertility. Nevertheless, a bed with plants standing not too thickly upon it will give an abundance of superb fruit.
Strawberries grown in beds may not require so much spring mulching to keep the fruit clean, but should carefully receive all that is needed. Winter protection also is not so indispensable as on heavier soils, but it always well repays. A thick bed of plants should never be protected by any kind of litter which would leave seeds of various kinds, for under this system of culture weeds must be taken out by hand; and this is always slow, back-aching work.
When plants are grown in beds it does not pay to continue them after fruiting the third year. For instance, they are set out in spring, and during the first season they are permitted to make a limited number of runners, and prepare to fruit the following year. After the berries are picked the third year, dig the plants under, and occupy the ground with something else. On light soils, and where the plants are grown in beds instead of narrow rows, new beds should be set out every alternate year.
In order to have an abundant supply of young plants it is only necessary to let one end of a row or a small portion of a bed run at will. Then new plants can be set out as desired.
While more strawberries are planted in spring than at any other time, certain advantages are secured by summer and fall setting. This is especially true of gardens wherein early crops are maturing, leaving the ground vacant. For instance, there are areas from which early peas, beans, or potatoes have been gathered. Suppose such a plot is ready for something else in July or August, the earlier the better. Unless the ground is very dry, a bed can be prepared as has been described. If the soil is in good condition, rich and deep, it can be dug thoroughly, and the plants set out at once in the cool of the evening, or just before a shower. During the hot season a great advantage is secured if the plants are set immediately after the ground is prepared, and while the surface is still moist. It is unfortunate if ground is made ready and then permitted to dry out before planting takes place, for watering, no matter how thorough, has not so good an influence in starting new growth as the natural moisture of the soil. It would be better, therefore, to dig the ground late in the afternoon, and set out the plants the same evening. Watering, however, should never be dispensed with during warm weather, unless there is a certainty of rain; and even then it does no harm.
Suppose one wishes to set a new bed in July. If he has strawberries growing on his place, his course would be to let some of his favorite varieties make new runners as early as possible. These should be well-rooted young plants by the middle of the month. After the new ground is prepared, these can be taken up, with a ball of earth attached to their roots, and carried carefully to their new starting-place. If they are removed so gently as not to shake off the earth from the roots, they will not know that they have been moved, but continue to thrive without wilting a leaf. If such transplanting is done immediately after a soaking rain, the soil will cling to the roots so tenaciously as to ensure a transfer that will not cause any check of growth. But it is not necessary to wait for rain. At five in the afternoon soak with water the ground in which the young plants are standing, and by six o'clock you can take up the plants with their roots incased in clinging earth, just as successfully as after a rain. Plants thus transferred, and watered after being set out, will not wilt, although the thermometer is in the nineties the following day. If young plants are scarce, take up the strongest and best- rooted ones, and leave the runner attached; set out such plants with their balls of earth four feet apart in the row, and with a lump of earth fasten down the runners along the line. Within a month these runners will fill up the new rows as closely as desirable. Then all propagation in the new bed should be checked, and the plants compelled to develop for fruiting in the coming season. In this latitude a plant thus transferred in July or August will bear a very good crop the following June, and the berries will probably be larger than in the following years. This tendency to produce very large fruit is characteristic of young plants set out in summer. It thus may be seen that plants set in spring can not produce a good crop of fruit under about fourteen months, while others, set in summer, will yield in nine or ten months. I have set out many acres in summer and early autumn with the most satisfactory results. Thereafter the plants were treated in precisely the same manner as those set in spring.
If the plants must be bought and transported from a distance during hot weather, I should not advise the purchase of any except those grown in pots. Nurserymen have made us familiar with pot- grown plants, for we fill our flowerbeds with them. In like manner strawberry plants are grown and sold. Little pots, three inches across at the top, are sunk in the earth along a strawberry row, and the runners so fastened down that they take root in these pots. In about two weeks the young plant will fill a pot with roots. It may then be severed from the parent, and transported almost any distance, like a verbena. Usually the ball of earth and roots is separated from the pot, and is then wrapped in paper before being packed in the shallow box employed for shipping purposes. A nurseryman once distributed in a summer throughout the country a hundred thousand plants of one variety grown in this manner. The earth encasing the roots sustained the plants during transportation and after setting sufficiently to prevent any loss worth mentioning. This method of the plant-grower can easily be employed on the Home Acre. Pots filled with earth may be sunk along the strawberry rows in the garden, the runners made to root in them, and from them transferred to any part of the garden wherein we propose to make a new bed. It is only a neater and more certain way of removing young plants with a ball of earth from the open bed.
Some have adopted this system in raising strawberries for market. They prepare very rich beds, fill them with pot-grown plants in June or July, take from these plants one crop the following June, then plow them under. As a rule, however, such plants cannot be bought in quantities before August or September.
As we go south, September, October, or November, according to lowness of latitude, are the favorite months for planting. I have had excellent success on the Hudson in late autumn planting. My method has been to cover the young plants, just before the ground froze, with two or three inches of clean earth, and then to rake it off again early in April. The roots of such plants become thoroughly established during the winter, and start with double vigor. Plants set out in late autumn do best on light, dry soils. On heavy soils they will be frozen out unless well covered. They should not be allowed to bear the following season. A late-set plant cannot before winter in our climate become strong and sturdy enough to produce much fruit the following season. I make it a rule not to permit plants set out after the first of October to bear fruit until a year from the following June.
In setting out plants, the principle of sex should be remembered. The majority of our favorite varieties are bisexual; that is, the blossoms are furnished with both stamens and pistils. A variety with this organization, as the Sharpless, for instance, will bear alone with no other kind near it. But if one set out a bed of Champions--another fine variety--well apart from any staminate kind, it would blossom profusely, but produce no fruit. When I was a boy, Hovey's Seedling was the great strawberry of the day, and marvellous stories were told of the productiveness of the plants and the size of the berries. How well I remember the disappointment and wrath of people who bought the plants at a high price, and set them out with no staminate varieties near to fertilize the pistillate blossoms. Expectations were raised to the highest pitch by profuse blossoming in May, but not a berry could be found the ensuing June. The vigorous plants were only a mockery, and the people who sold them were berated as humbugs. To- day the most highly praised strawberry is the Jewell. The originator, Mr. P. M. Augur, writes me that "plants set two feet by eighteen inches apart, August 1, 1884, in June, 1885, completely covered the ground, touching both ways, and averaged little over a quart to the plant for the centre patch." All runners were kept off, in accordance with the system advocated in this paper. "At Boston a silver medal was awarded to this variety as the best new strawberry introduced within five years." People reading such laudation--well deserved, I believe--might conclude the best is good enough for us, and send for enough Jewell plants to set out a bed. If they set no others near it, their experience would be similar to that which I witnessed in the case of Hovey's Seedling thirty odd years ago. The blossom of the Jewell contains pistils only, and will produce no fruit unless a staminate variety is planted near. I have never considered this an objection against a variety; for why should any one wish to raise only one variety of strawberry? All danger of barrenness in pistillate kinds is removed absolutely by planting staminate sorts in the same bed. In nurserymen's catalogues pistillate varieties are marked "P.," and the purchaser has merely to set out the plants within a few feet of some perfect flowering kind to secure abundant fruit.
As a result of much experience, I will now make some suggestions as to varieties. In a former paper I have given, the opinions of others upon this important subject, and one can follow the advice of such eminent authorities without misgiving. The earliest strawberry that I have ever raised, and one of the best flavored, is the Crystal City. It is evidently a wild variety domesticated, and it has the exquisite flavor and perfume of the field-berry. It rarely fails to give us fruit in May, and my children, with the unerring taste of connoisseurs, follow it up until the last berry is picked. It would run all over the garden unchecked; and this propensity must be severely curbed to render a bed productive. Keeping earliness and high flavor in view, I would next recommend the Black Defiance. It is not remarkably productive on many soils, but the fruit is so delicious that it well deserves a place. The Duchess and Bidwell follow in the order of ripening. On my grounds they have always made enormous plants, and yielded an abundance of good-flavored berries. The Downing is early to medium in the season of ripening, and should be in every collection. The Indiana is said to resemble this kind, and to be an improvement upon it. Miner's Prolific is another kindred berry, and a most excellent one. Among the latest berries I recommend the Sharpless Champion, or Windsor Chief, and Parry. If one wishes to raise a very large, late, showy berry, let him try the Longfellow. The Cornelia is said to grow very large and ripen late, but I have not yet fruited it. As I said fifteen or twenty years ago, if I were restricted to but one variety, I should choose the Triomphe de Gand, a foreign kind, but well adapted to rich, heavy soils. The berries begin to ripen early, and last very late. The Memphis Late has always been the last to mature on my grounds, and, like the Crystal City, is either a wild variety, or else but slightly removed. The Wilson is the great berry of commerce. It is not ripe when it is red, and therefore is rarely eaten in perfection. Let it get almost black in its ripeness, and it is one of the richest berries in existence. With a liberal allowance of sugar and cream, it makes a dish much too good for an average king. It is also the best variety for preserving.
It should be remembered that all strawberries, unlike pears, should be allowed to mature fully before being picked. Many a variety is condemned because the fruit is eaten prematurely. There is no richer berry in existence than the Windsor Chief, yet the fruit, when merely red, is decidedly disagreeable.
The reader can now make a selection of kinds which should give him six weeks of strawberries. At the same time he must be warned that plants growing in a hard, dry, poor soil, and in matted beds, yield their fruit almost together, no matter how many varieties may have been set out. Under such conditions the strawberry season is brief indeed.
While I was writing this paper the chief enemy of the strawberry came blundering and bumping about my lamp--the May beetle. The larva of this insect, the well-known white grub, has an insatiable appetite for strawberry roots, and in some localities and seasons is very destructive. One year I lost at least one hundred thousand plants by this pest. This beetle does not often lay its egg in well-cultivated ground, and we may reasonably hope to escape its ravages in a garden. If, when preparing for a bed, many white grubs are found in the soil, I should certainly advise that another locality be chosen. The only remedy is to dig out the larves and kill them. If you find a plant wilting without apparent cause, you may be sure that a grub is feeding on the roots. The strawberry plant is comparatively free from insect enemies and disease, and rarely disappoints any one who gives it a tithe of the attention it deserves.
There are many points in connection with this fruit which, in a small treatise like this, must be merely touched upon or omitted altogether. I may refer those who wish to study the subject more thoroughly to my work, "Success with Small Fruits."