Gardening Articles

Soil Required Its Preparation

The potato is most profitably grown in a warm, dry, sandy, or gravelly loam, well filled with decayed vegetable matters. The famous potato lands of Lake County, Ohio, from which such vast quantities of potatoes are shipped yearly, are yellow sand. This potato

district is confined to ridges running parallel with Lake Erie, which, according to geological indications, have each at different periods defined its boundaries. This sand owes much of its potato-growing qualities to the sedimentary deposit of the lake and to manural properties furnished by the decomposition of the shells of water-snails, shell-fish, etc., that inhabited the waters. New lands, or lands recently denuded of the forest, if sufficiently dry, produce tubers of the most excellent quality. Grown on dry, new land, the potato always cooks dry and mealy, and possesses an agreeable flavor and aroma, not to be attained in older soils. In no argillaceous soil can the potato be grown to perfection as regards quality. Large crops on such soil may be obtained in favorable seasons, but the tubers are invariably coarse-fleshed and ill-flavored. To produce roots of the best quality, the ground must be dry, deep, and porous; and it should be remembered that, to obtain very large crops, it is almost impossible to get too much humus in the soil. Humus is usually added to arable land either by plowing under green crops, such as clover, buckwheat, peas, etc., or by drawing and working in muck obtained from swamps and low places. The muck should be drawn to the field in fall or winter, and exposed in small heaps to the action of frost. In the following spring, sufficient lime should be mixed with it to neutralize the acid, (which is found in nearly all muck,) and the whole be spread evenly and worked into the surface with harrow or cultivator. Leaves from the woods, buckwheat straw, bean, pea, and hop vines, etc., plowed under long enough before planting to allow them time to rot, are very beneficial. Sea-weed, when bountifully applied, and turned under early in the fall, has no superior as a manure for the potato. No stable or barn-yard manure should be applied to this crop. If such nitrogenous manure must be used on the soil, it is better to apply it to some other crop, to be followed the succeeding year by potatoes. The use of stable manure predisposes the tubers to rot; detracts very much from the desired flavor; besides, generally not more than one half as many bushels can be grown per acre as can be obtained by using manures of a different nature. Market gardeners, many of whom from necessity plant on the same ground year after year, often use fine old stable manure with profit. Usually they plant only the earlier varieties, crowd them with all possible speed, dig early, and sell large and little before they have time to rot, thus clearing the ground for later-growing vegetables. Thus grown, potatoes are of inferior quality, and the yield is not always satisfactory. Flavor, however, is seldom thought of by the hungry denizens of our cities, in their eagerness to get a taste of something fresh. Market gardeners will find great benefit from the use of wood-ashes, lime, and the phosphates. Sprinkle superphosphate in the hill at the rate of two hundred pounds per acre; mix it slightly in the soil with an iron rake or potato-hook, then plant the seed. Just before the last hoeing, sprinkle on and around the hill a large handful of wood-ashes, or an equal quantity of lime slacked in brine as strong as salt will make it. But for the generality of farmers, those who grow only their own supply, or those who produce largely for market, no other method of preparing the soil is so good, so easy, and so cheap as the following; it requires time, but pays a big interest: Seed down the ground to clover with wheat or oats. As soon as the grain is off, sow one hundred and fifty pounds of plaster (gypsum) per acre, and keep off all stock. The next spring, when the clover has made a growth of two inches, sow the same quantity of plaster again. About the tenth of July, harrow down the clover, driving the same direction and on the same sized lands you wish to plow; then plow the clover neatly under about seven inches deep. Harrow down the same way it was plowed, and immediately sow and harrow in two bushels of buckwheat per acre. When it has grown two inches, sow plaster as before; and when the buckwheat has grown as large as it will, harrow down and plow under about five inches deep. This, when cross-plowed in the spring sufficiently deep to bring up the clover-sod, is potato ground _first-class in all respects_. It is hardly supposable that this mode of preparation of soil would meet with favor among all farmers. There is a parsimonious class of cultivators who would consider it a downright loss of time, seed, and labor; but any one who will take the trouble to investigate, will find that these same parsimonious men never produced four hundred bushels of potatoes per acre; and that the few bushels of small tubers that they do dig from an acre, are produced at considerable loss. "Men do not gather grapes from thorns, nor figs from thistles." To make potato-growing profitable in these times of high prices of land and labor, it is absolutely necessary that the soil be in every way fitted to meet any and all demands of the crop. It is said that in the State of Maine, previous to the appearance of the potato disease, and before the soil had become exhausted by continued cropping, potatoes yielded an average of four hundred bushels per acre. Now, every observer is aware that the present average yield of the same vegetable is much less than half what it was formerly. This great deterioration in yield can not be attributed to "running out" of varieties; for varieties are extant which have not yet passed their prime. It can not be wholly due to disease; for disease does not occur in every season and in every place. True, we have more insects than formerly, but they can not be responsible for all the great falling off. It is traceable mainly to poverty of the soil in certain ingredients imperatively needed by the crop for its best development, and to the pernicious effect of enriching with nitrogenous manures. Any one who will plant on suitably dry soil, enriched only with forest-leaves, sea-weeds, or by plowing under green crops until the whole soil to a proper depth is completely filled with vegetable matter, will find to his satisfaction that the potato can yet be grown in all its pristine vigor and productiveness. To realize from potato-growing the greatest possible profits, (and profits are what we are all after,) the following conditions must be strictly adhered to: First, the ground chosen _must be dry_, either naturally or made so by thorough drainage; a gently sloping, deep, sandy or gravelly loam is preferable. Second, the land should be liberally enriched with humus by some of the means mentioned, if it is not already present in the soil in sufficient quantities, and the soil should be deeply and thoroughly plowed, rendering it light, porous, and pulverulent, that the air and moisture may easily penetrate to any desirable depth of it; and a proper quantity of either wood-ashes or lime, or both, mixed with common salt, should be harrowed into the surface before planting, or be applied on top of the hills immediately after planting. And, finally, the cultivation and after-care should be _prompt_, and given as soon as needed. Nothing is more conducive to failure, after the crop is properly planted, than failure in promptness in the cultivation and care required.

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