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ON THE FAILURE OF THE POTATO CROP.
“ Practical Remarks on the Failure of the Potato Crop, with
Instructions how to Remedy the Evil. By William Stent, Nursery and Seedsman, East Stockwith, near Gainsburgh, Lincolnshire. Gainsburgh: J. Drury. London : Simpkin, Marshall & Co.”
We have perused the little work which bears the above title, and strongly recommend it to the notice of our readers. The inexplicable failures of the potato crops, in the northern parts of England especially, have stimulated the inquiries of the agriculturist, and many essays have already appeared on the subject : a great difference of opinion prevails, and a variety of plans are proposed, some of which require so much additional labour that few farmers would try them. The method Mr. Stent points out has been successfully practised by himself, and we give it in his own words
“It is the general custom, in this part of the country, to plough potatoes up,
very late in autumn, which can answer no useful purpose, but is, I think, attended with prejudicial effects, as the potato cannot possibly receive the least benefit by remaining in the ground after the top is dead, or destroyed by the frost ; after which it is usual to gather them together, and convey them in carts to the place where they are to remain during the winter. The ground is then cleared, and they are laid in heaps in the form of a roof, with a base of from six to eight feet, and extending in length from five to ten yards, according to the quantity of potatoes, or the convenience of the grower. They are then covered first of all with straw, about six inches in thickness, then with earth, from twelve to eighteen inches thick. The natural consequence is, that instead of adding to their dormancy, this method of treating causes them to begin to heat as soon as they are covered down; they are, conquently, thrown into a state of vegetation immediately, so that it is no uncommon thing, especially in mild autumns, with the early kinds, such as the Shaw and American early, to see them grown from six to eight inches long by Christinas; and by some persons they are at that time turned over, to break off the shoots, and are then pied down again as before. By the month of March, they are found to be in a state as bad as that described above, or worse, in fact; I have often seen them grown together in such a state in the pie, at the spring of the year, that they have been obliged to use iron bars to separate them, some of the shoots having grown from eighteen to twenty-four inches in length, so that you will often find the shoot to weigh onethird, and from that to half the weight of the potato from whence it has proceeded. The consequeuce is, that from onethird to one-half of the vegetative powers of the potato is exhausted, while it ought to have been in a state of quiescence. After being cleared of the shoots they are laid in heaps, (sometimes two or three weeks before they are cut), and exposed to the air, by which time they have often sprouted again; these »prouts are unavoidably rubbed off by cutting and planting. After cutting, they are often laid in heaps as before, from one to ten days, until the ground is prepared to receive them; they are then taken in carts, and laid in small heaps on the ground, from whence they are taken by the planters and placed in the rows, the manure being previously laid in the rows, the whole is then covered up by the plough.
“Now, I would ask any reasonable man, if this course of treatment is not enough to destroy all the inherent powers of vegetation in the sets before they are planted? The consequence of this very improper treatment is, that when the set ought to put forth its energies, and send out a strong shoot, it has no inherent power left to do so, having been previously exhausted, and therefore it must, of course, perish in the ground. The remote cause of the failure in this important root may be attributed, more or less, to the very mild winters that we have had, (for these correspond with the period of failure), which have, unquestionably very much accelerated an untimely effort to vegetate in the potatoes, and have caused them to grow much earlier than they would have done, had this not have been the case. Another very prominent evil is, that the potatoes are generally planted too late, for they ought, in my opinion, to be all planted by the last week in April, or, at the latest, by the first week in May; and, to accomplish this, every possible exertion ought to be made to prepare the ground in autumn ; and where the land is not in danger of being flooded during winter, the manure should be worked into the land in autumn, and incorporated with the soil, that the young fibres may receive the benefit of it, which they cannot do under the old system of confining the manure close to the potatoes when planted in the rows.
“I shall now proceed to describe the course of treatment
which ought to be pursued with the potatoes which are intended for plants in the ensuing spring. And first of all I should say, that they ought to be picked out, by hand, from the bulk, at the time of taking up the crop, of a size weighing about four ounces. These should be taken and laid thinly on a piece of clear ground,
on short grass, where they should remain at least three weeks, exposed to the action of the sun and the air, night and day, and longer should the weather permit, until they become quite green. If there be any fear of frost, they must be covered over with a thin covering of straw, to prevent the frost from injuring them, which should be taken off again as soon as a change of weather takes place. While they are thus lying on the ground, let them be watered over twice a week with a solution of saltpetre and water, in the following proportions : in ten gallons of spring or river water, dissolve half a pound of saltpetre, and let this be applied by a watering-pan with the
When they have lain in this state about ten days, it would be advisable to turn them over; and after remaining the time before specified, a place should be prepared to pie them down for winter, which should be done, if possible, in a shady situation on the north side of a building or high hedge. A circular piece of ground must be cleared, about eight feet in diameter, in the centre of which place the ventilator, as represented in the plate. This should be kept perfectly upright, and the potatoes placed round it, the quantity not to exceed thirty or forty bushels. This being done, the next thing will be to cover the whole down neatly with straw, not more than two inches thick. In this state let them remain a week or ten days, or more, according to the mildness of the weather; then cover them about six inches thick with earth, keeping the ventilator continually open at the top, except in severe frost, when it can be easily closed by a wisp of straw or hay. The whole of the sides of the pie might be covered down with litter, or potato tops; in this state they may remain until the weather becomes more severe, when the litter may be taken off, and about six inches more of earth added, and the whole beaten well down with a spade. After this, the litter may be replaced, every person exercising his own judgment whether this covering should be increased or diminished, according to the state of the weather ; that is to say, in mild winters the covering might be diminished, whereas in very severe winters it will be necessary to increase it.
“ The advantages of the ventilator will be seen by its allowing the evaporation to pass off the whole depth of the pie ; by this means the potatoes will be kept in a cold, dormant state, and will not grow until the time of planting ; consequently the centre eye will be preserved, which will always grow the first and the strongest; and therefore, the potato, possessing all its inherent powers of vegetation must, of course, make a much stronger shoot than those which have been previously exhausted, as before described. From the base of this shoot immediately proceed the fibres or roots which support the ensuing plant in an horizontal direction. Above these proceed, in the same direction, the laterals, or side shoots, which produce the tuber or potato, and as soon as the fibres are sufficient to support the shoot, the original plant is of no further service, the fibres then become the support of the plant. Now, it is evident that the tuber, or potato, receives its nourishment, or support, from the sap, which passes in the main stem from whence these laterals proceed. This operation is carried on by the ebbing and flowing of the sap, and is caused by attraction and repulsion, which depend upon the alternate action of heat and cold. Consequently, when the atmosphere which surrounds the plant is at a higher degree of temperature than the soil in which the roots are, then, of course, the sap is ascending. Likewise, when the soil in which the roots are is at a higher degree of temperature than the atmosphere which surrounds the plant, then the sap is in a descending motion. Now, I am satisfied that it is from this descending current of the sap, that the tuber or potato receives its nourishment, and not immediately from the fibres, or the soil. This is seen, for instance, by cutting off the tops of the potatoes just below the surface; the consequence is, that the tubers will not grow any more; therefore no potatoes ought to be suffered to remain in the ground after the tops are decayed, or cut down by the frost,
For the satisfactory results of this method of treatment, and an inspection of the engraving alluded to, we refer our readers to the pamphlet.
TWO MONTHS AT KILKEE.
“ Two Months at Kilkee, a Watering Place in the County
Clare, near the mouth of the Shannon, with an Account of a Voyage down that River from Limerick to Kilrush, and Sketches of Objects of Interest in the Neighbourhood, which will serve as a Guide to the Coast Scenery. With Engravings, &c. By Mary John Knott. Dublin : William Curry, Jun., and Co.”
We are pleased to see such works as this multiply, for they are much more likely to direct attention to Ireland and her manifold miseries, than the wild declamations of politicians. Mrs. Knott writes in a plain matter-of-fact way, and the information her little volume contains, cannot fail of being useful to tourists.
Kilkee is on the west coast of Ireland, in Moore Bay, about fifty miles from Limerick.
“ The natives of Kilkee,” Mrs. Knott says, “are, as it were, emerging from an uncultivated state, and but young in the arts of civilized life. We found them remarkably honest, sober, kind-hearted, civil, and benevolent; by no means deficient in intellectual endowments; but I am not about to imply that these excellent and amiable qualities are not shaded by the frailties of human nature. It is a pleasing fact, that during the disturbance that some time since prevailed in the county Clare, the inhabitants of Kilkee took no part.
“Much of the toils of husbandry devolves on the women, who are very expert in the management of horses; even little girls of ten years old, standing up in the car, often drive them with a single rope rein. Such is the harmony and good feeling existing amongst them, that when a woman who has an infant, (and finer children are seldom to be seen), is obliged to labour in the field, she leaves her babe with a neighbour, who also has an infant, but who can stay at home and nurse her child; and it is not uncommon to see several of the cottage doors shut and a number of children playing outside the open door of another, the poor woman to whom it belongs having kindly taken them in charge, in order to liberate their parents.