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we have no full history of the potatoe. There are many facts regarding it recorded in the treatises of Humboldt and Sir Joseph Banks; in the Edinburgh Encyclopædia, and in many English works of the last century; but such a history as the importance of the subject demands, tracing its propagation, changes, diseases, failures, and reproduction in different countries, is yet a desideratum; and he would be a public benefactor who should prepare it.
I would premise, that an occasional instance of success or failure proves nothing; it may be only an exception to the general rule. So if Mr. Cooper's case, upon which you comment, varies from the general law of nature, it affords but one fact against thousands on the other side. But Mr. Cooper fully admits that potatoes do degenerate, and attributes it to the use of poor seed; and describes one way in which farmers may obtain good seed. That farmers, as he asserts, generally plant their poorest potatoes, I do not believe to be true; in an intercourse among them of more than forty years, accompanied with much observation, I have found such cases to be the rare exception to their general practice. And yet a number of varieties have run out within the last fifty years, and several others, recently in high repute, are fast failing, and have nearly ceased to produce balls. The present disease in the potatoe was generally first noticed in this country in 1843. Soon after that, the agricultural census of this State was taken, which showed that the average product of the potatoe was only ninety bushels per acre-not half what it was twenty-five years ago; and that there had been a falling off of the potatoe crop in the State, of upwards of six millions of bushels, since 1840. See Cultivator, 1846, page 179. A similar decrease was shown in Massachuseetts and in Maine, where the average crop had formerly been two hundred bushels per acre. How is this to be accounted for, but by supposing a general degeneracy of the varieties now in use? A corresponding decrease in the crop is exhibited in the history of the plant in other countries and at other times. In a report made to the Royal Society of Agriculture in France, in 1819, by M. Le Comte de Neufchateau, Minister of the Interior, respecting the labors of Oberlin in the Ban de la Roche, a district of highlands in the cast of France, it is stated that " the petotoe had been introduced after the terrible scarcity of 1709." But in 1757, "the original plant of the potatoe had degenerated to such a point as to yield scarcely any increase." To remedy this defect, recourse was had not only to the seed balls, but M. Oberlin "imported from different countries a store of potatoes, which replaced those degenerated; and these new productions continue in great demand at Strasburg market, on account of their excellent quality."
The potatoe appears to have been introduced from America into England first by Sir John Hawkins in 1545. Others were carried there in 1573 by Sir Francis Drake; and others again by Sir Walter Raleigh in 1586, who, in 1610, sent some to be planted on his estates in Ireland. They were first cultivated as a field crop in Lancashire in 1684, before which time they were confined to gardens,
and only used occasionally by the most wealthy. To Lancashire the field culture was confined many years before it was extended much to other counties; but in the early part of the last century, the cultivation of it became general in Ireland and Scotland. In Lancashire the discovery seems to have been first made, that the potatoe, by continued cultivation, became deteriorated both in quantity and quality, and the practice was adopted there, and simultaneously in Ireland, of renewing the root or tuber by planting the seed balls. This continued to be the practice among farmers through the whole of the last century, and during that time hundreds of varieties, that were good for a time, and are named in English treatises on the potatoe, entirely run out., "Farmers," says a standard writer in 1797, "hold it to be necessary to renew the potatoes from the seed once in fourteen or fifteen years; because, after that period, potatoes degenerate, and produce less and less, till they almost come to nothing." Judge Buel, in an essay, remarks;— The duration of a variety in perfection, is generally computed at from fourteen to twenty years, though this period is sometimes prolonged by a change of soil or climate." The tendency to degenerate was not a mere opinion, but a fixed fact, attested by the general observation and experience of farmers. It was the same in various parts of Germany, and particularly in Nova Scotia, where the finest potatoes were formerly grown. In that Province little reliance is placed on the introduction of tubers from abroad; their experience tells them, that a reproduction from the seed balls is the most sure and profitable. And in no part of the world, probably, has this reproduction been resorted to oftener than there.
Mr. T. A. Knight, the former distinguished President of the London Horticultural Society, experimented with the potatoe many years, and in fact made it a particular subject of investigation during his life. In a treatise in the British Farmer's Magazine, he says:-"The first point to which I wish to direct the attention of the cultivator of the potatoe is, the age of the variety; for it has long been known, that every variety cultivated, gradually becomes debilitated; and loses a large portion of its powers of producing; and I believe that almost every variety now cultivated in this and the adjoining counties, has long since passed the period of its age, at which it ought to have resigned its place to a succession.”
Similar to the above is the language used in the Library of Useful Knowledge, Farmer's Series ::-"It has been ascertained by repeated trials, that every variety of the potatoe, when propagated during a series of years, either by cuttings from the root, or by the whole tubers, is subject to degenerate in some, the quality remaining good after the produce in quantity has become defective, whilst with others it disappears with the vigor of the plant.”
In the year 1778, a disease called the curl, affecting both the vine and tuber, appeared among several varieties of potatoes in England, and soon spread through Scotland and Ireland, and subsequently developed itself more or less in this country. It occasioned a general panic, as much, perhaps, as the disease that has made such havoc for a few years past; and the multitude of books and pam.
phlets that were written on the subject, was beyond all precedent. Scientific men engaged in a great variety of experiments, and Parliament ordered investigations, &c., but nothing absolutely conclusive was ascertained as to the nature or cause of the disease, or the proper remedy. The more general belief seemed to be, that the disease was more or less induced by the age or deterioration of varieties, as those more recently produced from the seed were almost wholly exempt. As the result of experiments, it was acertained that varieties differed greatly in their nutritive properties-from thirty to fifty per cent.; that they also differed greatly in their vital energy and hardiness of constitution, some of equal age running out much sooner than others; and that the continuance of a variety and its exemption from, or power to resist disease, depended as much upon the above circumstances as upon its age.
Willis Gaylord, I think, (see Cultivator vol. 7, page 165,) expresses the belief, that "the formidable disease known as the curl, is the natural result of the old age of the variety, and indicates the failure of its vegetative powers.” "The new varieties of this valuable root, those lately originated from seeds, have not, to our knowledge, been affected by the curl in the least. The inference, then, seeins to be a fair one, that in the production of the potatoe, as in many other plants, a recurrence to the fundamental law of propagation, that from seeds, must be occasionally resorted to, in order to prevent deterioration. The new varieties of the potatoe, that have been introduced into culture in England and in the United States, from the seeds, exhibit a vigor and strength which none of the long cultivated kinds show." This last mentioned fact is confirmed by the statements of many English and American writers, and abundantly verified by experiments frequently made. In my reading, I have met with many passages similar to the following, which I extract from the Pennsylvania Farmer, published in 1804. Speaking of a field of potatoes raised from the seed, Eli Bronson, of Conn., says Part of the field was better by one-half than the other part. In the best part,: the seed was the second year from the balls; in the other part the seed potatoes were from the balls several years before, and had been planted yearly."
One of the most valuable communications respecting the potatoe, is found in Mr. Ellsworth's report from the Patent Office in 1844. M. Standinger, who had resided at Gros Flotbeck, near Hamburg, in Germany, near fifty years, paid great attention to the potatoe, and cultivated from the balls for thirty-six years in succession. His long experience and constant intercourse with practical men, and his habits of observation, give peculiar weight to his testimony. In view of the weakness in the vital energy of the plant, occasioned, he says, by constantly planting the tubers, he urges the importance of often raising new varieties from the seed; adding that those grown from the seed balls have a more vigorous growth than those obtained from bulbs, that have been used for seed for some years. His practice, which he minutely details, enabled him to raise as large a crop, both as to weight and measure, the first year from the seed, as could be ob
tained by planting the bulbs. The opinion of the farmers, that it requires three or four years to bring to maturity and to a large size, potatoes raised from the seed, he considers not well founded, and attributes it to their unskilful method of cultivating them. And in relation to the disease among potatoes, that has spread over Europe the last few years, he expresses his belief that it is owing to degeneracy in the plant, and that the only effectual remedy is to start new varieties from the seed. In proof of this, he states "that in the neighborhood of Hamburg, as well as also in Holstein, there is not the slightest trace of this disease to be seen, and no complaint of it has ever been heard; the reason of this being, that in the vicinity of Hamburg, there is always an opportunity of obtaining good seed pota toes," &c.
I did not intend, Messrs. Editors, to make any remarks about the cause or remedy of the present wide-spread disease in the potatoe; that I consider a distinct question from the one I had in view, and will leave it to be elucidated by other pens. That the older varieties of the potatoe are fast failing, and can be replaced only by renewing them from the seed; that the potatoe is susceptible of progressive improvement, so that there is reason to believe, varieties may hereafter be produced far superior in every desirable quality to any yet known; and that a large crop of good size for the table, may be raised from the seed the first year, so as to render it profitable to the grower; and that such seedlings, as a general rule, do remain fair and sound, while nearly all the old varieties are more or less diseased and running out, I consider facts well established. These facts have had a living illustration under my own eye during the last few years, while I have witnessed the operations and success of a neighbor, who has obtained the premium for the best and greatest variety of seedling potatoes at the two last Fairs of the State Agricultural Society. While I witness such facts, developed by persevering, well directed labor, I predict with confidence, that the potatoe will, or may, be perpetuated as long as seed time and harvest shall endure.
Buffalo, Jan. 4, 1848,
H. A. PARSONS.
N. S. Smith's new and improved Buffalo Seedling Potatoes, comprising several sorts of Pinkeyes, Russets, Purples, Reds, Whites, Rareripes, Orange, and others not yet fully developed-all purely seedling-the product of a careful and expensive experiment of six years with the seed from the balls and its seedlings in alternate reciprocal culture. Reciprocal, because in each rotation the seed improves in seedlings, and the seedlings the seed. By this method of culture these potatoes have acquired a healthy and early character, are very productive, and of the finest quality. Having been for so many years in succession planted in April, (in their seed,) and early harvested, they have become constitutionally what they are, and with early planting, early digging, dry and airy storage, they will prove sound and durable--and the method continued, the development of new varieties and improvements will also continue.
Also, "N. S. Smith's new and improved Buffalo Seedling Potatoe Seed."... This seed was gathered in the balls last September, from a four acre crop of seedlings, from improved seed sown in April last. Six years alternate reciprocal culture with its seedlings, has given it an early and very productive character. It will produce seedlings of the size of small birds' eggs as early as in May. Season favorable, with good culture, it will produce the first season sown, about 200 bushels per acre, a good proportion of marketable size, sufficiently mature for the table, and seed balls in abundance. Tubers of the weight of 12 oz. were quite common among the young seedlings last fall, and on the roots of many single plants were found fully set and growing, hundreds of seedlings, though when so numerous, mostly small. In addition, this seed is impregnated (by the pollen in the blows,) with choice varieties, late from Germany, England, South America, Albany, Illinois, and home markets-mostly seedlings, interspersed for that purpose in the field; and it will represent when cultivated, all the distinct varieties grown in that field, besides an amusing freak of mottling, tinting and originality. The seed may be sown in April, like tomatoes, in a warm bed. Bleached cotton cloth, tacked on frames for potatoe beds, is better than glass. The beds should be open to warm rains and to all warm weather. The same hands in a given time will transplant with the young plants more ground than can be planted with tubers. (Particular directions accompany the seed.) These potatoes and seed were represented at the two last State and County Agricultural Fairs, and the first premiums awarded them. The cultivation of these potatoes and their seed will be continued at Buffalo with every possible improvement. Seedlings of approved varieties, carefully packed in chaff, and delivered at the wharf or depot in Buffalo, $5 per bushel-$10 per bareel. Transportation safe from frosts after February. Seed per paper-sufficient to produce 10 bushels- $1, with directions. It may be conveyed by mail with double postage. Orders and communications, post-paid, will receive prompt attention. N. S. SMITH.
Buffalo, January 13, 1848.
Extract from the Report of the Committee on Vegetables at the last New York
"The committée on vegetables have reported, that for the greatest and best varieties of seedling potatoes of approved varieties, they award the premium of ten dollars ($10) to No. 73, presented by N. S. Smith, of Buffalo, N. Y. These potatoes were grown by the Rev. N. S. Smith, of Buffalo, who has favored us with the manner of their cultivation and production. He has been six years cultivating them from the balls that grow on top of the vines; his method is the alternate planting of the seed and tuber or potatoe, taking care to select always the best varieties. He has presented at the Fair as a specimen of his crop this season, thirty varieties of seedlings, all of them evidently of fine quality. His specimens of this year's seedlings, from the seed of his best seedlings, are very fine. He presents, also, fine specimens of seedlings from seed of seedlings grown last year in