D. A. Compton.

The $100 Prize Essay on the Cultivation of the Potato. online

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Transcriber's note:

Text enclosed between tilde characters was in bold face in
the original (~bold face~).

[oe] represents the oe-ligature.


Prize offered by W. T. WYLIE and awarded to D. H. COMPTON.


_Furnished by Prof. BLOT._






In the fall of 1868, I offered $100 as a prize for the best Essay on the
Cultivation of the Potato, under conditions then published; the prize to
be awarded by a committee composed of the following gentlemen, well
known in agricultural circles:

Colonel MASON C. WELD, Associate Editor of _American Agriculturist_.

A. S. FULLER, ESQ., of Ridgewood, N. J., the popular author of several
horticultural works, and Associate Editor of the _Hearth and Home_.

Dr. F. M. HEXAMER, who has made the cultivation of the potato a special

In the month of January, 1870, the committee awarded the prize to D. A.
Compton; and this Essay is herewith submitted to the public in the hope
of stimulating a more intelligent and successful cultivation of the

BELLEFONTE, PA., January, 1870.

NEW-YORK, January, 1870.

REV. W. T. WYLIE: DEAR SIR: The essays submitted to us by Mr.
Bliss, according to your announcement, numbered about twenty.
Several could not be called essays from their brevity, and others
were exceedingly incomplete. About twelve, however, required and
were worthy of careful consideration. That of Mr. D. A. Compton, of
Hawley, Wayne County, Pa., was, in the opinion of your committee,
decidedly superior to the others as a practical treatise, sure to
be of use to potato-growers in every part of the country, and well
worthy the liberal prize offered by yourself.

In behalf of the committee, sincerely yours,
MASON C. WELD, _Chairman_.



The design of this little treatise is to present, with minuteness of
detail, that mode of culture which experience and observation have
proved to be best adapted to the production of the Potato crop.

It is written by one who himself holds the plow, and who has, since his
early youth, been engaged in agriculture in its various branches, to the
exclusion of other pursuits.

The statements which appear in the following pages are based upon actual
personal experience, and are the results of many experiments made to
test as many theories.

Throughout the Northern States of our country the potato is the third
of the three staple articles of food. It is held in such universal
esteem as to be regarded as nearly indispensable. This fact is
sufficient to render a thorough knowledge of the best varieties for use,
the character of soil best adapted to their growth, their cultivation
and after-care, matters of the highest importance to the farmers of the
United States.

The main object of this essay is so to instruct the novice in
potato-growing that he may be enabled to go to work understandingly and
produce the potato in its highest perfection, and realize from his
labors bestowed on the crop the greatest possible profits.


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

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

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.


Experience proves that no better method can be adopted to bring up lands
partially exhausted, which are remote from cities, than plowing under
green crops. By this plan the farmer can take lot after lot, and soon
bring all up to a high state of fertility. True, he gathers no crop for
one year, but the outlay is little; and if in the second year he gathers
as much from one acre as he formerly did from three, he is still
largely the gainer.

It costs no more to cultivate an acre of rich, productive land than an
acre of poor, unproductive land; and the pleasure and profit of
harvesting a crop that abundantly rewards the husbandman for his care
and labor are so overwhelmingly in favor of rich land as to need no
comment. Besides, manuring with green crops is not transitory in its
effects; the land remembers the generous treatment for many years, and
if at times lime or ashes be added to assist decomposition, will
continue to yield remunerative crops long after land but once treated
with stable manure or guano fails to produce any thing but weeds. The
skinning process, the taking off of every thing grown on the soil and
returning nothing to it, is ruinous alike to farm and farmer. Thousands
of acres can be found in various parts of the country too poor to pay
for cultivating without manuring. Of the capabilities of their lands
under proper treatment the owners thereof have no idea whatever. Such
men say they can not make enough manure on the farm and are too poor to
buy. Why not, then, commence plowing under green crops, the only manure
within easy reach? If fifty acres can not be turned under the first
year, put at least one acre under, which will help feed the rest. Why be
contented with thirty bushels of corn per acre, when eighty or one
hundred may be had? Why raise eight or twelve bushels of wheat per acre,
when forty may as well be had? Why cut but one half-ton of hay per acre,
when the laws of nature allow at least three? Why spend precious time
digging only one hundred bushels of potatoes per acre, when with proper
care and culture three or four hundred may easily be obtained? And,
finally, why toil and sweat, and have the poor dumb beasts toil and
sweat, cultivating thirty acres for the amount of produce that should
grow, may grow, can grow, and has grown on ten acres?

The poorest, most forsaken side-hills, cobble-hills, and knolls, if the
sand or gravel be of moderate depth, underlaid by a subsoil rather
retentive, by turning under green crops grow potatoes of the first
quality. If land be so poor that clover will not take, as is sometimes
the case, seed to clover with millet very early in the spring, and
harrow in with the millet thirty bushels of wood-ashes, or two hundred
pounds of guano per acre; then sow the clover-seed one peck per acre;
brush it in.

If neither ashes nor guano can be obtained at a reasonable price, sow
two hundred pounds of gypsum per acre as soon as the bushing is
completed. This will not fail in giving the clover a fair foothold on
the soil.

Before the millet blossoms, cut and cure it for hay. Keep all stock off
the clover, plaster it the following spring, plow it under when in full
bloom; sow buckwheat immediately; when up, sow plaster; when in full
bloom, plow under and sow the ground immediately with rye, to be plowed
under the next May. Thus three crops are put under within a year, the
ground is left strong, light, porous, free from weeds, ready to grow a
large crop of potatoes, or almost any thing else.

Much is gained every way by having and keeping land in a high state of
fertility. Some crops require so long a season for growth, that high
condition of soil is absolutely necessary to carry them through to
maturity in time to escape autumnal frosts. In the Western States manure
has hitherto been considered of but little value. The soil of these
States was originally very rich in humus. For a time wheat was produced
at the rate of forty bushels per acre; but according to the statistics
given by the Agricultural Department at Washington, for the year 1866,
the average yield in some of these States was but four and a half
bushels per acre. It is evident from this that Mr. Skinflint has had
things pretty much his own way. His land now produces four and a half
bushels per acre; what time shall elapse when it shall be four and one
half acres per bushel? Who dare predict that manure will not at some day
be of value west of the Alleghanies? New-Jersey, with a soil naturally
inferior to that of Illinois, contains extensive tracts that yearly
yield over one hundred bushels of Indian corn per acre, while the
average of the State is over forty-three; and the average yield of the
same cereal in Illinois is but little over thirty-one bushels per acre.
In the Western States, where potatoes are grown extensively for Southern
markets, the average yield is about eighty bushels per acre; while in
old Pennsylvania could be shown the last year potatoes yielding at the
rate of six hundred and forty bushels per acre. There are those who
argue that manure is never necessary - that plant-food is supplied in
abundance by the atmosphere; it was also once said a certain man had
taught his horse to live without eating; but it so happened that just as
he got the animal perfectly schooled, it died.

Good, thorough cultivation and aeration of the soil undoubtedly do much
toward the production of crops; but mere manipulation is not all that is

That growing plants draw much nourishment from the atmosphere, and
appropriate largely of its constituents in building up their tissue, is
certainly true; it is also certainly true that they require something of
the soil besides mere anchorage. All facts go to show that if the
constituents needed by the plant from the soil are not present in the
soil, the efforts of the plant toward proper development are abortive?
What sane farmer expects to move a heavy load over a rugged road with a
team so lean and poverty-stricken that they cast but a faint shadow? Yet
is he much nearer sanity when he expects farming to be pleasant and
profitable, and things to _move aright_, unless his land is strong and
fat? Is he perfectly sane when he thinks he can skin his farm year after
year, and not finally come to the bone? The farmer on exhausted land
must of necessity use manure. Manure of _some_ kind must go under, or he
must go under; and to the great mass of cultivators no mode of enriching
is so feasible, so cheap, and attended with such satisfactory results,
as that of plowing under green crops.

The old plan of leaving an exhausted farm, and going West in search of
rich "government land," must soon be abandoned. Already the head of the
column of land-hunters have "fetched up" against the Pacific, and it is
doubtful whether their anxious gaze will discover any desirable
unoccupied soil over its waters.

The writer would not be understood as saying that all farms are
exhausted, or that there is _no_ way of recuperation but by plowing
under green crops. What he wishes understood is, that where poor, sandy,
or gravelly lands are found, which bring but small returns to the owner,
by subjecting them to the process indicated, such lands bring good crops
of the kind under consideration. And further, that land in the proper
condition to yield a maximum crop of potatoes, is fitted to grow other
crops equally well. Neither would the writer be understood as arguing
that a crop of clover and one of buckwheat should be turned under for
each crop of potatoes; where land is already in high condition, it may
not be necessary. A second growth of clover plowed under in the fall for
planting early kinds, and a clean clover sod turned in _flat_ furrows in
the spring, for the late market varieties, answer very well. To turn
flat furrows, take the furrow-slice wide enough to have it fall
completely inside the preceding one.

Potatoes should not be planted year after year on the same ground;
trouble with weeds and rapid deterioration of quality and quantity of
tubers soon render the crop unprofitable. Loamy soil planted
continuously soon becomes compact, heavy, and lifeless. Where of
necessity potatoes must be grown yearly on the same soil, it is
advisable to dig rather early, and bury the vines of each hill in the
one last dug; then harrow level, and sow rye to be plowed under next
planting time.

The intelligent farmer, who grows large crops for market, will always so
arrange as to have a clover-sod on dry land in high condition each year
for potatoes. It is said by many, in regard to swine, that "the breed is
in the trough;" though this is certainly untrue to a certain extent, yet
it is undeniable that in potato-growing success or failure is in the
character of soil chosen for their production.

Why clover, or clover and buckwheat lands, are so strongly urged is,
such lands have in them just what the tubers need for their best and
healthiest development; the soil is rendered so rich, light, and porous,
and so free from weeds, that the cultivation of such land is rather a
pleasure than otherwise, and at the close of the season the tangible
profits in dollars and cents are highly gratifying.


From the fact that the United States produce about 109,000,000 bushels
of potatoes annually, it might be supposed a great many varieties would
be cultivated. Such, however, is not the fact. Of the varieties extant,
comparatively few are grown extensively.

Every grower's observation has established the fact that for quality the
early varieties are inferior to the late ones. The Early June is very
early, but its quality is quite indifferent. The Cherry Blow is early,
attains good size, and yields rather well. In quality it is poor. The
Early Kidney, as to quality, is good, but will not yield enough to pay
for cultivation. The Cowhorn, said to be the Mexican yam, is quite
early, of first quality, but yields very poorly. The Michigan White
Sprout is early, rather productive, and good. Jackson White is in
quality quite good, is early, and a favorite in some places. The Monitor
is rather early, yields large crops; but as its quality is below par, it
brings a low price in market. Philbrick's Early White is one of the
whitest-skinned and whitest-fleshed potatoes known. It is about as early
as Early Goodrich, is quite productive, and grows to a large size, with
but few small ones to the hill. Its quality is excellent. It has not yet
been extensively tested. The Early Rose is said to be very early, of
excellent quality, and to yield extremely well. It has, however, not
been very widely tested. Perhaps for earliness and satisfactory product,
the Early Goodrich has no superior. It is of fair quality, and though
some seasons it does not yield as well as others, yet, all things
considered, it is a desirable variety. The old Neshannock, or Mercer, is
among the latest of the early varieties. As to quality, it is the
standard of excellence of the whole potato family. But it yields rather
poorly, and its liability to rot, except on soils especially fitted for
it, has so discouraged growers that its cultivation in many sections is
abandoned. On rather poor, sandy soil, manured in the hill with
wood-ashes, common salt, and plaster only, it will produce in ordinary
seasons two hundred bushels per acre of sound, merchantable tubers, that
will always command the highest market price. Any potato cultivated for
a long series of years will gradually become finer in texture and better
in quality; but its liability to disease will also be greatly increased.
As an instance of this, it will be remembered that when the Merino and
California varieties were first introduced, they were so coarse as to be
thought fit only to feed hogs, and for this purpose, on account of their
great yielding qualities, farmers continued to cultivate them, until
finally they became so changed as in many sections to be preferred for
the table. Their cultivation, however, is now nearly abandoned.

Of the later varieties, the Garnet Chili, a widely-diffused and
well-known sort, deserves notice. It is not of so good quality as the
Peach Blow; but its freedom from disease, and the large crop it
produces, make it a favorite with many growers. The chief fault with it
is, the largest specimens are apt to be hollow at the centre. It ripens
rather early; and, even when dug long before maturity, it has a dryness
and mealiness, when prepared for the table, not found in many other
sorts. The Buckeye is extensively grown for market; its yield is not
satisfactory, and its quality is only medium. The Dykeman is yet grown
to some extent, but will soon be superseded.

The Prince Albert is a well-known and highly-esteemed variety,
approaching very near the Peach Blow in quality. One peculiarity of
this potato is, the largest tubers appear to be of as good quality as

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Online LibraryD. A. ComptonThe $100 Prize Essay on the Cultivation of the Potato. → online text (page 1 of 5)