George Streynsham Master.

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spots on my place in the following thorough
manner : A man commences with pick and
shovel on one side of the land and turns it
steadily and completely over by hand to
the depth of fourteen to eighteen inches,
throwing on the surface behind him all the
Vol. XIX. -18.

roots, stumps and stones, and stopping
occasionally to blast when the rocks are too
large to be pried out. This of course is
expensive, and cannot be largely indulged
in; but, when accomplished, the work is
done for all time, and I have obtained at
once by this method some splendid soil, in
which the plow sinks to the beam.

As most men handle the pick and shovel,
however, the fruit-grower must be chary in
his attempts to subdue the earth with these
old-time implements. It is too much like
making war with the ancient Roman short-
sword in an age of riBed guns. I agree
with that practical and veteran horticultur-
ist, Peter Henderson, that there are no im-
plements equal to the plow and subsoiler,
and in our broad and half-occupied country
we should be rather shy of land where these
cannot be used.

The cultivator, whose deep, moist loam is
covered by sod only, instead of rocks, brush
and trees, may feel like congratulating him-
self on the easy task before him. But let
him not be premature in his self-felicitation,
for he may find in his sod ground, espe-
cially if it be old meadow-land, an obstacle
worse than stumps and stones — the Lachnos-
tema ftisca. This portentous name may
well inspire dread, for the thing itself real-
izes one's worst fears. The deep, moist

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loam is the favorite haunt of this little pest,
and he who does not find it lying in wait
when turning up land that has been long in
sod may deem himself lucky. . I mean the
" white grub," the larva of the May-beetle
that so disturbs our slumbers in early sum-
mer by its sonorous hum and aimless
bumping against the wall. This white grub,
which the farmers often call the "potato
worm," is, in this region, the strawberry's
most formidable foe, and by devouring the
roots, will often destroy acres of the plants.
If the plow turns up these ugly customers,
the only recourse is to cultivate the land with
some other crop until they turn into beetles
and fly away. It is said that this pest
rarely lays its eggs in plowed land, preferring
sod ground, where its larvae will be protected
from the birds, and will find plenty of grass
roots on which to feed. Nature sees to it
that white grubs are taken care of, but our
Monarch strawberries need our best skill
and help in their unequal fight, and if
Lachnos and tribe should turn out in force,
Alexander himself would be vanquished.

Excessive moisture will often prevent the
immediate cultivation of our ideal strawberry
land. I ts absence is fatal, its excess equally so.

The construction of drains may be essen-
tial for three causes, ist. Land that is
dry enough naturally, may lie so as to collect
and hold surface water, which, accumulating

It so happened that I found all these
conditions on my farm at Cornwall on the
Hudson, and perhaps I can treat the sub-
ject best by giving the successful methods
of coping with the evils.

In firont of my house there is a low, level
plot of land containing about three acres.
Upon this the surface water ran fi^om all
sides and there was no oudet. The soil
was in consequence sour, and in certain
spots only a wiry marsh grass would grow.
And yet it required but a glance to see
that a drain, which could carry off" this sur-
face water immediately, would render it the
best land on the place. I tried, in vain, the
experiment of digging a deep wide ditch
across the entire track, in hopes of finding a
porous subsoil. Then I excavated great
deep holes, but came to a blue clay that
held water like rubber. The porous sub-
soil in which I knew the region abounded,
and which makes Cornwall exceptionally
free from all miasmatic troubles, eluded our
spades like hidden treasures. I eventually
found that I must obtain permission of a
neighbor to carry a drain across another
farm to the mountain stream that empties
into the Hudson at Cornwall Landing. The
covered drain through the adjoining place
was deep and expensive, but the ditch across
my land (marked A on the map) is a small
one, walled with stone on either side. It

RD. 8«r«<i«N.T.


with every rain and snow storm, at last
renders the soil sour and unproductive.
2d. Comparatively level land, and even
steep hill-sides, may be so full of springs as
to render drains at short intervals necessary.
3d. Streams, flowing perhaps from distant
sources, may find their natural channel
across our grounds. If these channels are
obstructed or inadequate, we find our land
^-^ling into the ways of an old soaker.

answers my purpose, however, giving me
as good strawberry land as I could wish.
On both sides of this open ditch, and at
right angles with it, I had the ground plowed
up into beds 130 feet long by 21 wide.
The shallow depressions between these
beds slope gently toward the ditch, and
thus, after every storm, the surface water is
at once carried away.

As may be seen from the map, my farm

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is peculiar in outline, and resembles an ex-
tended city lot, being 2,550 feet loDg, and
only 410 wide.

The house, as shown by the cut on page
240, stands on quite an elevation, in the rear
of which the land descends into another
swale or basin. The drainage of this pre-
sented a still more difficult problem. Not
only did the surface water run into it, but
in moist seasons the ground was full of
springs. The serious feature of the case
was mat there seemed to be no available
outlet in any direction. Unlike the mellow
sandy loam in front of the house, the swale
in the rear was of the stiffest kind of clay —
just the soil to retain and be spoiled hy
water. During the first year of our resi-
dence here, this region was sometimes a
pond, sometimes a quagmire, while again,
under the summer sun, it baked into earth-
enware. It was a doubtful question whether
this stubborn acre could be subdued, and
yet its heavy clay gave me just the diversity
of soil I needed. Throughout the high
gravelly knoU on which the house stands,
the natural drainage is perfect, and a saga-
cious neighbor suggested that if I cut a
ditch across the clayey swale into the gravel
of the knoll, the water would find a natural
ouUet and disappear.

The ditch was dug eight feet wide and
five feet deep, for I decided to utilize the
sur£3u:e of the drain as a road-bed. Passing
out of the clay and hard pan, we came into
the gravel, and it seemed porous enough to
carry off a fair-sized stream. I concluded
that my difficult problem had found a cheap
and easy solution, and to make assurance
doubly sure, I directed the men to dig a
deep pit and fill it with stones.

When they had gone about nine feet be-
low the surface, I happened to be standing
on the brink of the excavation watching the
work. A laborer struck his pick into the
gravel, when a stream gushed out that in its
sudden abundance suggested that which
flowed in the wilderness at the stroke of
Moses's rod. The problem was now com-
plicated anew. So (dii from finding an outlet,
I had du^ a well which the men could
scarcely bail out fast enough to permit of
its being stoned up. Now something had
to be done, and I caUed in the services of
Mr. Caldwell, city surveyor of Newburgh,
and to his map I refer the reader for a
dearer understanding of my tasks.

Between the upper and lower swales, the
ridge on which the house stands slopes to its
greatest depression along its western bound-

ary, and I was shown that if I would cut
deep enough the open drain in the lower
swale could receive and carry off the water
from the upper basin. This appeared to be
the only resource, but with my limited means
it was like a ship-canal across the Isthmus
of Panama. The old device of emptying
my drains into a hole that practically had
no bottom, suggested itself to me. It would
be so much easier and cheaper that I re-
solved once more to try it, though with
hopes naturally dampened by my last moist
experience. I directed tiiat the hole
(marked B on the map) should be oblong
and in the direct line of the ditch, so that if
it ^ed of its purpose it could become a
part of the drain. Down we went into as
perfect sand and gravel as I ever saw, and
the deeper we dug the dryer it became.
This time, in wounding old " Mother
Earth," we did not cut a vein, and there
seemed a fair prospect of our creating
a new one, for into this receptacle I de-
cided to turn my largest drain and all the
water that the stubborn acre persisted in

I therefore had a "box-drain" con-
structed along the western boundary of the
place ^marked C) until it reached the low-
est pomt in the upper swale. This drain
was simply and rapidly constructed in the
following manner: a ditch was first dug
sufiUciently deep and wide and with a fall
that carried off the water rapidly. In the
bottom of this ditch the men built two
roughly faced walls, one foot high and
eight inches apart Comparatively long,
flat stones that would reach from wall to
wall were easily found, and thus we had a
covered water-course, eight inches by a foot,
forming the common box-drain that will
usually last a life-time. The openings over
the channel were carefully "chinked" in
with small stones and aU covered with
inverted sods, shavings, leaves or anything
that prevented the loose soil from sifting
or washing down into the water-course.

At the upper end of the box-drain, just
described, a second and smaller receptacle
was dug ^marked D), and from this was
constructed another box-drain (E), six inches
square, across the low ground to the end
of the canal in which we had found the
well (F). This would not onlv drain a por-
tion of the land but would ako empty the
big ditch (G) and prevent the water of the
well from rising above a certain point This
kind of stone-work can be done rapidly:
two men in two short winter days built

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thirteen rods with a water-course six inches
in the clear.

To the upper and further end of the
canal (G), I constructed another and cheaper
style of drain. In the bottom of this ditch
(H), two stones were placed on their ends
or edges and leaned together so as to form
a kind of arch, and then other stones were
thrown over and around them until they
reached a point eighteen inches from the
surface. Over these stones, as over the
box-drains also, was placed a covering of
any coarse litter to keep the earth from
washing down; and then the construction
of one or two short side-drains, the refilling
the ditches and leveling the ground com-
pleted my task.

It will be remembered that this entire
system of drainage ended in the excavation
(B) already described. The question was
now whether such a theory of drainage
would ** hold water." If it would, the hole
I had dug must not, and I waited to see.
It promised well Quite a steady stream
poured into it and disappeared. By and
by there came a heavy March storm.
When I went out in the morning everything
was afloat. The big canal and the well
at its lower end were frill to overflowing.
The stubborn acre was a quagmire, and
alas! the excavation which I had hoped
would save so much trouble and expense
was also full. I plodded back under my
umbrella with a brow as lowering as the
sky. There seemed nothing for it but to
cut a Dutch gap that would make a like
chasm in my bank account. By noon it
cleared off and I went down to take a mel-
ancholy survey of the huge amount of work
that now seemed necessary, when, to my
great joy, the oblong cut, in which so many
hopes had seemingly been swamped, was
entirely empty. From the box-dram a large
stream poured into it and went down — to
China, for all that I knew. I went in haste
to the big canal and found it empty, and
the well lowered to the mouth of the drain.
The stubborn acre was now under my thumb
and I have kept it there ever since. During
the past summer, I had upon its wettest and
stiffest portion two beds of Jucunda straw-
berries that yielded at the rate of one hun-
dred and ninety bushels to the acre. The
Jucunda strawberry is especially adapted
to heavy land requiring drainage, and I
think an enterprising man in the vicin-
ity of New York might so unite them
as to make a fortune. The hole was
""Med with stone and now forms a part

of my garden, and the canal answers for a
road-bed as at first intended. In the for-
tuitous well, I have placed a force-pump,
around which are grown and watered my
potted plants. The theory of carrying
drains into gravel does hold water, and some-
times holes can be dug at a slight expense,
that practically* have no bottom*

In the rear of my place there was a
third drainage problem very different from
either of the other two. My farm runs
back to the rise of the mountain, whose
edge it skirts for some distance. It thus
receives at times much surface water. At
the foot of the mountain slope, there are two
or three acres of low alluvial soil that was
formerly chiefly covered with the coarse
useless herbage of the swamp. Between
the meadow and the slope of the mountain,
" the town " built a " boulevard " (marked
I I on the map), practically " cribbmg ** an
acre or two of land. At the extreme end
of the farm, and just beyond the alluvial
ground, was the channel of a brook (marked
J). Its strong bed, through which trickled
a rill, had a very innocent aspect on the
October day when we looked the farm over
and decided upon its purchase. The rill
ran a little way on my ^unds, then
crept under the fence and skuted my west-
em boundary for several hundred yards.
On reaching a rise of a land, it re-entered
my place and ran obliquely across it It
thus inclosed three sides of the low, bushy
meadow I have named. In a vague way I
felt that eventually something would have
to be done to direct this little child of the
mountain into proper ways, and to subdue
the spirit of the wilderness that it diffused
on every side. I had its lower channel
across the place (K K) cleared out, think-
ing that this might answer for the present ;
and the gurgle of the little streamlet along
the bottom of the ditch seemed a low laugh
at the idea of its ever filling the three
square feet of space above it. Deceitful
litde brook ! Its innocent, babble contained
no suggestion of its hoarse roar, as on a
March day, the following spring, it tore its
way along, scooping the stones and gravel
from its upper bed and scattering them far
and wide over the alluvial meadow. Instead
of a tiny rill, I found that I would have to
cope at times with a mountain torrent. At
first the task was too heavy, and the fitful-
tempered brook, and the swamp-like regions
it encompassed, were left for years to their
old wild instincts. At last the increasing
demands of my business made it more neces-

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sary to have arable land, and I saw that, if
I could keep it from being overwhelmed with
^ater and gravel, the alluvial meadow was
just the place for strawberries.

I commenced at the lowest point where
it finally leaves my grounds and dug a canal

(K K) twelve feet wide and four or five
feet deep across my place, stoning up its
walls on either side. An immense amount
of earth and gravel was thrown on the lower
side so as to form a high, strong embank-
ment in addition to the channel. Then,

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where it entered the fanu above the mea-
dow, I had a wide, deep ditch excavated,
throwing all the d/bris between it and the
land I wished to shield. Throughout the
low meadow, two covered box-drains (L
and M) were constructed so that the plow
could pass over them. On the side of the
meadow next to the boulevard and mountain,
I had an open drain (N N) dug and filled
with stones even with th^ ground. It was
designed to catch and carry off the surplus
water merely from the long extent of mount-
ain slope that it skirted. The system of
ditches to protect and drain the partial
swamp, and also to manage the deceitfiil
brook, was now finished, and I waited for
the results. During much of the sum-
mer there was not a drop of water in the
wide canal, save where a living spring
trickled into it The ordinary fall rains
could scarcely more than cover the broad,
pebbly bottom, and the unsophisticated
laughed and said that I reminded them of
the general who trained a forty-pound gun
on a belligerent mouse. I remembered what
I had seen and bided my time.

But I did not have to wait till March.
One November day it began to rain, — and
it kept on. All the following night there
was a steady rush and roar of falling water.
It was no ordinary pattering, but a gusty
outpouring from the " windows of heaven."
The two swales in the fi*ont and the rear of
the house became great muddy ponds,
tawny as the " yellow Tiber," and through
intervals of the storm came the sullen roar
of the little brook that had been purring
like a kitten all summer. Toward night
Nature grew breathless and exhausted;
there were sobbing gusts of wind and sud-
den gushes of rain that grew less and less
frequent. It was evident she would become
quiet in the night and quite serene after her
long tempestuous mood. As the sun was
setting I ventured out with much misgiving.
The deepening roar as I went down the
lane increased my fears, but I was fairly
appalled by the wild torrent that cut off all
approach to the bridge. The water had
not only filled the wide canal, but also at a
point a little above the bridge, had broken
over and washed away the high embank-
ment I skirted along the tide until I
reached the part of the bank that still re-
mained intact, and there beneath my feet
rushed a flood that would have instantly
swept away horse and rider. Indeed, quite
a large tree had been torn up by its roots
^^^ carried down until it caught in die

bridge, which would also have gone had not
the embankment above it given way.

The lower part of the meadows was also
under water. It had been plowed, and
therefore would wash readily. Would any
soil be left ? A few moments of calm re-
flection, however, removed my fears. The
treacherous brook had not beguiled me dur-
ing the summer into inadequate provision
for this unprecedented outbreak. I saw
that my deep, wide cut had kept the flood
wholly itom the upper part of the meadow
which contained a very valuable bed of
high-priced Sharpless strawberry-plants, and
that the slowly moving tide which covered
the lower part was little more than 'back-
water and overflow. The wide ditches
were carrying off swiftly and harmlessly the
great volume that, had not such channels
been provided, would have made my rich
alluvial meadow little else than a stony,
gravelly waste. The embankment had given
way at a point too low down to permit
much damage.

My three diverse systems of drainage had
thus practically stood the severest test, per-
haps, that will ever be put upon them, and my
grounds had not been damaged to any ex-
tent worth naming. The cost had been
large, but the injury caused by that one
storm would have amounted to a larger
sum had there been no other channels for
the water than those provided by nature.

My readers will find, in many instances,
that they have land which must be or may
be drained. If it can be done suflicienUy,
the very ideal strawberry soil may be secured,
moist and deep, but not wet

In cases, however, when the fall is slight,
say scarcely one foot in a hundred, it would
be well to employ the services of a sur-
veyor, and thus secure the proper grades.
If stones are not convenient, tile can be
bought at moderate prices ; and if the task is
at all extensive, the reader should not only
consult a work like that by Col. George E.
Waring, but also talk with practical men in
the neighborhood who have grappled with
like problems successftilly. The common
sense and experience indigenous to a local-
ity is invaluable, and men often fail as
well as succeed by being wiser than their

We have now reached a point at which
we must consider land which in its essen-
tial character is unfavorable to strawberries,
and yet which may be the best to be had.
The difficulties here are not merely acci-
dental or remediable, such as lack of depth

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or fertility, the presence of stones or stumps,
undue wetness of the soil, etc. Any or all
of these obstacles may be found, but, in
addition, there are evils inseparable from
the soil, and which cannot be wholly eradi-
cated. The best we can hope in such a
case is to make up by art what is lacking
in nature.

This divergence from the deep, moist
sandy loam, the ideal strawberry land, is
usually toward a stiff, cold, stubborn clay, or
toward a droughty, leachy sand that retains
neither fertility nor moisture. Of course
these opposite soils require different treat-

We will consider first the less objection-
able, /. f,y the heavy clay. To call clay more
fovorable for strawberries than sandy land
may seem like heresy to many, for it is a
popular impression that light soils are the
best. Experience and observation have,
however, convinced me of the contrary.
With the clay you have a stable foundation.
Your progress may be slow but it can be
made sure. The character of a sandy foun-
dation was taught centuries ago. More-
over, all the fine foreign-blooded varieties
grow far better on heavy land, and a soil
largely mixed with clay gives a wider range
in the choice of varieties.

If I had my choice between a farm of
cold stiff clay or light leachy sand, I would
unhesitatingly take the former, and I would
overcome its native imfitness by the follow-
ing methods : If at all inclined to be wet,
as would be natural from its tenacious
texture, I should first drain it thoroughly.
Then if I found a fair amount of vegetable
matter, I would give it a dressing of air-
slacked lime, and plow it deeply late in the

faU, leaving it unharrowed so as to expose
as much of the soil as possible to the
action of the frost. Early in the spring, as
soon as the ground was dry enough to work
and all danger of frost was over, I would
harrow in buckwheat and plow it under as it
came into blossom ; then sow a second crop
and plow that under also. It is the character-
istic of buckwheat to lighten and clean land,
and the reader perceives that it should be
our constant aim to impart lightness and
life to the heavy soils. Lime, in addition
to its fertilizing effects, acts chemically on the
ground, producing the desired effect. It
may be objected that lime is not good for
strawberries. That is true if the lime is
applied directly to the plants, as we would
ashes or bone dust, but when it is mixed
with the soil for months it is so neutralized
as to be helpful, and in the meantime its
action on the soil itself is of great value. It
must be used for strawberries, however, in
very limited quantities. The coarse green
straw of the buckwheat is useful by its
mechanical division of the heavy land, while
at the same time its decomposition fills the
soil with ammonia and other gases vitally
necessary to the plant. A clay soil retains
these gases with little waste. It is thus
capable of being enriched to almost any
extent, and can be made a store-house of

Where it can be procured, there is no
better fertilizer for clay land than the prod-
uct of the horse stable, which as a rule
can be plowed under in its raw, unfermented
state, its heat and action in decay produc-
ing the best results. Of course judgment
and moderation must be employed. The
root of a young-growing plant cannot feed


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in a mass of fermenting manure, no matter
what the soil may be. The point I wish
to make is that cold heavy land is greatly
benefited by having these heating, gas-pro-
ducing processes take place beneath its
surface. After they are over, the tall rank
foliage and enormous fruit of the Jucunda
strawberry (a variety that can scarcely grow

Online LibraryGeorge Streynsham MasterThe Century, Volume 19 → online text (page 43 of 160)