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Ten Acres Enough
Chapter VIII.—Blackberries—A Remarkable Coincidence


In the course of my agricultural reading for some years previous to coming into the country, I had noticed great things said of a new blackberry which had been discovered in the State of New York. The stories printed in relation to it were almost fabulous. It was represented as growing twenty feet high, and as bearing berries nearly as large as a walnut, which melted on the tongue with a lusciousness to which the softest ice-cream was a mere circumstance, while the fruit was said to be strung upon its branches like onions on a rope. A single bush would supply a large family with fruit! I was amazed at the extravagant accounts given of its unexampled productiveness and matchless flavor. I had supposed that I knew all about blackberries, but here was a great marvel in a department which had been proverbially free from eccentricities of that kind.

But I followed it—in the papers—for a long time. At last I saw it stated that the rare plant could not be propagated from the seed, but only from suckers, and therefore very slowly. Of course it could not be afforded for less than a dollar apiece! It would be unreasonable to look for blackberries for less! It struck me that the superior flavor claimed for it must be a little of the silvery order—than in berries bought at that price, a touch might be detected even of the most auriferous fragrance. Still, I was an amateur —in a small way. I rejoiced in a city garden which would readily accommodate a hundred of this extra­ordinary berry, especially as it was said to do better and bear more fruit, when cut down to four feet, instead of being allowed to grow to a height of twenty.

It thus seemed to be made for such miniature gardeners as myself. One generous advertiser offered to send six roots by mail for five dollars, provided ten red stamps were inclosed with the money. I had never before heard of blackberries being sent by mail; but the whole thing was recommended by men in whose standing all confidence could be placed, and who, as far as could be discovered, had no plants to sell. Under such circumstances, doubt seemed to be absurd.

I sent five dollars and the stamps. But this was one of the secrets I never told my wife until she had eaten the first bowlful of the fully ripened fruit, eighteen months afterwards. Well, the plants came in a letter—mere fibres of a greater root—certainly not thicker than a thin quill, not one of them having a top. They looked like long white worms, with here and there a bud or eye. I never saw, until then, what I considered the meanest five dollars' worth of any thing I had ever bought; and when my wife inquired what those things were I was planting, I replied that they were little vegetable wonders which a distant correspondent had sent me. Not dreaming that they cost me near a dollar apiece, at the very time I owed a quarter's rent, she dropped the subject.

But I planted them in a deeply spaded and rich sunny border, deluged them every week with suds from the family wash, and by the close of the season they had sent up more than a dozen strong canes which stood six feet high. The next summer they bore a crop of fruit which astonished me. From the group of bushes I picked fifteen quarts of berries superior to anything of the kind we had ever eaten. I then confided the secret to my wife: she considered the plants cheap at five dollars, and pronounced my venture a good one. I think we had more than five dollars' worth of satisfaction in showing them to our friends and neighbors. We gave away some pints of the fruit, and such was its fame and popularity, that I feel convinced we could have readily disposed of it all in the same way.

One of the reporters for a penny-paper hearing of the matter, called in my absence to see them. My wife politely acted as showman, and being very eloquent of speech on any matter which happens to strike her fancy, she was quite as communicative as he desired. She did not know that the fellow was a penny-a-liner, whose vocation it was to magnify an ant-hill into a mountain. To her extreme consternation, as well as to mine, the next morning paper contained a half-column article describing my blackberries, even giving my name and the number of the house. By ten o'clock that day the latter was run down with strangers, who had thus been publicly invited to call and see the new blackberry. Our opposite neighbors laughed heartily over my wife's vexation, and for the first time in my life I saw her almost immovable good temper give way. The nuisance continued for weeks, as the vile article had been copied into some of the neighboring country papers, and thus new swarms of bores were inflamed with curiosity. This little vexatious circumstance afforded unmistakable evidence of the great interest taken by the public in the discovery of a new and valuable fruit. I could have disposed of thousands of plants if I had had them for sale.

This was the New Rochelle or Lawton Blackberry. The numerous suckers which came up around each root I transplanted along my border, until I had more than two hundred of them. This was long before a single berry had been offered for sale in the Philadelphia market, though the papers told me that the fruit was selling in New York at half a dollar per quart, and that the great consuming public of that city, having once tasted of it, was clamorous for more. I am constrained to say that the nurserymen who had these plants to sell did not over praise them. This berry has fully realized all they promised in relation to it; and a debt of thankfulness is owing to the men who first discovered and caused it to be propagated. It has taken its place in public estimation beside the strawberry and raspberry, and will henceforth continue to be a favorite in every market where it may become known.

This extraordinary fruit was first noticed in 1834, by Mr. Lewis A. Secor, of New Rochelle, New York, who observed a single bush growing wild in an open field, but loaded with astonishing clusters of larger berries than he had ever seen, and of superior richness of flavor. At the proper season he removed the plant to his garden, where he continued to propagate it for several years, during which time it won the unqualified admiration of all who had an opportunity of either seeing or tasting the fruit. Numerous plants were distributed, and its propagation in private gardens and nurseries began. A quantity of the fruit being exhibited at the Farmers' Club, by Mr. William Lawton, the club named it after him, leaving the discoverer unrecognized.

Great sums of money have been made by propagators of this berry. It possesses peculiar merits in the estimation of market gardeners. It ripens just as the supply of strawberries and raspberries has been exhausted, and before peaches and grapes have made their appearance, filling with delicious fruit a horticultural vacuum which had long existed. Its mammoth size and luscious qualities insure for it the highest prices, and it has steadily maintained its original character. It pays the grower enormously, is a sure bearer, is never touched by frost or attacked by insect enemies, and when well manured and staked up from the wind, and cut down to four feet high, with the limbs shortened to a foot, will readily produce two thousand quarts to the acre. Some growers have greatly exceeded this quantity. I have known a single plant to yield eighteen hundred berries, and three plants to produce sixteen quarts. Its flavor is entirely different from that of the common wild blackberry, while it abounds in juice, and contains no core. It is evidently a distinct variety. It has also long been famous for yielding a most superior wine.

When I went into the country I had two hundred of the Lawton blackberry to plant, all which were the product of my five-dollar venture. In digging them up from my city garden, every inch of root that could be found was carefully hunted out. They had multiplied under ground to a surprising extent —some of them being as much as twenty feet in length. These roots were full of buds from which new canes would spring. Their vitality is almost unconquerable—everybody knows a blackberry is the hardest thing in the world to kill. I cut off the canes six inches above the root, then divided each stool into separate roots, and then, cutting up the long roots into slips containing one to two eyes each, I found my number of sets to exceed a thousand, quite enough to plant an acre.

These I put out in rows eight feet apart, and eight feet asunder in the rows. Not ten of them died, as they came fresh out of the ground in one place, only to be immediately covered up some three inches deep in another. Thus this whole five-dollar speculation was one of the luckiest hits I ever made; because I began early, before the plant had passed into everybody's hands; and when it came into general demand, I was the only grower near the city who had more than a dozen plants. Very soon everybody wanted the fruit, and the whole neighborhood wanted the plants. How I condescended to supply both classes of customers will appear hereafter.

Yet, while setting out these roots, several of my neighbors, as usual when I was doing anything, came to oversee me. On former occasions they had expressed considerable incredulity as to my operations; and it was easy to see from their remarks and inquiries now, that they thought I didn't know much, and would have nothing for my labor but my pains. I always listened good-humoredly to their remarks, because I discovered that now and then they let fall something which was of real value to me. When they discovered it was blackberries I was planting, some of them laughed outright. But I replied that this Lawton berry was a new variety, superior to anything known, and an incredible bearer. They answered me they could find better ones in any fence corner in the township, and that if I once got them into my ground I could never get them out. It struck me the last remark would also apply as justly to my peach-trees.

But I contented myself with saying that I should never want to get them out, and that the time would come when they would all want the same thing in their own ground. Thus it is that pioneers in any thing are generally ridiculed and discouraged by the general multitude. Of all my visitors, only two appeared to have any correct knowledge of the new plant. They offered to buy part of my stock; but on refusing to sell, they engaged to take some in the autumn.

I have been thus particular in writing of the Lawton, because of my singular success with it from the start. I thus occupied my seventh acre; but the rows being eight feet apart, abundant room was left to raise a crop of some kind between them. Even in the rows, between the roots, I planted corn, which grew well, and afforded a most beneficial shade to the young blackberries as they grew up. I am satisfied they flourished better for being thus protected the first season from the hot sun. When in full maturity, they need all the sun they can get. They will grow and flourish in almost any soil in which they once become well rooted, though they are rank feeders on manure. Like a young pig, feed them well and they will grow to an astonishing size: starve them, and your crops will be mere runts. It is from the same skinning practice that so many corn-cribs are seen to abound in nubbins.

I had thus two acres left unoccupied; one acre, as previously stated, was most fortunately in clover. On this I put four bushels of ground plaster mixed with a sprinkling of guano, the two costing me only five dollars. I afterwards devoted an acre to tomatoes, and the last to parsnips, cabbages, turnips, and sweet corn. This latter was scattered in rows or drills three feet apart, intending it for green fodder for the horse and cow when the clover gave out. The turnips were sowed between the corn-rows, and were intended for winter feeding for horse and cow. On the acre of blackberries, between the rows, I planted cabbage, putting into each hill a spoonful of mixed plaster and guano, and wherever I could find vacant spots about the place, there also a cabbage plant was set out. A few pumpkin hills were started in suitable places. In fact, my effort was to occupy every inch of ground with something. The cabbage and tomato plants cost me thirty dollars.

These several crops were put in as the season for each one came round. The green-corn crop was not all put in at one time, but at intervals about two weeks apart, so that I should have a succession of succulent food during the summer. The horse and cow were to be kept in the barnyard, as I had no faith in turning cattle out to pasture, thus requiring three times as much land as was necessary, besides losing half the manure. The latter was a sort of hobby with me. I was determined to give my crops all they could profitably appropriate, and so soil my little stock; that is, keep them in the barnyard in summer, and in the stable in winter, while their food was to be brought to them, instead of their being forced to go after it. I knew it would cost time and trouble; but I have long since discovered that most things of value in this world come to us only as the result of diligent, unremitted labor. The man, even upon ten acres, who is content to see around him only barren fields, scanty crops, and lean, starving animals, does not deserve the name of farmer. Unless he can devise ways and means for changing such a condition of things, and cease ridiculing all propositions of amendment that may be pointed out to him, he had better be up and off, and give place to a live man. Such skinning and exhausting tillage is one cause of the annual relative decline of the wheat-crop all over the Union, and of the frequent changes in the ownership of lands. The fragrance of a fat and ample manure heap is as grateful to the nostrils of a good farmer, as the fumes of the tavern are notoriously attractive to those of a poor one.


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