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Ten Acres Enough
Chapter XIV.—Two Acres in Truck—Revolution in Agriculture


I had one acre in tomatoes, a vegetable for whose production the soil of New Jersey is perhaps without a rival. The plants are started in hot-beds, where they flourish until all danger from frost disappears, when they are set out in the open air, with a generous shovel-full of well-rotted stable manure deposited under each plant. A moist day is preferred for this operation; but even without it this plant generally goes on growing. It has been observed that the oftener it is transplanted, the more quickly it matures; and as the great effort among growers is to be first in market, so some of them take pains to give it two transplantings. Having no hot-bed on my premises, and my time being fully occupied with other things, I was compelled to purchase plants from those who had them to spare, the cost of which is elsewhere stated. But the operation paid well.

The quantity produced by an acre of well-manured tomatoes is almost incredible. When in full bearing, the field seems to be perfectly red with them. Those which come first into market, even without being perfectly ripe, sell for sixpence apiece. So popular has this vegetable become, and so great is the profit realized by cultivating it, that for nearly twenty years it has been grown in large quantities by Jerseymen who emigrated to Virginia for the purpose of taking advantage of the earlier climate of that genial region. There they bought farms, improved them by using freely the unappropriated and unvalued stores of manure to be found in the vicinity, and produced whole cargoes of the choicest early vegetables required by the great consuming public of the northern cities. They shipped them hither two weeks ahead of all the Jersey truckers, and were rewarded by fabulous prices, from the receipts of which large fortunes resulted. This mutually advantageous traffic had become a very important one, when rebellion broke it up. Intercourse was stopped, cultivation was abandoned, and the Virginia truckers were ruined.

Although this competition seriously interfered with the profits of New Jersey farmers, yet it did not destroy them. The cultivation of early truck and fruit continued to pay, though not so well as formerly. When prices fell, the Southern growers could not afford the cost of delivery here, and thus left us in undisputed possession of the market. But as a general rule, the Virginia competitors invariably obtained the highest prices. A great portion of their several crops, however, perished on their hands; because, as they had no market here when prices fell, so the scanty population around them afforded none at home.

For the first few baskets of early tomatoes I sent to market, I obtained two dollars per basket of three pecks each. Other growers coming in competition with me, the price rapidly diminished as the supply increased, until it fell to twenty-five cents a bushel. At less than this the growers refused to pick them; and seasons have been repeatedly known when tens of thousands of bushels were left to perish on the vines. When this low price could be no longer obtained, they were gathered and thrown to the pigs, who consumed them freely. But as the season advanced the supply diminished, and the price again rose to a dollar a basket, the demand continuing as long as any could be procured. The tomatoes are at this season picked green from the vines, and placed under glass, where they are imperfectly ripened; but such is the public appreciation of this wholesome vegetable, that when thus only half reddened, they are eagerly sought after by hotels and boarding-houses.

But of latter years measures have been taken to prevent, to some extent, the enormous waste of tomatoes during the height of the season, by preserving them in cans. Establishments have been started, at which any quantity that may be offered is purchased at twenty-five cents a bushel; and now they can be kept through the whole year, and be preserved for winter consumption, the same as potatoes or turnips. By hermetically sealing them in cans from which the air has been expelled by heat, they are not only preserved, but made to retain their full flavor; and may be enjoyed, at a very moderate cost, in the winter as well as the summer. The demand for them is constant, large, and increasing, and putting up canned tomatoes has become an extensive business. One person, who commenced the business two years ago, is literally up to the eyes in tomatoes once a year. He provides for a single year's trade over fifty thousand cans, all of which are manufactured by himself; and he employs over thirty persons, most of them women. He engages tomatoes at twenty-five cents a bushel, a price at which the cultivator clears about a hundred dollars an acre, and they come in at the rate of a hundred and fifty bushels a day, requiring the constant labor of all hands into the night to dispose of them.

The building in which the business is carried on was constructed expressly for it. At one end of the room in which the canning is done is a range of brick-work supporting three large boilers; and adjoining is another large boiler, in which the scalding is done. The tomatoes are first thrown into this scalder, and after remaining there a sufficient time, are thrown upon a long table, on each side of which are ten or twelve young women, who rapidly divest them of their leathery hides. The peeled tomatoes are then thrown into the boilers, where they remain until they are raised to a boiling heat, when they are rapidly poured into the cans, and these are carried to the tinmen, who, with a dexterity truly marvellous, place the caps upon them, and solder them down, when they are piled up to cool, after which they are labelled, and are ready for market. The rapidity and the system with which all this is done is most remarkable, one of the tinmen soldering nearly a hundred cans in an hour.

The tomatoes thus preserved are readily salable in all the great cities, both for home consumption and for use at sea. Thus, few vegetables have gained so rapid and wide-spread a popularity as this. Until lately, but few persons would even taste them; and they were raised, when cultivated at all, more from curiosity than anything else. Now, scarcely a person can be found who is not fond of them, and they occupy a prominent place on almost every table.

My single acre of tomatoes produced me a clear profit of $120. I am aware that others have realized more than double this amount, but they were experienced hands at the business. My gains were quite as much as I had anticipated.

From all the remainder of the three acres but little money was produced. It gave me parsnips, turnips, and pumpkins. Between the rows of sweet corn a fine crop of cabbages was raised, of which my sales amounted to $82. Thus, an abundant supply of succulent food was provided for horse, cow, and pigs during the winter, all which saved the outlay of so much cash. I admit that a few of my vegetables did not yield equal to the grounds of some of my neighbors, thus disappointing some of my calculations. But I was inexperienced, had much to learn, and was not discouraged. On the other hand, I had gone far ahead of them in the growth of my standard fruits; and the evident hit I had made with the new blackberry had the effect of impressing them with considerable respect for my courage and sagacity.

This business of raising vegetables for the great city markets, "trucking," as it is popularly called, is now the great staple of New Jersey agriculture.

All the region of country stretching from Camden some forty miles towards New York, once enjoyed the reputation of being either all sand or all pine. It is traversed by the old highway between Philadelphia and New York, laid out by direction of royalty in colonial days, and protected at various points by barracks, in which troops were garrisoned. Some of the barracks remain to this day; though in chambers where high military revel once was held, devout congregations now worship. Along this royal highway passed all the early travel between the colonies; and after they had been severed from their parent stem, up to the advent of steamboats and railroads, it was the only thoroughfare between the two cities of New York and Philadelphia. Stages occupied five weary days between them, the horses exhausted by wading through a deep, laborious sand in summer, or the still deeper mud through which they floundered in winter. On miles of this road the sand was frightful. No local authorities worked it, no merciful builder of turnpikes ever thought of reclaiming it. It lay from generation to generation, as waste and wild as when the native pines were first cleared away. Access was so laborious, that few strangers visited the region through which it passed; and the land was held in large tracts, whereon but few settlers had made clearings. All judged the soil as worthless as the deep sand in the highway. Where some settler did clear up a farm, his labors presented no inviting spectacle to the passing traveller. If manure was known in those days, the farmer did not appear to value it, for he neither manufactured nor used it. Phosphates and fertilizers had not been dreamed of. If he spread any fertilizer over his fields, it was but a starveling ration; hence his com crop was a harvest of nubbins. "Wheat he never thought of raising; rye was the sole winter grain, and rye bread, rye mush, and rye pie-crust, held uncontested dominion, squalid condiments as they all are, in each equally squalid farm-house. Ragweed and pigweed took alternate possession of the fields; cultivation was at its last point of attenuation; none grew rich, while all became poor; and as autumn came on, even the ordinarily thoughtless grasshopper climbed feebly up to the abounding mullein top, and with tears in his eyes surveyed the melancholy desolation around him. Such is a true picture of the king's highway up to the building of the Camden and Amboy Railroad.

No wonder that the great public who traversed it through this part of New Jersey should think it, and speak of it everywhere, as being all sand, seeing that in their passage through it they beheld but little else. Hence, the reputation thus early established continues to the present day, and the tradition has been incorporated into the public vernacular. The sandy road alone was seen, while the green and fertile tracts that lay beyond and around it were unknown, because unseen. Like the traveller from Dan to Beersheba, the cry was that all was barren. But time, improvement, education, railroads, and the marvellous growth of Philadelphia, New York, and fifty intermediate towns, have changed all this as by enchantment. Every mile of the old highway is now a splendid gravel turnpike, intersected by a dozen similar roads, which stretch away up into the country.

As good roads invite settlement, so population, the great promoter of the value of land, has come in rapidly, and changed the aspect of every farm-house. Good fences line the roadside, rank hedgerows have disappeared, new farm-houses have been everywhere built, low lands have been drained, manures have been imported from the cities, wheat is now the staple winter-grain, rye has ceased to be cultivated, and rye bread is now a mere reminiscence of the old dispensation. But chief, perhaps, of all, the whole agricultural world of New Jersey has been educated by the agricultural press to a high standard of intelligence and enterprise. Its labors have led to the establishment of numerous extensive nurseries, by the pressure of a general demand for trees and smaller fruits, whose wilderness of blossoms now annually blush and brighten upon every farm. It has taught them to cultivate new vegetables and fruits for city consumption alone, salable for cash in each successive month; in doing which, they have changed from a poverty-stricken to a money-making generation. It has taught them, what none previously believed, that no good farming can be done without high manuring, and banished the ignorance and meanness that prevented them from spending money to secure it. It has introduced to their notice new and portable manures, improved tools, better breeds of stock of all kinds, and sharpened their perceptions, until they have now become men of business as well as farmers, and so proved its value to them, that he upon whose table no agricultural journal can be found, may be written down as the laggard of a progressive age.

But in addition to all these stimulants to progress the Camden and Amboy Railroad came in, giving it a vast momentum. Terminating at Philadelphia and New York, it opened up a cash market among thousands asking for daily bread. When this road was first opened, its annual way-freight yielded less than one hundred dollars a year. But its managers wisely built station-houses at every cross-road, as the farmers called for them. To these nuclei the produce of entire townships quickly gathered in astonishing quantities. Agents from the great cities traversed the country, and bought everything that was for sale. A cash market being brought to their very doors, where none had previously existed, an immense stimulus to production followed, and a new spirit was infused into the whole region. Hundreds of farms were renovated, cleared of foul weeds, drained, and liberally manured. New vegetables were cultivated. Tomatoes, peas, rhubarb, and early potatoes rose into prime staples. Green corn has been taken from a single county to the extent of two thousand tons daily. Other products go to market by thousands of baskets at a time. "Way-trains are run for the sole accommodation of this truck business, stopping every few miles to take in the waiting contributions collected at the stations. To both railroad and farmer it has proved a highly remunerating traffic. These way-freights, thus wisely cultivated by the railroad, now amount to many thousands annually, and are steadily growing larger. Meantime, steamboats on the Delaware stop several times daily at new wharves on the river, sometimes taking at one trip two thousand baskets of truck, from a point where, twelve years ago, the same number could not be gathered during an entire season. The grower thus has the choice of the two richest markets in the country. He reaches Philadelphia in one hour, and New York in three.

It must be manifest that crops of such magnitude cannot be produced on mere sand. Hence the traditional notion that New Jersey is a sand heap, desolate and barren at that, has long been proved to be a fallacy. Men do not grow rich upon a burning desert, such as this region has been described. Yet the farmers who occupy it are notoriously becoming so. They lend money annually on mortgage, after spending thousands in manure, while farms have advanced from $30 to $100 and $200 per acre. The last ten years have added thirty per cent, to the population. Schools, churches, and towns have proportionately increased in number.

The soil of this truck region contains a large proportion of sand with loam, on which manure acts with an energetic quickness that brings all early truck into the great markets in advance of the neigh­boring country. This secures high prices. Southern competition has only stimulated the growers to increased exertion. Though from this cause losing some of the high rewards of former years, yet the aggregate of profit does not seem to diminish. Better cultivation, higher manuring, changing one product for another, with more land brought into tillage, enable them to foot up as large an amount of sales at the end of the season as aforetime. They see that the world cannot be overfed, and that anything they can produce will command a ready market. Consumers increase annually, and the public appetite loses none of its rampant fierceness. Hence, competition stimulates instead of discouraging.

A vast area is planted with tomatoes. Though thousands of bushels perish every season, yet two hundred, and even four hundred dollars an acre is frequently the clear profit. Thirty years ago, three bunches of rhubarb were brought to the London market for sale, but as no one could be found to buy them, they were given away; yet London now consumes seven thousand tons annually. So, in New Jersey—the planter of the first half acre was pitied for his temerity. Now, there are hundreds of acres of rhubarb. The production of peas, pickles, cucumbers, melons, and cabbages is immense. Early corn is raised in vast quantities. All these various products command cash on delivery.

The soil of this region has long been famous for its growth of melons. Formerly they were raised by ship-loads, but Southern competition has checked their production. Yet New Jersey citrons possess a flavor so exquisite, that they cannot be driven from the market. Peaches have long since become almost obsolete, the yellows and the worm having been great discouragements. But within three years, hundreds of acres of them have been planted in New Jersey, and the nurseries find ready sale, in seasons of average prosperity, for all they can produce. Numerous orchards will annually come into bearing; and the chances are that this once famous staple will again be domesticated in its ancient stronghold. Among the smaller fruits, strawberries occupy an important place in New Jersey, whose soil seems peculiarly adapted to them. The yield per acre is enormous. One grower has gathered 400 bushels from three acres of the Albany seedling. He began his plantation with a single dozen plants, at $2.50 per dozen. New York and Philadelphia took them all at an average of eighteen cents a quart. This patch was a marvel to look at. The ground appeared fairly red with berries of great size, and were so abundant that pickers abandoned other fields at two cents a quart, and volunteered to pick this at one and a half. Other neighboring growers realized large returns. The two counties of Burlington and Monmouth are believed to yield more berries of all kinds than any district of equal area in the Union, and the cultivation is rapidly extending.

A year or two ago, somebody invented and patented a new box for taking them to market, lighter, neater, cheaper than the old one, and securing thorough ventilation to the fruit. A club of Connecticut men forthwith organized a company with a capital of $10,000 for manufacturing them; built a factory, started an engine, and now have forty hands at work. An agent of the company went through the State last fall, from Middletown to Camden, showing samples, and taking orders. He sold three hundred thousand boxes, many to those who had the old ones, but more to others just wanting them. As he travelled on foot, with samples in his hand, he inquired his way over the country, from farm to farm, and probably discovered every grower of an acre of berries. Of course he could not fail to visit and supply me. He gave me many curious items of information touching the extent of the berry business. There are parties in this country who have fifty acres of strawberries on a single farm, with a thousand dollars invested merely in the small boxes in which they are taken to market. He reports that the two counties of Burlington and Monmouth produce more berries than all the remainder of the State. Strawberries and raspberries are now the staples, to which the blackberry has recently been added. The great consuming stomach of the large cities, having long been fed on these delicious fruits, must continue to buy. Growers seem to know that after thirty years' propagation of the strawberry, this devouring stomach has never been surfeited,— that the more it is fed the more it consumes.


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