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Ten Acres Enough
Chapter XXII.—Profits of Fruit-growing—The Trade in Berries

It cannot be supposed that agriculture is always a successful pursuit. On the contrary, we know it many times to be the reverse. But when one looks carefully into that branch of it which embraces fruits, especially the smaller kinds, the evidences in its favor as a money-making business multiply as we proceed. The reader must have some knowledge of the prodigious profits realized a few years since by the peach-growers in Delaware, where 800 acres were cultivated in that fruit by a single individual. At one time he was compelled to charter several steamboats during the entire season, to convey his thousands of baskets to market. From only 70 acres the owner has realized a net profit of $12,000, in one season. The instance of my relative in Ohio, mentioned in an earlier chapter, affords another illustration of what a very small orchard can be made to yield. I have known single peach-trees in gardens, in seasons when the general crop was short, producing as much as $20 each. Those who buy single peaches at the street corners in our cities, one or two for a dime, can readily understand these figures. I could point out a garden belonging to a widow, containing twelve plum-trees, from which she regularly receives $60 every year, and sometimes even more. Grapes are never so abundant in market as to reduce the price below the point of profit.

The prices paid for pears are such as to seem absurdly high. But even when rebellion had most depressed the market, I knew a single tree to net $23 to the owner. Another grower, from three trees, annually receives $60. A citizen of New York is the owner of three pear-trees which have yielded eleven barrels, and produced $137. There is another tree in that State seventy years old, from which, in that period, $3,750 worth of pears have been sold— enough to pay for a farm. A young orchard of four hundred trees, some eight years after planting, at two years' crops yielded the owner $1,450. An acre of the best pear-trees, well managed, will produce more profit than a five-hundred-acre farm, without a twentieth of the care or capital.

But examples almost without number may be given, where apple-trees also have yielded from five to ten dollars a year in fruit, and many instances in which twenty or thirty dollars have been obtained. If one tree of the Rhode Island Greening will afford forty bushels of fruit, at a quarter of a dollar per bushel, which has often occurred, forty such trees on an acre would yield a crop worth four hundred dollars. But taking one quarter of this amount as a low average for all seasons, and with imperfect cultivation, one hundred dollars will still be equal to the interest on fifteen hundred per acre. Now, this estimate is based upon the price of good winter apples for the past thirty years, in one of our most productive districts; let a similar estimate be made with fruits rarer and of a more delicate character. Apricots and the finer varieties of the plum are often sold for three to six dollars a bushel, and the best early peaches from one to three dollars. An acquaintance received eight dollars for a crop grown on two fine young cherry-trees, and twenty-four dollars from four young peach-trees of only four years' growth from the bud. In Western New York, single trees of the Doyenne or Virgalieu pear have often afforded a return of twenty dollars or more, after being sent hundreds of miles to market.

These standard fruits, requiring several years to come into bearing, are too slow for the majority of cultivators, who, like myself, need something which only pay in a year or two. The whole berry family is pre-eminently adapted to meet this demand for immediate profit. Happily for the multitude engaged in its propagation, the business cannot be over­done. Could an exact calculation be made of the money expended in the city of New York merely for the small fruits, the amount would be so enormous as to be scarcely credible, and would go far to prove the immense wealth which actually exists, in spite of the fact that thousands are suffering all the stings of poverty. Take the strawberry as a faint index of the large sums of money that are annually laid out in the different varieties of fruit. One of the most ephemeral of all fruits, only lasting its brief month, the strawberry nevertheless plays no insignificant part in the middle of our early summer business. In fact, this little berry may be said to be the prime favorite of the season. Of a delicious flavor, with just sufficient of tartness to render it agreeable, it commends itself to the taste of young and old; while its cooling properties render it highly beneficial, in a hygienic point of view, during the early heats of the dog-days. Then its cheapness places it within the reach of the poorest. It is alike welcome to the schoolboy who has a few cents of pocket money to invest in such delicacies as schoolboys are wont to indulge in; to the laboring man, after the burden and heat of the day are over; and to the wealthy, who has at his command the means of enjoyment of the most expensive kind.

The first strawberries during the season generally appear at the Broadway saloons about the middle of May, and are sold at the very modest price of fifty cents per pint basket. A placard in the window announces that a plateful, with cream, may be had for a similar small consideration. These early strawberries are from Virginia; but as they are small, with immaturity stamped upon them, it is to be presumed that there is not a very great rush for fifty cents' worth, even by such as feel like boasting that they had eaten strawberries and cream ere the frosts of winter had well disappeared. Soon, however, New Jersey begins to give up her stores of the delicious fruit, and prices fall from fifty to fifteen, from fifteen to six, from six to five, and finally from five to three cents per pint.

Almost the entire early crop of the New York market is grown in New Jersey, and by far the largest quantity brought into the city by any one route reaches New York by the New York and Erie Railroad Company. The berries are conveyed in carts and wagons from the gardens where they are grown to the several railroad stations, whence they find their way to the respective ferries. Great quantities, however, are conveyed in wagons direct to the ferries. Hence it is next to impossible to obtain exact information of the actual quantities brought into the city, and consumed by the inhabitants. All that can be done is to convey an approximate idea of the immense extent of the trade, leaving the reader to imagine what must be the actual quantity, since that of which authentic information can be obtained is so enormous.

The berries are largely shipped from Burlington, Monmouth, and Middlesex counties in New Jersey. Large quantities are also grown in Bergen. The Bergen County Journal says, that from data furnished, it considers 10,000,000 baskets a low estimate of the quantity sent to market in one season from that county alone. This evidently is a mistake, for, after a very close inquiry into the matter, it does not appear that anything like that quantity has reached New York from all places where the berry is grown. Even supposing that other markets besides that of New York are indicated, the quantity named seems too large for credibility, as having been grown in a single county, however favorable the soil may be to the production of the fruit, and notwithstanding the utmost indefatigability of the growers; and the more so when the Journal adds, "That thousands, perhaps millions of baskets, have rotted on the vines."

The opening of the Northern Railroad of New Jersey to Piermont, is another circumstance which has given an impetus to the trade. The opening took place just at the commencement of the season of 1859,—not early enough for the growers to make their arrangements for a very large crop, but just in time to enable them to take full advantage of the means of transit over the line, of the then ripening crop. Accordingly, as far as can be ascertained, 400,000 baskets were brought over the new road. This looks well for a commencement, and holds out a good promise of an enormous trade in future seasons. The section of country through which the line runs, quietly undulating, is well watered, and admirably adapted to the growth of the strawberry; and as the settlements are within easy distances of the stations, the fruit can be sent into market fresh picked and sound, retaining its full, rich flavor.

The cultivation of the strawberry is very little attended to on Long Island. On inquiry at the railroad station there, it was found that so small is the quantity brought over by it, that it was not deemed worth while to charge freight for the few parcels carried by travellers. The quantity may be safely set down at 25,000 baskets. No business is done in this fruit over the Hudson or the Harlem and New Haven Railroads.

Besides the railroads, the steamboats bring to market large quantities of the fruit. It is impossible to obtain correct statistical information of the trade from this source. The quantity brought from Keyport, N. J., alone, by two vessels, has been estimated at 1,750,000 baskets.

The following is an epitome of the business done, as far as can be ascertained :—


Over the New York and Erie Railroad........3,253,407
" " Railroad of Northern New Jersey.. 400,000
" " Long Island Railroad.............. 25,000
" " Camden and Amboy Railroad..... 1,100,000
From Keyport, in vessels................... 1,750,000
" Hoboken and other places, in wagons.. 500,000
Total 7,028,407

Say seven millions of baskets, in round numbers. Of the three and a quarter millions brought over the New York and Erie Railroad, somewhat more than one-half are from Ramsey's and Allendale station, and the remainder from the stations on the Union Railroad and the Piermont Branch. Of those brought by the Camden and Amboy Railroad, the great bulk is from Burlington county.

It is difficult to form a correct estimate of the average price at which strawberries sell; but by carefully collating the statements of the principal wholesale dealers, and taking the mean of the several prices, throughout the season, 13 per hundred baskets, by wholesale, seems to be pretty near the mark. From the wholesale dealers the article sometimes changes hands twice, before reaching the consumer, who, taking the average, may be said to have paid 3˝ cents per basket, or $3.50 per hundred. Consequently, it will be seen that the retailer makes but a small profit, especially in cases where the strawberries reach him through the hands of the middleman, who of course manages to make his share of gain in the transfer. The wholesale dealers generally sell on commission, accounting to the growers for their sales, and reserving ten per cent. for their trouble. The largest quantity sold by any one dealer is about 300,000 baskets. The freight charge over the railroads is 12˝ cents per hundred baskets.

The following figures will show what a conspicuous part this apparently insignificant berry plays in our social economics:

700,000 baskets, at $3.75 per hundred............$210,000
Profit to the retailers, at 75 cents per hundred.....45,000
Commission to wholesale dealers, at 10 per cent....21,000
Freight, at 12˝ cents per hundred, all round...... 8,750

This is only as far as can be ascertained, but there is reason to believe that thousands of baskets of strawberries find their way into the New York markets, of which no account can be obtained, thus tending to swell the enormous expenditure on this almost the smallest of summer fruits.

It is equally difficult to ascertain the quantity of this fruit which pours into Philadelphia also, during the season, but it is probably two-thirds as great as that which goes to New York. There are numerous growers near the former city, who dispatch to it from twenty to sixty bushels each, daily.

An experienced writer on this subject estimates the consumption of strawberries in the four great cities as follows—

New York........................... 54,000 bushels,
Philadelphia.........................14,000 "
Boston............................... 11,000 "
Cincinnati........................... 14,000 "

This estimate of the consumption of Philadelphia is a very erroneous one, as the consumption must fully equal that of New York. In 1860, no less than 173,500 quarts of strawberries passed through the gates of only one of the numerous gravel turnpikes in New Jersey, on their way to Philadelphia. This is equal to 5,442 bushels, more than one-third of the quantity estimated as above.

He says that 8,000,000 baskets (five to the quart) have been received in New York in a season. He adds, that the crop around these four cities does not exceed 25 to 50 bushels per acre, although instances are reported where 100, and even 130 to 140 bushels have been produced on an acre, or in that proportion. The returns, therefore, vary from $100 to $800 per acre, and the prices range from $1.50 down to 12˝ cents a quart. The former price is readily obtained in Washington at the opening of the season.

He thence argues that in order to supply New York and vicinity with strawberries, about 1,500 acres, of the choicest land is required, and 500 for the other cities named. This he alleges to be at least four times as much land as is either appropriate or necessary for the object, if the nature and cultivation of the strawberry were only as well understood as the raising of corn. He contends that a crop of thirty bushels of strawberries to the acre, is only about proportionate to a corn crop of ten bushels on the same ground. He says that a strawberry plantation is seldom seen without having, after the first year, many more plants upon the ground than can obtain air or light sufficient to fruit well. The consequence is, that all our city markets are mainly supplied with inferior fruit, simply because some of the commonest kinds continue to produce a little stunted, sour fruit, even under the worst treatment. Superior, well-grown fruit will easily produce twice and four times as much to the acre, and will command prices from two to four times larger in the city markets: making the avails and the difference from the same land to be 25 bushels at 12˝ cents a quart, or at least 125 bushels at 25 cents a quart, or $1,000 or 1100 an acre. He lays it down that an acre ought to be made to yield 125 bushels, and that no grower should be satisfied with less.

That this yield and these profits can be realized, there are numerous evidences. Small plots of ground, thoroughly cultivated, have yielded even a double ratio. One grower in Connecticut realized $215 from strawberries raised on twenty-five rods of ground, or at the rate of $1,300 per acre. A citizen of Maine has raised them, on a small lot, at the rate of 300 bushels an acre. Another in New Jersey cleared $1,100 from three acres, and one of the agricultural societies in that State awarded the strawberry premium to a gentleman whose ground produced them at the rate of $1,222 an acre, clear profit. I have seen a crop ripening on three acres for which the owner was offered $800 as it stood, the buyer to pick and take it away at his own expense. The offer was declined, and the owner realized $1,300 clear. Mr. Fuller, of Brooklyn, has grown at the rate of 600 bushels per acre, on a small plot of the Bartlett; and by the same mode of treatment, 400 of the Triomphe de Gand.

All these returns are unquestionably the effects of high culture. Those who fail to practise it, also fail to realize such returns. The slovenly cultivator complains that his strawberries run out. But this is because he permits the weeds and grass to run in and occupy the ground. The plant has no inherent tendency to degenerate. For the last few years, immense demand has existed for Wilson's Albany Seedling. Those at all conversant with the subject, know that plenty of room is requisite to get the greatest quantity of runners from a given number of plants—the sale being perfectly sure, all dealers give this room; the consequence is, while the plants are worth say $10 per 1000, all are fine large plants, and give a fair crop, even the first year after planting. Such plants tell their own story, and the demand continues. In a short time, prices come down; and the supply increasing beyond the demand, the dealer no longer thinks it worth while to give this room expressly for the growth of plants: the beds take care of themselves, hence bear but little, and the plants furnished are always weak and spindling. These require the second year to fruit; perhaps, in the interim, new kinds are pressed into notice, and from the old beds it becomes more and more difficult to obtain strong plants, until the cry is raised that the once celebrated strawberry has run its race. Now, the question is, whether the same kinds under the same circumstances, that is, strong runners from the strong old plants, in good soil and plenty of room, will not continue to be productive.

As this is not designed to be a treatise on the art of raising strawberries, so I shall not enlarge upon the subject. Every grower seems to have a method of his own, which he prefers over all others. There are works upon the subject, containing numerous facts with which every careful beginner should make himself familiar. But even in these are to be discovered the most extraordinary collisions of opinion—one, for instance, recommending generous manuring, another insisting that poor ground only should be used, while a third declares that frequent stirring of the soil will of itself insure abundant crops. Amid all these antagonisms one great fact stands prominently forth, that the strawberry plant will continue to live and produce fruit under every possible variety of treatment; while another is equally conspicuous, that the better the treatment the better the return. It would be presumptuous in a novice like me to undertake to reconcile these unaccountable discrepancies of the great strawberry doctors of the country. But I have learned enough to be satisfied that soil has much to do in the successful cultivation of this fruit. A variety which flourishes in one soil will be almost barren in another. Hence, in the hands of one grower it proves a great prize, but in those of another it is comparatively worthless. Without doubt it is to this cause that much of the diversity of opinion as to certain varieties, as well as to the mode of culture, is to be attributed.

Neither will I undertake to decide what sorts, among the cloud of new aspirants for public patronage which are annually coming into notice, are to be adopted as the best. One is in danger of being confused by going largely into the cultivation of a multitude of varieties. Having secured a supply of a few which he has proved to be congenial with his particular soil, he should adhere to them. Small trials of the new varieties may be safely made, but wholesale substitutions are many times disastrous undertakings. Having found out such as suit my soil, I am content to keep them. The Albany seedling grows upon it with unsurpassed luxuriance, and I shall probably never abandon it. Meantime I have tried the Bartlett, and found it a rampant and hardy grower, bearing the most abundant crops of luscious fruit. So I find McAvoy's Superior to be a beautiful berry, and a vigorous runner. In my soil the Triomphe de Gand does not realize the extravagant promise of fruitfulness which heralded its introduction to public notice. My neighbors also complain of it in the same way. But for my own family consumption, I prefer it to any strawberry I have ever eaten. The flavor is rich and luscious beyond description, while the crisp seeds crackle between your impatient grinders with reverberations loud enough to penetrate the utmost depths of a hungry stomach. So long as my vines continue to produce only one-fourth as much as others, I shall continue to grow this unsurpassable variety. It sends off runners in amazing abundance. When grown in stools, with the runners clipped off weekly, it bears profusely of enormous fruit; and this method, I am inclined to believe, is the true corrective of all unfriendly elements in the soil. In addition to these, I have, in common with "all the world and the rest of man­kind," the Tribune strawberries, now growing finely in pots, and carefully housed for crop next summer. Having seen them in fruit, and having also entire confidence that the association by whom they are distributed would no more spread abroad a worthless article than they would circulate a vicious sheet, so I regard the propagation of these three plants as the beginning of a new era in the history of strawberry culture.

I have very little doubt that there are specific manures for the strawberry, and one of them will probably be found in Baugh's Rawbone Superphosphate of Lime. This article is manufactured in Philadelphia, and is made of raw, unburnt bones, which in their raw state contain one-third of animal matter, and combines ammonia and phosphoric acid in the proper proportions for stimulating and nourishing vegetable growth. I have used it as freely as I could afford to, on turnips, celery, and strawberries. On the two former its effects was very decidedly favorable. My celery uniformly exceeds that of my neighbors, both in size, crispness, and flavor, and consequently commands a higher price. But its effect on strawberries has been perfectly marvellous. On some of them the superphosphate was scattered on both sides of the row, whence, by repeated hoeing and raking, with the aid of sundry rains, its finer particles found their way to the roots. The result has been a robust growth of the plants, such as cannot be seen on any other part of my ground. They hold up their heads, their leaves and fruit-stalks some inches higher than any others, while their whole appearance indicates that they have been fed with a more congenial fertilizer than usual. Many of them have put forth double crowns, showing that they are prepared to furnish twice the ordinary quantity of fruit. So impressed am I with the superior value of this fertilizer, that I have, this autumn of 1863, manured as many rows as I could, and shall hereafter substitute it wholly for all barnyard manure. It is applied with the utmost facility, it contains the seeds of no pestiferous weeds, and its virtues are so highly concentrated that a small amount manures a large surface. It is quite possible that it may not do so well on some soils as others, but no farmer can be sure of this until he has made the trial. Hence, as that can be made with a single bag, the sooner it is undertaken the better it will be for those to whose soil it may be found congenial.

Thousands of dollars' worth of the common wild blackberry are annually taken to the cities and sold. For these berries the price has, within a few years, actually risen one-half. The traffic in them on some railroads is immense, especially on those leading into Philadelphia from Delaware. Millions of quarts are annually sold in New York and Cincinnati. A single township in New Jersey sells to the amount of $2,000 and one county in Indiana to that of $10,000. The huckleberry trade of New Jersey is also very large. A single buyer in Monmouth county purchases sixty bushels daily during the picking season. All these wild berries are gathered by women and children who, without these crops, would find no other employment. But they grow in every wood and swamp, in every neglected headland, while upon the old fields they enter into full possession. As they cost nothing but the labor of gathering them, so they are the bountiful means of drawing thousands of dollars into the pockets of the industrious poor. The cranberry swamps of New Jersey are as celebrated for the abundance of their products as their owners have been for permitting them to become the prey of all who choose to strip them of their fruit.

Thus the demand for even the wild berries continues to enlarge. Hence there must be sure sale for those of a superior quality. In fact, the cultivation of fruit is yet in a state of infancy; it is just beginning to assume the character its merits deserve. Probably more trees have been raised, more orchards planted, within the past ten or twelve years than in all previous time. Within a few years past it has received an unusual degree of attention. Plantations of all sorts, orchards, gardens, and nurseries, have increased in number and extent to a degree quite unprecedented; not in one section or locality, but from the extreme north to the southern limits of the fruit-growing region. Horticultural societies have been organized in all parts; while exhibitions, and National, State, and local Conventions of fruit­growers have been held to discuss the merits of fruits, and other kindred topics, until it has become the desire of almost every man, whether he live in town or country, to enjoy fine fruits, to provide them for his family, and, if possible, to cultivate the trees in his own garden with his own hands.

There are now single nurseries in this country where a million fruit-trees are advertised for sale. If every hundred-acre farm were to receive fifty trees, all the nurseries would be swept bare in a single year. The States east of, and contiguous to, the Mississippi river, would require ten thousand acres of land for three hundred years, to plant ten acres of fruit-trees on every hundred-acre farm in this portion of the Union: and this estimate is based on the supposition that all the trees planted do well, and flourish. If only a fifth of them perish, then two thousand years would be required, at the present rate of supply, to furnish the above-named quantity of orchard for every farm. Some nurseries already cover 300 to 500 acres, but even these go but a short way in supplying the immense demand for fruit-trees. How absurd, then, in the face of such an array of facts as this, the idea that our markets are to be surfeited with fruit! Thousands of acres of peach-trees, bending under their heavy crops, are still needed for the consumption of but one city; and broad fifty-acre fields reddened with enormous products, may yet send with profit hundreds of bushels of strawberries daily into the other. If, instead of keeping three days, sorts were now added that would keep three months, many times the amount would be needed. But the market would not be confined to large cities. Railroads and steamboats would open new channels of distribution throughout the country for increased supplies. Nor would the business stop here. Large portions of the Eastern Continent would gladly become purchasers as soon as sufficient quantities should create facilities for a reasonable supply. Our best apples are eagerly bought in London and Liverpool, where $9 per barrel is not an unusual price for the best Newtown pippins. And, by being packed in ice, pears gathered early in autumn have been safely sent to Jamaica, and strawberries to Barbadoes. The Baldwin apple has been furnished in good condition in the East Indies two months after it is entirely gone in Boston. The world has never yet been surfeited with fruit.

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