MARKET GARDENING IN THE VICINITY OF NEW YORK.BY PETER HENDERSON, SOUTH BERGEN, NEW JERSEY.
To supply a population of a million inhabitants daily, throughout the year, with fresh vegetables would, it might be supposed, require an immense tract of land. Such, however, is not the case. I doubt if there are more than 4,000 acres devoted to the raising of green vegetables, three-fourths of that extent being occupied with the bulkier articles of corn, peas, and beans. The finer crops of early vegetables—such as asparagus, beet, cabbage, cauliflower, cucumber, lettuce, onion, radish, rhubarb, tomato, and turnip—being confined to an extent of possibly not more than 1,000 acres. This area is occupied by the market gardeners in portions of from five to fifty acres, the average being about ten acres to each. I, will briefly detail our manner of cultivating the above as practiced in this vicinity, premising that, for the cultivation of all kinds of vegetables for profit, the soil should be of the best quality—loam of at least ten inches deep, with a porous subsoil.
Asparagus being a crop that will produce for twenty years without renewal, extra preparation is given to the bed in which it is planted. This is done by thoroughly pulverizing the soil, trenching it two feet deep, incorporating it throughout with at least six inches of well-rotted manure. When thus prepared, the beds are lined out six feet wide, four rows being planted in each bed, and in length to suit the convenience of the planter. The plants are set nine inches apart in the rows. We usually take a full crop the second year after planting. The market value of asparagus is much varied; ranging from $500 to $1,000 per acre. But when once planted, it is profitable even at the minimum rate, as there is no expense attending it, except giving it a top-dressing of manure each fall, which is dug in in the spring, and in keeping the crop clear of weeds.
The beet used for the first crop is the “bassano,” which is followed. by the “short-top round." These are sown about the first week in April, in rows eighteen inches apart, and are thinned out, as soon as they get about an inch high, to five or six inches apart, and thoroughly hoed with the prong hoe twice, or until the leaves cover the soil. This crop is marketable with this: treatment about the middle of June, and is sold clear off in two or three weeks at a price varying from $400 to $800 per acre. This, it will be understood, is a first crop, to be followed by celery or other vegetables as a second crop, as will be described hereafter.
Early cabbage or cauliflower ave our most profitable, and hence most important, of all crops. The seed for these (for their culture is the same in all respects) is sown in the open ground from the 15th to the 20th of September, and a month later the plants are planted out in “cold frames,” at a distance of about two to three inches apart. These frames are covered with sashes as the cold weather advances; not usually, however, before the middle of November. Care must be taken to expose them to the air on all occasions in mild days all throughout the winter. We plant them out where they are to head, usually from the middle to the end of March, in rows two feet apart, by sixteen inches between the plants. Between the rows of cabbage or cauliflower we: plant lettuce plants, which have been sown and wintered over in the same manner as the plants of cauliflower and cabbage. The lettuce is ready. for market by the middle of May, and is cut out and sold before the plants of cabbage or cauliflower have grown to injure it. Thus two crops grow on the same ground at the same time. The crop of cabbage and cauliflower is sold from the middle of June until the middle of July, never later. This, also, is succeeded by the second or fall crop. The value of this double crop is rarely less than $650: thus, 15,000 lettuce at $10 per 1,000 is $150, and 12,000 cabbage at $50 per 1,000 is $500 $650.
This may be taken as a low average, for, by extra manuring and cultivation, it is not at all unusual to double these amounts.
Cauliflower commands a much higher price than cabbage, usually $25 per one hundred, but the crop is by no means so certain, as we rarely make good crops two years in succession. The variety of cabbage used is the early Wakefield exclusively. It somewhat resembles the Winnigstadt, but is at least two weeks earlier. The varieties of cauliflower, are the dwarf Erfurt and Early Paris.
Onions are raised from “sets” or small bulbs that have been grown from seed sown thickly the previous year on very poor soil, so as to render them as small as possible. These are planted cut as early as the ground is fit to work in spring, in beds, rows nine inches apart, the sets two inches apart in the rows. Great care is required in this crop to have the ground hoed, just as soon as the onions start to grow, and to have the soil broken between the plants with the fingers, so as to destroy the embryo weeds before they start, as the crop may be stifled if the weeds get headway.
The amount sold per acre has always been with me greater than any other, although requiring more labor to produce it. It has never sold for less than $500 per acre, and on one occasion as high as $2,100. "The onions are sold in bunches (of eight or ten in each) in the green state. If dried they come in competition with those raised from the seed, and thus do not sell at anything like so high a rate. This, also, is a first crop, cleared off in July, and followed by celery, &c., as second crops.
Early radishes—the first of all vegetables from the open ground—are of very simple culture. The ground being thoroughly pulverized by ploughing and harrowing, the seed is sown regularly ‘ broadcast,” then lightly run over again with the harrow, which completes the labor until the crop is fit to gather, usually by the middle of May, or in six weeks after sowing. But although the labor of preparing the ground is very little, the preparation of the radishes for market is very expensive, all requiring to be tied in bunches, and cleanly washed before they can be sold. The prices in the New York market average about $10 per 1,000 bunches. An experienced tier averages only about that number per day; another hand is required to gather, and still another to wash. So it will be seen that the great labor in this crop leaves but a small margin of profit; the gross receipts not being more than $300 per acre. The radish crop is usually succeeded by carrots, parsnips, or long blood beets for winter use.
Rhubarb, like asparagus, being a perennial plant, requires special preparation of the soil to produce profitable crops. The variety we find most profitable is the Victoria, though by no means so high flavored as the Linnæus; but the quality of vegetables, as regards flavor, seems to be of only secondary importance in a large market like that of New York; size being everything in an article like rhubarb. It is increased by division of the roots, planted in rows four feet apart by two and a half or three feet between the plants, and is fit to be gathered the second year after planting. The preparation of the soil is similar to that used for asparagus beds, copious dressings of well-rotted manure should be dug in close around the roots in early spring. It is a clean, convenient, and safe crop, averaging a sale of $600 per acre.
The tomato is a vegetable requiring a peculiar goil and location to be produced
early. I have often seen a difference of two weeks in the ripening of this fruit
from the same sized plants, planted the same day, in situations only half a mile
apart, but on entirely different soils; those on the light sandy soil, selling, by
their earliness, at $4 per bushel; those on the stiff clayey soil, two weeks later,
a drug at one-fourth of that price. The tomato, in a country like ours, will only
be profitable in warm, southerly portions of the country, where there are rapid
facilities to get them to the northern markets.
Thus the crop raised in the vicinity of Baltimore will always be supplanted by that, at least ten days earlier, raised in the vicinity of Norfolk. The Baltimore crop again, in turn, supplanting that of New York. It would be difficult to determine the value of the tomato crop per acre, owing to its condition of earliness and productiveness being so varied. I have discontinued growing it for some years, being convinced that it was far from profitable in this section, although there is no doubt that, in warmer latitudes, within transporting distance (say sixty hours) of our large cities, it must be highly so.
Spinach—The only variety we use is the winter or prickly, sown from the 1st to the 15th of September, in rows one foot apart, hoed and kept clear of weeds until the growth ceases in the fall. It is best preserved during winter by a coating of two or three inches of straw or salt meadow hay. It begins to be sold often as early as March, and is usually cut off entirely in time to be followed by a summer crop of cabbage, onion; or beet. It usually sells for about $500 per acre, but it is only a moderately profitable crop,.as it entails great expense in the labor of picking and preparing for market.
Horseradish—The culture is very simple, and, so far, very profitable. The plants or sets used are the pieces broken off from the main root in its preparation for market. These are cut into lengths of about six inches long, and are
from one-quarter to half an incl in diameter. They are planted between the
rows of cabbage or cauliflower as soon as these crops are planted in the spring,
and about the same distance apart between the plants. The set or root is
planted perpendicularly three inches under the surface. There is no danger in
planting the sets thus deep, for horseradish is particularly tenacious of life, and
will start and push through the soil even if planted much deeper. "The motive
in planting it under the surface is to delay its starting, so as not to interfere
with the cabbage crop, which may close over it without any injury whatever to
the horseradish. It sometimes happens, however, either from planting too near
the surface, or by the sets being very strong, that the horseradish grows) so
strongly as to seriously interfere with the cabbage crop. In such eases it must
be cut off by the hoe, and this will not injure it in the slightest degree. We
have often had to hoe it off twice before the cabbage crop was ready. It will
be borne in mind that it is the root only of this crop that is wanted, and that
being grown mostly in the late summer and fall months, the removal of the
leaves in June, or July even, does not in any way affect the crop.
As soon as the cabbages have been cut off, the stumps are dug up and the ground deeply hoed so as to encourage the growth of the horseradish crop. This rarely requires to be done more than once, the rapid growth of the leaves smothering all weeds. It attains its full growth of root by the end of October, when it may be dug up; but being an entirely hardy plant, we usually defer lifting it until all our more tender vegetables are secured, so that the time of digging it up is usually in November and December. It is then placed in pits adjacent to the vegetable-house, so that it can be got at conveniently and trimmed during leisure time in winter. Its preparation for market is very simple, being merely trimming off the small roots, (which are kept for next season’s planting;) washing, by rinsing them around in a large tub; weighing—for it is all sold by weight—and packing in barrels. The average weight per acre is four tons, and for the past five years it has sold at $200 per ton, or $800 per acre. During March of last year it sold as high as $250 per ton. I have always considered it as the most safe and profitable crop of our gardens.
Celery.—As the cultivation of celery is but very indifferently understood, and
an immense amount of useless labor given to its cultivation in many parts of the
country, I will describe our practice of it at more length than other vegetables,
This system is suitable either for private use or for market garden culture.
The ground best suited for celery is a heavy loam, although it will grow freely on any soil, provided it is rich enough. It is a mistaken notion that it does best on wet soil. No doubt it requires abundance of moisture; but at the same time it is quite as impatient of a soil where water stagnates as any vegetable we grow.
The system we now adopt is much more simple than that in general use. We entirely dispense with the trenches, thereby saving a great deal of extra labor. The crop is planted on the flat surface, in the same manner as any other vegetable, in rows (for the dwarf varieties) three feet apart, by six inches between the plants. In planting, great care should be taken that the roots are properly formed. The safest plan, after planting, is to press by the side of each plant gently with the foot, so as to compact the earth around the root until the new rootlets are formed. his practice should be rigidly observed in planting of every description, as much disappointment is caused by the omission of this very simple precaution.
After planting, nothing more is required for six or seven weeks but hoeing between the rows to keep down the weeds. By the end of August the cool and moist atmosphere quickly induces a rapid growth, and when the plants attain the height of ten or twelve inches the earth may be drawn up against them, so as to cause an upright growth and keep the plants from spreading. To that wanted for fall use, a further addition of soil may be added. This time it had better be done by the spade, and raised to at least half the height of the plants, The final earthing-up may be delayed for a few days, so as to allow an increase of growth. In two or three weeks after the last earthing-up, it will be blanched sufficiently for use. This is the process required for what is to be used until the middle of December. That which is wanted for late winter use requires but little labor, as it should never be banked up. All that is required is simply to hoe the soil towards it, so as to induce an upright growth; then farther tighten the soil to it with the hands, and hoe up against it soil enough to keep the plant in its upright position, which is all that is necessary until it is dug up to be put away in the trenches, wherein it is to be kept during winter. This is performed in the following manner: Dig a trench or drain in a dry spot as narrow as the spade will allow, say ten or twelve inches wide, and of the depth of the length of the celery—that is, if the celery is two feet long, the trench must be two feet deep, so that the top leaves will be level with the surface of the ground. It will be understood that the celery is packed in this trench or drain perpendicularly, so as to fill it completely; no earth being put between the plants, nor even to the roots, as there is always moisture enough at the bottom of the trench to keep the plants from wilting. The time at which this operation is performed has a great deal to do with its success. In growing this crop on a large scale in our market gardens, we begin to put the first lot away in the trenches by the 25th of October, which is blanched fit for use by the middle of December. Our second lot is put away about the 10th of November, which is that used in January and "February. The last lot we delay putting away as long as it is safe to risk it— say the 20th of November. This lot almost invariably keeps in fine order until March. Attention to dates in this matter is of the utmost importance; as by putting it away too early the warm weather would cause it to blanch too quickly, while by delaying too long it might get caught by frost, which usually comes severe enough to hurt it by the end of November. By the middle of December the trenches containing the celery must begin to be covered up with straw or leaves, which must overlap the trench a foot at least on each side. The covering must be done at intervals as the season advances to severe weather, which is rarely before the first of January. By this time it should have a covering of eight or ten inches. Covered to this depth it will safely resist the severest frosts, and the roots can be taken out with little trouble during the winter.
For private use.—Where there is a plenty of cellar-room the celery may be
packed in narrow boxes, having a layer of soil at the bottom, exactly in the same
manner as is done in the trench. The only precaution necessary is, that the
boxes be narrow, so that too much of it may not be packed together to heat.
The dwarf varieties, red and white, should be grown to the exclusion of all others... They are much better flavored, more solid, take up only two-thirds of the space, cost only half as much in labor, and, above all, being of firmer texture, they keep much better during the winter. We have grown over ten acres of these varieties for the last six years, and have found it vastly to our interest to discard all others.
By-using the new dwarf variety, we grow, for fall use, 30,000 roots per acre— rows three feet apart—which have averaged, even in the New York markets, $3 per hundred roots, For winter use, 40,000 roots per acre are planted—rows two feet apart—which averages $2 per hundred roots. There is considerable labor in growing this crop, and, occasionally, loss from peculiarities of the season; and the immense quantity grown and thrown into our market (for it is not easily transportable) lowers the price, at some parts of the season, below the paying level. For the past few years, however, our market here has been relieved by shipments to Philadelphia, Baltimore, Boston, and other cities. There is no doubt that, in many parts of the Union, it can be grown by our method. at a handsome profit.
Sweet herbs.—The cultivation of thyme, sage, &c., for market purposes is but
little known in this country except in the vegetable gardens in the vicinity of
New York. There it is practiced to an extent of perhaps sixty or seventy acres,
a fair average product of which would be about $500 per acre. Like the crops
of celery, spinach, or horseradish, it is grown only as a second crop—that is, it
is planted in July after an early crop of peas, cabbages, beets, or onions has
been sold off, The varieties used are thyme, sage, summer savory, and sweet
marjoram, the former two being grown in the ratio of ten acres to one of the
latter. The seed is sown in April in rich mellow soil, carefully kept clean from
weeds until the plants are fit to plant out, which may be done any time that the
ground is ready, from the middle of June until the end of July. As the plants
are usually small and delicate, it is necessary that the ground be well fined down
by harrowing and raking before planting. The distance apart, for all the varieties, is about the same, namely, twelve inches between the rows, and eight or
ten inches between the plants. The lines are marked out by what is termed a
“marker,” which is simply a mammoth wooden rake with the teeth twelve
inches from centres; having six or eight teeth, this number of lines is marked at
once. This “marker” is used for many other purposes; in lining out the rows
for early cabbages, for instance, every alternate line is planted, thus leaving them
two feet apart, their proper distance.
In eight or ten days after the herb crop has been planted, the ground is “hoed” lightly over by a steel rake, which disturbs the surface sufficiently to destroy the crop of weeds that are just beginning to germinate; it is done in one- third of the time that it could be done with a hoe, and answers the purpose quite as well; as deep hoeing, at this early stage of planting, is perfectly useless. In ten or twelve days more the same operation is repeated with the steel rake, which usually effectually destroys all weeds, the seeds of which are near enough the surface of the ground to germinate. (We use the steel rake instead of a hoe on all our crops immediately after planting; for, as before said, deep hoeing on plants of any kind, when newly planted, is quite unnecessary; and by the steady. application of this rake weeds are easily kept down, and it is great economy of labor never to allow them to get established.)
The herb crop usually covers the ground completely by the middle of September. Then every alternate line is cut out, each plant making about two “bunches.” The object in cutting out the lines alternately is to give room for the remaining lines to grow. In this way, nearly twice as much is taken off the ground as if every line had been cut; and it frequently happens, on particularly rich soils, that at a second cutting every alternate line is again taken, when the remaining lines, now standing about four feet apart, will again meet. I had about an acre of thyme treated by this process, in the fall of 1864, that sold for over $2,000. - But this was an exceptional case; the crop was unusually heavy, and prices, at that time, were more than double the average. As before stated, the average yield is about $500 per acre. Herbs are always a safe crop for the market gardener. hey are less perishable than anything else grown; for, if there be any interruption to their sale in a green state, they can be dried, boxed, or barreled up, and sold in a dry state a year after if necessary. The usual price is from $10 to $15 per 1,000 bunches, and we have always preferred to dry rather than sell for less than $10 per 1,000—experience telling us that the market will always so regulate itself as to handsomely pay for holding back the sale. The cost of getting the crop raised and marketed will average about $150 per acre, the principal expense being in tying it in bunches. But with many of our industrious German gardeners it does not cost half that, as the tying is usually done by their wives and children in the evenings, and is a pleasant as well as profitable occupation
It may be supposed by some that these large receipts per acre, from market gardening, are exaggerations. I can simply say, they are not. The condition of the soil, however, in which our-vegetables are grown, is such as few farmers have any conception of. One leading condition of this high state of cultivation is (where required) thorough drainage; most of my land is drained with four- inch horseshoe tile, three feet deep, the drains being only eighteen feet apart.
We use, every spring, at least seventy-five tons of well rotted manure per acre, or alternate it with 1,200 pounds of best Peruvian guano, or 2,000 pounds of crushed bone. The manuring is done only in the spring for the first crop; sufficient remains in the soil to carry through the second crop of celery, &c., successfully.
It takes about three years to bring ordinary farm land into the high state of cultivation necessary for successful market gardening.