Ann. Meeting N. Y. State Agric. Soc. 813-824 (1898)
Selection, in Its Relation to Horticulture
C. L. Allen,
Floral Park, N. Y.
Read before the Eastern New York Horticultural Society
Selection as a principle, in its application to horticulture is an important one, although but little understood or appreciated. It is, too, a word with many meanings; from simply a choice between two or more objects to its widest signification—natural selections as an agent in the origin and development of the species. While we do not wish to speak from the scientist's standpoint there are some facts, usually termed scientific, that must be stated in order that you may more clearly understand how selection can be practically applied to your industries with a view of making them more profitable. We shall therefore speak of selection as an effect—not as a cause.
Every living form, animate or inanimate, capable of reproduction, develops both according to its environments and parentage. In other words, growth or development is proportionate to the conditions necessary for such growth or development, being favorable or unfavorable. In creation the fauna and flora of every clime are adapted to each other's necessities; each feeds on the wastes of the other, and each in its native clime can reach the highest possibilities of its being. This is harmony in creation. We find that in every latitude there is a vegetable growth suited to existing conditions of temperature, and at high elevations in the tropics, the same genera of plants that we do in the North under the same climatic conditions. This order of creation cannot be changed, the plant created for a given latitude will not remain the tame if removed to another. If a native of the tropics, it can never be made to endure the rigors of a northern winter; it was not provided with cells that will resist frost, and man cannot change the order of its being. On the other hand the tree born to resist the icy temperature of the north soon becomes enervated and dies, when removed to the tropics.
Again if we take a plant from a temperate clime to the tropics, where all the conditions of growth, other than heat, are favorable, it will grow vigorously, but its nature will be materially changed, it will become just what its environments make it. In other words, the active principle in the plant will be what it takes from the air and earth, the two sources from which it obtains its food.
As an illustration we will take the common hemp, the Cannabis sativa. When grown in our temperate climate the juice of its roots is a mild tonic, but when grown in India, one drop of the same juice will cause hysteria. The cinchona, which thrives in the malarial districts of Peru, furnishes a striking example of the same principle. This tree yields the well-known drug commonly known as cinchona or Peruvian bark, the active principle of which is an alkaloid substance called quina, a powerful tonic, and specific for malarial fevers.
This tree was introduced for commercial purposes into southern California, where soil and climate were supposed favorable for its production; it grew there more vigorously than in its native habitat, but its bark did not contain a particle of quina, for which it was grown, and its cultivation had to be abandoned. But the East India Company introduced it into the fever districts of India and there it yields quina more plentifully than in Peru.
I merely give these illustrations to show the folly of growing vegetables, fruits or flowers in uncongenial places.
How Nature Works.
Nature is exceedingly kind to man; she will do far more for him than he is willing to do for himself, but she will not tolerate any interference with her plans, and in the place she designed for the apple the banana will not grow, and rice must not occupy the field prepared for wheat. At the same time nature always extends a helping hand, and while she cannot change the nature of the plant so that the tender will become a hardy one, she has made the conditions of growth such that the plant will reproduce itself in a much shorter period of time in one locality than in another. In Sweden there is less than three months of spring, summer and autumn, yet her farmers cut their two crops of hay in the season, and her cereals and vegetables perfect their growth the same as here. A number of years ago I brought from Stanstead, in the Province of Quebec, a few ears of corn which ripened there, in a climate where there was not a month in a year without frost. This corn did not grow more than four feet high, yet each stalk produced two small but perfect ears of sound yellow corn, in the six weeks it had to perfect its growth. This corn was planted on the east shore of Cayuga Lake, and astonished the grower by reproducing itself by the 1st of August. He thought his fortune made, and he planted all the product the next year for seed purposes. But his early corn was no longer early; finding it had four months, instead of six weeks to do its work, it took all the time, and the farmer had a fine crop of yellow eight-rowed corn, the same as is now generally grown in the northern part of the State.
Nature is ever on the lookout for preservation and distribution of the species. She guards tenderly every germ. When any species is taken from a southerly to a northerly clime she carefully wraps every bud with a double covering, and hides beneath the bark a duplicate set of latent buds that will develop leaves and blossoms in good time for the preservation of the species in case of accident to the first and prominent buds.
As an illustration of this principle, let us take the cabbage, which is indigenous to Europe and western Asia, and is now found in its native or wild state on the coasts of England and France, where it never produces a solid head. But it has been made to do so by cultivation under altered climatic conditions to which we are indebted for nearly all the changes and developments in plants, and their increased value and usefulness.
As I have before stated, nature ever protects the species with a view to reproduction. Where the cabbage is indigenous the climate is mild, and the germ that is to develop the flower stem needs but little protection; in fact none other than is given the buds of our decidious trees. None of the Brassica family requires a season of rest, and will under favorable conditions reproduce themselves without any check in growth from the time of sowing the seed until its product is harvested; now when we take the species to a colder climate where the season is not sufficiently long for the plant to perfect its growth, and where the cold is so intense that the seed bud would be destroyed, without some protection, nature comes to the rescue. What we have gained by what is termed cultivation, has simply been nature's method of self-preservation, to protect the germ against a degree of cold it could not withstand, an additional number of leaves has developed, these, for the most part, become imbricated, or overlap each other closely so as to form a more or less compact head, the heart or interior of which is the bud that will develop in due time, the stem and the softer leaves are next to it if for more complete protection. The colder the climate and the longer the season of rest, the more delicate will be the inner leaves, and the greater will be their number. But take seeds grown under these conditions to a warmer climate and grow seeds from them, their product would be a loose, coarse, open head. The type reverts to the species.
have very much to do with changing the form and character of all vegetable productions more than is generally supposed. While the character of the soil is of the greatest importance, the two must be duly considered in all horticultural operations. It is a well known fact that in no one locality will all vegetable forms thrive with equal vigor, and that many vegetables we wish to grow, we can only grow imperfectly, if at all. This does not apply to classes only, but to varieties as well, and this is most remarkably strange, something entirely beyond our comprehension. In our locality we have noticed a given variety of tomato to thrive vigorously, where another would not, while, in close proximity, say within ten miles, the one would not thrive at all, while the other would luxuriantly.
The American Wonder pea does remarkably well on our light turfy loam, while on a heavy clay or shale soil, it cannot be induced to grow a satisfactory crop. Whether climatic influence! affect it, either one way or another, I have no means of knowing, having only studied soil conditions in their relation to the crop.
There are certain conditions, whether of soil or climate, I cannot say, near Montreal, where the cantaloupe reaches the highest possible state of perfection. For size and quality, I have never seen anything to compare with them. Last year they sold readily at $2 each at some of the first-class fruit stores in New York. These melons find ready sale because of a reputation rightly established. Take the seed from these melons and grow them in localities where good melons are produced without any difficulty, and they will not reproduce the Montreal melon, no matter how great the care may be given. Why? The answer is an easy one. The elements that enter into the quality of the Montreal melon, whatever they may be, are not to be found elsewhere, and the melons cannot be grown without them.
What is true with the classes named is equally true with all others. The law of adaptation is a rigid one, and applies to all classes and varieties, and to all localities and conditions. There is not a soil so poor, in the temperate zone, but what can be made to produce something, and there is not a soil, however rich it may be that will yield a crop of every species; in fast, in the most favored horticultural districts there are but few, relatively, classes of vegetation that will thrive with equal vigor.
What is the Lesson?
Admitting the fact that in no one locality will all vegetable forms thrive equally well, and that many varieties we might wish to grow, will not grow—or, at least make a satisfactory growth, the lesson to be learned is first to choose such fruits and vegetables, as, with good cultivation, show a tendency to improve rather than to deteriorate. This is simply a choice of productions, or the growing of such varieties as your market demands, and is in the line of your industry. If truckers, the choice is between varieties or classes that will thrive best on your farms. These may differ materially on farms adjacent. Experiment alone will determine what you can grow to advantage, which settles the question as to what you should grow. The grower of fruits, large and small, must form his conclusions in the same manner.
The question of choice being settled, then comes in the important work of selection in its relation to the improvement of the subjects of your choice, and this is the work that is to make your industry both pleasant and profitable. Pleasure and profit clasp hands in every industry. Every business that is profitable is pleasant, and there is no pleasure in working at a loss; and nowhere does this principle have more binding force than on the farm.
Selection is the parent of all improvements in vegetable productions. I do not think there has ever been a systematic effort of selection made that has not shown improvement in its line of work. The failures come from the efforts made to improve varieties under conditions in which it is difficult to make them grow at all. Selection to be of value must be made where improvement is possible, and it does not follow that when a. given variety has been greatly improved in one locality, the improvement will hold good in another, under changed climatic conditions, and a different character of soil.
For the best results every farm should be an experimental station and every farmer its director. His efforts should be to improve the best he has for his own use, and should his efforts be crowned with success he will not only improve the variety, but improve his own condition by the enhanced value of his products, and this work is more profitable than at first may be supposed. The horticulturist underestimates his own strength and undervalues his own worth and works. He looks to the seedman for improved varieties of vegetables and buys every "novelty" offered, while the seedman is looking to him for the very things he is looking after. The seedman goes to A for a novelty to sell to B. The seedman has no opportunity to improve varieties, he can not do it in his store, and no better in the narrow limits of a trial ground.
Selection must be made in large fields of growing crops, where changes are constantly going on. Change is the soul of nature, the active principle of the plant's adaptation to its environments. Most frequently these changes are away from desired types; in other instances they are in the direct line of improvement, either as regards earliness or lateness as may be desirable, or for size, form, color or productiveness. These changes should be noted by the farmer or gardener, and-when a new type of value appears, it should be carefully put away for seed purposes, and its product as carefully put away for farther trial. This is the way new varieties are obtained, and it is the horticulturist to whom we are indebted for the discovery; his keen, watchful eye notes every step in the scale of evolution, in the order of which all improvement in vegetable forms have their origin.
It seems to be the desire of mankind to account for things and to feel as though the individual was an important factor in the development of the various classes of fruits, vegetables and flowers. It is true man is quite an institution, a valuable assist ant to nature in preparing the soil and assisting the plant in a variety of ways in the process of development, but he is not a creator by any means. We are very apt to credit him with being the originator of varieties, through the agency of hybridization or cross-fertilization, terms that carry with them an air of secrecy and importance. Much credit is due man for his noble efforts in that direction; but infinitely more credit is due to his powers of observation, which enable him to know a good thing when he sees it.
Far be it from me to detract from or undervalue man's efforts for the improvements in vegetable forms. He has done much good work; much more can be done, but I am free to state my belief that it is the eye, rather than the hand and head of the horticulturist, that one must look for improvement in vegetables. It is in the selection of the best for seed-purposes, of any given class, when grown under the most favorable conditions, that gives us new and improved varieties. For more than sixty years the garden, field and wood have been our study, and for the past thirty years I have been a diligent student of vegetable physiology and plant variation. I have endeavored to study up the origin of cultivated vegetables, and I have not been able to trace a single instance where a vegetable has been improved by man's special efforts in the line of artificial fertilization. On the contrary, every improvement of which we have any knowledge, has been given us through the agency of intelligent observation.
The most successful cultivator, and the introducer of more named varieties of tomatoes than any man in our country, said: "My success has been due, first, to favorable conditions of soil and climate, which enable us to grow the tomato as well as it possibly can be grown, but mainly to watchful care given in cultivation. As to the many new varieties we have introduced, they have all come without an effort on our part, other than by carefully going over our fields and selecting such as show signs of improvement, and we find new types constantly developing."
All our improved varieties of cabbages have come from careful selections in different localities; we have our best early types from light soils, which are favorable for early growths, and our large, late varieties from heavy soils, which encourage continuous growth, consequently a larger head and one better adapted for wintering over. To the farmers we are indebted for all the varieties which the seedmen call novelties, and for which the grower gets but slight consideration for his labor, other than the satisfaction that evolves from well doing.
When the Early Ohio potato was first introduced on Long Island, Messrs. Geo. W. Hallock & Son gave it a fair trial and were so favorably impressed with its good qualities they immediately began systematic selection for seed purposes. They selected medium-sized, well-ripened tubers of a desired shape, with the following result: Fully a week's gain in earliness; a great increase in productiveness, with a marked increase in the quantity of vines. They commenced shipping about the first of July, from June 25th to July 5th, owing to the season. The potatoes are dug when the vines are in full blossom, and their average yield is 300 bushels per acre, while the planting for seed purposes, which is left to mature fully, gives them a yield of 450 bushels per acre.
This shows clearly the importance of selection, not more as a principle, than for its local application. They have not been able to improve other varieties, as they have the Early Ohio, and that because other varieties have not found in their soil and situation so congenial a home.
What is true with this variety in that locality is true with all other varieties in all other places. Hence the importance of selection—first as a choice, then in the line of development for a given locality.
Four years ago my foreman, at my earnest request, began the selection of field corn for seed purposes; he grew the white dent, red cob variety. Before harvesting the main crop he went over the field and selected the lowest growing, stocky stalks, with two perfect ears each. He has followed the same plan ever since, with an increase of fully 25 per cent, in productiveness.
I might name many other instances in the same line, but am willing to submit my case to this jury without farther witnesses.
IS A CHANGE OF SEED NECESSARY?
is the next question for consideration; and it is one frequently asked. I answer, "all depends on circumstances."
There is a prevailing idea that a change or renewal of seed is an agricultural necessity; that stocks will deteriorate if constantly grown in the same locality. This opinion is shared alike by practical and theoretical agriculturists. Change of seed is a very common practice with market gardeners for some vegetables, and for others it is wholly ignored. The place to procure seeds is where they are grown to the greatest perfection. It does not matter whether that be on your own grounds, your neighbor's or from some distant point.
To secure an early crop it is best to get seed grown at the farthermost point north possible. All plants adapt themselves to their environments, as I have before stated. If compelled to perfect their growth quickly, to escape frost, they will do it; but the moment a growing crop finds it has an extended period for growth and development, it will transmit that knowledge to its offspring, and they in turn will take all the time allowed them for their work. For this reason it may be best not to save your own seeds, but to procure them from colder sections.
The advantage to be derived from a change of seed rises mainly from the fact that in certain localities the principle of selection is better understood than in others, and is more generally practiced in the saving of stocks for seed purposes. In all countries there are certain districts, and some particular farms, which are famous for the production of a specialty, whether it be of seeds, grains, fruits or potatoes, and where the whole agricultural industry is of a specific kind, and that for seed purposes. In such localities we generally find that the advantages they enjoy can be attributed not less to natural causes than to the greater care and attention paid to the crop. And the farmers think they owe the reputation that their productions have obtained as much to the latter as to the former circumstances. We also find in these localities a greater degree of intelligence among the farmers; they are thinkers as well as workers, and their thoughts are wisely applied to their industry. The best possible plant food is brains, when properly applied.
The pioneer of any industry is a man with strong traits of character. He does his work well. He is successful as all men are that deserve to be. His neighbors follow his example. In this way the seed-growing industry has been developed, and in Do other way can it become successful. It is from such localities that all seeds should be procured. There is no necessity for a change. But in this connection let me say that a change of locality where the seeds are sown, for the production of a crop, or, in other words, the rotation of crops, is an agricultural necessity. This comes from" the fact that one plant takes from the soil certain active principles; at the same time returns to the soil others of an entirely different character.
If what I have thus far said is true, and I believe every point is, the duty of the horticulturist is to open wide his eyes from the first opening of the seed-leaf to the perfected plant, and, should there be any variation, carefully note it, and reap the benefits that justly belong to the originator of new varieties. There is such a condition in vegetables and fruits as perfection. It may be hard work to reach it, and it can only be where and when nature has extended a helping hand. Natural conditions must be studied, and where they are not favorable for the development of a variety it will be a waste of time to make the attempt. Let it be plainly understood, this does not apply to the ordinary growing of crops, but simply to the improvement or development of vegetable forms.
Why Types Run Out.
The question is often asked, why do types run out? and it is pertinent to this time and place. We notice in the annual shower of seedmen's catalogues a given number of new varieties—novelties—many of them novel in name only; but each claims to have qualities not already possessed by others—it may be because of earliness or lateness, as may be desired; it may be a question of size or quality; it all matters not. But the question often rises has there been any marked improvement in our garden vegetables, cereals or fruits, within the past fifty years? Either yes or no would be a correct answer to this query, although it might seem paradoxical.
Let me state the case plainly. An improved variety is one that has, by selection and most careful cultivation, been brought up to its highest possible degree of perfection, and that in a locality where the conditions of growth were all favorable to development. This requires years of labor and love working together, hand in hand. This improved form receives a medal of excellence, or a diploma of merit, and a wonderful amount of free advertising, or rather reading notices, which are not always free, except to the reader. Some fortunate seedman announces it, the seed is thrown on the market and all others in trade buy it and send it to their growers, with the request to make the most of it possible, and they do. Quantity, rather than quality, is their only aim. The result is, the variety begins to "run out," and that from the fact that the effort made to secure the variety was not employed to perpetuate it. Novelties are procured at great cost, and they cannot be kept up excepting at a great cost. For that reason it is always better to indulge in them, as their extra cost means that there was extra care taken in selection from old, well-known varieties.
Shall We Save Our Own Seeds?
Yes and no are correct answers to this query. Every farmer should save his own seed potatoes, his own grass and grain seeds whenever he can, under the conditions I have named. Every gardener should first know whether he can afford to or not, and then judge accordingly. Seed-growing is the seedman's work. He of all men knows when a variety has reached perfection, if perfection is ever reached. It is his business to know it, and his keen observation and careful experiments enable him to do it. The gardener, however well informed he may be, and however systematic he may be in his operations, cannot do it, because he has not the time to attend to such details, even though he may have the best soil and climate for the purpose. But the horticulturist should grow every variety so well that the seedman will gladly come to him for stocks to be grown for seed purposes.