American Agriculturist 5(5): 157-158. (1846)
THE POTATO DISEASE
WM. PARTRIDGE
New York, April, 1846.

I SHALL not attempt to account for this disease, but shall give some facts derived from experience, which may go far towards a prevention. Many writers have attempted to explain the cause of the disease some by supposing it to be insectial, others again say it is caused by a fungus. If a medical man should find insects or proud flesh in or about a wound, would he pronounce the insects or proud flesh to be the cause of the wound, or the effects of diseased action It must be known, or should be, to all natural philosophers, that when vitality ceases, either in the whole, or in any part of organized matter, it immediately begins to change into other organisms, many of which products bear no resemblance to the original organic product. It follows, of course, that we should be very careful in our investigations not to attribute effects to causes; for, by such a mode of reasoning, we never can find a cure for either animal or vegetable

In raising potatoes in the part of England I came from, the rocky strata calcareous, we always found the best and soundest product from new land that had received no manure and never considered they could be of prime quality when grown in soils highly manured. To obtain choice potatoes for family use, we set men to grub up the bushy districts, and in such soils we never failed in raising a sound and choice product. Limestone soils we always considered more agreeable to the potato crop than soils principally argillaceous. The farms, therefore, on the chalk downs, were celebrated for this esculent. I had an uncle on the Wiltshire downs, at a town called Kennett, whose potatoes were in great repute, and I have seen spots in a field, plowed for potatoes, turn up white chalk to the surface. He fatted his pigs and cattle on steamed potatoes, until two or three weeks before killing he gave them grain to harden the fat. They were washed in a machine, five bushels at a time, and the steamer held about thirty bushels. He once gave to a hog some of the liquor left in the kettle below the steamer, and this liquor nearly killed the animal, bringing all its hair off and it was more than two months before it fully recovered from its effect.

In confirmation of the advantage of lime in soils, for raising this crop, we had presented last fall to the Brooklyn Natural History Society, three samples of potatoes raised by Mr. Ladanskie, near Jamaica, Long Island; one portion of the land was manured with stable manure, one portion left without any manure, and a third portion was well limed. Those produced on the limed land were perfectly sound, whilst both the others were generally defective.

I have one more fact to offer which I consider highly important to our farmers. We made an acre of garden on the sea-sand, at Gravesend, Long Island, and in the compost heap we used about thirty per cent. of fine charcoal. It would be useless to describe all the other materials used, as they were numerous, being a collection of everything we could scrape together that could be obtained without cost. Among the numerous articles were the refuse of a whiting manufactory, of about half a sloop load, and twenty-one barrels of the refuse of a soda water manufactory, or pure plaster of Paris. In this garden we planted our winter potatoes the year before last, and they were not only sound, but the most delightfully tasted of the kind we had ever eaten. The last year some of the same kind were planted on a piece of old meadow land, and they were not only unsound, but disagreeable to the taste, and we had to discard them, and buy for family use.

I infer from the above-named facts, that lime unburnt, or burnt, and, charcoal, are the best preventives for the disease in potatoes, and for otherwise improving their quality.

Any farmer, in this woody country, has waste limbs of trees sufficient to make one or two thousand bushels of charcoal annually, which he could render sufficiently fine for his purpose, by passing a heavy roller over it on any hard ground. This would be no great labor for an industrious man. Let him, when he plants a potato, put in with it about a quarter of a pint of fine charcoal and ground oyster shell in about equal quantities, and I feel pretty confident that his product will not only be sound, but of very superior quality.

Farmers who cannot obtain charcoal or ground shell, can buy it ready prepared, and mixed in due proportions, from a Mr. Atwater, of New Haven, Connecticut; or it can be obtained in this city. Mr. Atwater has invented a machine for grinding bones, shell, &c., fine enough for all agricultural and horticultural purposes. Such a machine is a great desideratum for bone, as this article, when in lumps, will take many years to decompose; and its beneficial effects be so slowly developed, as to induce the consumer to condemn them as useless. Mr. A. will prepare a mixture of fine charcoal and lime shell, also of charcoal and ground bone. I am pretty certain, from actual experiment, as before mentioned, that charcoal and lime, if planted with the potato, about a gill in each hole, would prevent the rot. I should expect as good or a better result from the charcoal and ground bone, as the bone supplies not only lime but phosphate, one of the elements of that esculent. At all events, let some of our farmers try the latter, and report the result; for I cannot speak of it from actual trial, the only real test to be relied on. It will be perceived that one bushel of' either of the above mixtures will suffice for two hundred and fifty plants; a cheap and safe manure, producing no weeds.

Charcoal should always he used with bone maure, or more than two-thirds of its fertilizing virtue will be lost to the farmer. For, as bone decomposes, it gives out a large quantity of ammonia, an alkali so volatile as to be lost by evaporation, unless combined with some material that will retain it, and charcoal will hold of this gas four hundred times its own bulk, giving it out to the plant as required.

I would suggest to our farmers the folly of planting potatoes in any soil in which water cannot freely percolate, as stagnant water will inevitably ruin the product.