« AnteriorContinuar »
the rollers along their whole length, and nearly in contact with them, is kept constantly and rapidly moving up and down, so that the sharp teeth being engaged with the locks of cotton, tear them asunder in their passage to the cylinders, and thus facilitate the separation of the seeds. It is an inconvenience found to attend the use of this comb, that its teeth coming too directly and violently in contact with the seeds, they are sometimes broken into small pieces, and in this state will pass with the wool through the cylinders. These particles, together with all other foreign matters which may still be included in the wool, and all discoloured portions, must afterwards be carefully removed by hand picking, and this process is called moting: An industrious hand will mote from twenty-five to thirty pounds of cotton in a day.
The cotton plant has its enemies principally in the insect creation. The cotton bug infests it in swarms, and consumes it with such rapidity, that they do not leave a trace of leaf, or flower, or pod on a tree in the morning, which had been perfectly untouched the evening before. In their ravages over the fields of cotton, the insects exhibit an apparent capriciousness, as they will pass over certain fields of the plant, and all, by common consent, as it were, will infest another. Again, it is a peculiarity of these caterpillars, that they usually begin their ravages at the centre of a field, and it is only when their numbers are exceedingly great that they attack at all parts, indiscriminately, and at once. They likewise choose preferably those plantations which afford them the completest shelter; so that one means of avoiding, or rather of lessening the chance of this evil, is to plant the trees at sufficient distances from each other.
To Mr. Porter we refer the reader for an account of the artificial means of extirpating those noxious creatures; but a few words on the natural process whereby their destruction is partially effected will not be uninteresting. Poultry, and particularly turkeys, are fond of the chenille, the name of this caterpillar : large broods of these birds are even kept for the purpose. There is a particular bird, the piper aureola, which has obtained the common name of chenille bird, from its predilection for them, as food; and it is curious that naturalists have observed that the insect and the bird appear and disappear at the same time with each other, and, as some say, the number of birds is found nicely adjusted to the proportion of insects on which they are to feed. Even the stem of the plant has an enemy in an insect peculiar to itself, which, Mr. Porter says, continues always buried, or crawling on the surface of the ground. The ravages of this insect are consequently at an end after the first week following the appearance of the plant above the ground. During this time it gnaws the stalk about half an inch from the surface, the seminal leaves are thus cut off, and the plant perishes. If it escapes at this earliest stage of its development, the leaves are placed out of the reach of the destroyer, and the stalk, becomes too hard for its attacks.
Besides these, the cotton-plant is liable to other casulties arising from the influence of some noxious power adulterating the elements of its structure.
Cotton is now cultivated in China, the East and West Indies, Egypt, Lower States of North America, and it is from Georgia in the latter, that the great European supplies come. In calculating the expense of cotton agriculture, as compared with its profits, no estimate which can be formed from the facts before us can be of any use, so different are the circumstances under which it must always be cultivated. In the year 1831, the whole amount of the cottonwool imported into Great Britain was 905,200 packages, of which 870,000 packages were kept for this country's manufacture, whilst the remainder was exported again.
Coffee, as an alimentary substance, is treated by Mr. Porter in a most interesting manner. It is supposed to have been originally a native of Arabia, and to have been carried only very lately to the tropical regions of the West. It appears, that, in the year 1690, Van Hoorn, the then governer of Batavia, procured some berries of the coffee-tree from Mocha, in Arabia Felix, and raised many plants in the Island of Java, whence he sent one to Nicholas Witsen, a Burgomaster of Amsterdam, and then governor of the Dutch East India Company. This plant arrived in a healthy condition, and was placed in the Botanical Garden of Amsterdam, where, by careful management, it was made to bear seeds, and, in the course of a few years, many young plants were raised from its produce.
It was an offspring of the Amsterdam shrub, transported to the western world that first gave rise to the expectation of its thriving there. It was only in 1718 that the first plantations were made in the colony of Surinam; ten years after this, the French introduced it into Martinico; in 1728 only, was it brought into Jamaica. At the close of the last century, the amount of coffee imported into Great Britain from the West Indies, was about two hundred and fifty tons
- now, it is about forty times that quantity. It is well known of the coffee-plant, that it will succeed in no country liable to the visitation of frost, and, in short, in no other latitude, than between or very near the tropics. It only grows well where it is intermingled in plantations with other trees, which may shelter it from the rays of the sun, as by such an influence acting on it, the fruit may be prematurely ripened. These protectors consist generally of palmachristi, or the castor-oil plant, but yams, or any kind of running vines, are never planted in this way, as they wind about the trees and injure them. The enemies to which the coffee-tree is most likely to owe its untimely destruction, is a little insect called the coffee-fly, the creature committing its ravages by means of two weapons toothed like saws, which proceed from its head, and with which it cuts a multitude of deep notches in the trees.
Another insect, observes the author, to which planters have given the name of the Grub, is sometimes very injurious. In colour and appearance this little creature resembles a flake of snow. It makes use of a kind of trunk, or proboscis, with which it is furnished, in order to pierce the young bark of the coffee-trees. All mischief arising from this insect may be easily averted by planting pineapples between the rows of the trees, which the insect will immediately quit that it may feed upon the leaves of the pine-apple, of which it is immoderately fond.
Field rats are very injurious to coffee-plantations, but, in some French coffee-colonies, these rats themselves are said to be used as human food, and the poor negroes are, therefore, particularly interested in not discouraging the invasions of those marauders, on whose booty they find a good subsistence. The coffee is known to be ripe when the berries assume a deep and rather brownish red. This hue being once established in the berry, no time is lost in pulling it. In the gathering of the crop, which usually takes place in August and September, the negroes are provided each with a small basket or bag, with a stout wire or iron ring at its mouth to keep it constantly open, and this is slung round the neck in order to leave both hands at liberty. Holding then the branch of the tree with the left hand, they select from it the berries which are ripe, and, picking them with the right hand, deposit them in the basket. In performing this operation, care must be taken not to injure the branches, or to bruise the newlyformed buds, which should expand themselves shortly after. All green or unripe berries are left for future gatherings. When their baskets are full, they are emptied into other larger baskets placed in a central spot, and these are carried away, from time to time, to be emptied at the mill.
When the berries are gathered, they are left to dry, that the beans may be separated from the pulp. The berries are spread for this
purpose, in thin layers, before the sun: the coffee is then husked, in a mili so contrived as very easily to effect the separation of the beans from the husks: both are next let into a wire sieve, made in the form of an inclined plane; the husks, dry and broken, pass through the meshes of the wire, while the beans run down into a different receptacle along the bottom of the sieve. The coffee is then transferred to a vessel of water, in which it is steeped for a day to dissolve a gummy matter adhering to it: it is next put into wooden troughs to be washed; and, lastly, the coffee is dried once more, being placed, as before, in layers, on smooth tiles, before the
After the completion of these processes, the coffee is stored up for some time, and must be daily turned over. But this is not all; for the pellicle of the bean, or, as it is called in the colonies, the parchment, still survives, and must be got rid of. The most usual plan for accomplishing this object is, to provide a solid wheel, made of hard wood, six or eight feet in diameter, and from eight to twelve inches thick. This wheel is made to work in a circular trough, by means of an axis passing through its centre, one end of which is connected by an iron collar, with the centre post, to the mill, while the other end projects over the mill course, and, a horse or mule being harnessed to this end, the wheel is carried round the trough.
When the pounding-mill is set to work, the coffee is thrown into the trough, and the parchment having been already loosened from the beans, and rendered very friable by the repeated dryings it has undergone, is easily broken by the wheel and separated from the beans.
But even after all this, the coffee is far froin being fit for exportation; for, it must go to the fanning or winnowing mill, to be relieved from the minute particles of parchment which escaped the correcting power of the pounding-mill, and lest there should be any thing, still of which the unfortunate berry requires to be cleansed, it will most certainly be detected by the experienced eye of one of the circle of negroes, called pickers, who sit round a table heaped with the berries, and examine every individual berry with the utmost care. When winnowed, and picked in this way, coffee is deemed to be in a condition worthy of the privilege of exportation. This country receives its chief supply from the West Indies, the amount of that from foreign parts which is consumed here, being a very small portion indeed of the general amount.
The history of the cultivation of the cacao, or chocolate-tree, forms a source of a very entertaining chapter. Its botanical name, the theobroma, signifies food for the gods ; and it appears to be native alone to the tropical regions of America. It was not till the fifteenth century that any thing was known of it to any of the rest of the world besides. The seeds of this plant have been from time immemorial employed in Mexico as a small coin; and there, too, cacao plantations are principally settled by persons in a humble condition, who thus “prepare for themselves and
their children, a slow but certain fortune. A single slave is sufficient to aid them in their labours. They clear the soil with their own hands, raise the young cacao plants beneath the shade of the erythrina, or of the banana, prune the trees, destroy the swarms of worms and insects that attack the bark, the leaves, and the flowers; dig trenches, and submit to lead a life of privation for the space of seven or eight years, until the cacao trees begin to bear fruit. Thirty thousand trees assure competence to a family for a generation and a half.”
The only colonies belonging to this country in which the cacao is cultivated, are Trinidad, Grenada, and St. Lucia, and there it was discouraged by the impost laid on chocolate imported into this country.
The plant, as is the case with coffee, requires the companionship of other trees, such as the plantain, the coral-bean, &c. The fruit is of a cucumber shape, but is much thicker; its colour, when on the tree, is green, but changes, as it ripens, to a blush red, approaching to purple, with pink veins. The cacao of commerce is composed of the seeds contained in the pods of the cacao. This species, like the rest of the plants used as food, is subject to attacks from insects. The best cacao-seeds come from Soconusco, Maracaibo, and Magdalena.
The preparation from cacao most used in Europe, is that called chocolate, a word which we borrowed from the Mexicans, but which we use in a sense quite different from that in which they employed it. In Mexico the first combination of chocolate with various spices was made, and so inviting was the liquid solution of it, that it was habitually served to the creole ladies in the church, even during the time of divine service, by their slaves. In making chocolate, which is an employment followed in numerous places of Europe, the cacao is picked with the greatest nicety; it is then dried, just as the coffee bean is; the busks and germ of the seeds are next removed, and the pure kernels again submitted to the action of fire. In Italy, the cacao is burned to blackness; in Spain, it is carried a little beyond the degree which will dry the seeds; whilst, in England and France, a medium temperature is adopted. The aromatic substances mixed with cacao to form chocolate, consist of vanilla and cinnamon, as in France, and of vanilla alone as in England. The husks of cacao are used as food by the poor of Switzerland, and have lately been introduced as such into Ireland.
Vanilla, used by us as an ingredient in chocolate, is a native of Mexico; its seeds are used and are sold in pods, which contain, with the seeds, a black, oily, and balsamic substance.
Upon the articles, tea, tobacco, and rice, it is not necessary that we should occupy much of the time of the reader. The history of the cultivation of these important members of the vegetable kingdom is already well known to most of our readers, for they have been frequently brought, during the last few years, to the attention of the public. We turn to those productions which, as being exclusive to other countries, offer some novelty and interest in their history, and amongst these, maize is the first of the vegetables which we shall notice. This is an article of food which, to the Mexicans and Egyptians, is indispensable; and, so general is it as the staple subsistance of the inhabitants of North America, that, untravelled and unlettered as they are, they can scarcely be made to believe that there exists any people in the world who do not feed wholly, or at least in part, on Indian corn. In the second volume of Dr. Franklin's works, 4to ed. 1818, will be found the best account of the uses of maize in America.
The grain called millet, has this advantage peculiar to it, that it is capable of being successfully cultivated in arid soils, and under such a degree of the sun's influence, as scarcely any other valuable plant could endure. It has been the chief food in Syria from time immemorial; it is cultivated in several parts of Arabia, in India, in the sandy deserts, in the dry regions of Cochin-China, and in Nubia no other grain is produced in the latter place, as well as in Egypt,