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It is proved that a soil formed of a considerable quantity of the decomposed leaves and rotten branches of the oak, produces the same salutary influence in the production, size, and quality of the truffle, that horse-dung is known to have in raising mushrooms. In the latter, it is the decomposed animal matter; in the former, the decomposed vegetable or quercine matter of the oak, probably its tannin, which proves efficacious.
It follows then, that, in order to raise truffes by artificial culture, it will be necessary to collect together a sufficient quantity of decayed oak leaves or rotten boughs of this tree in a spot favorable for the formation of a truffle-bed, for it is
the complete saturity of the prepared soil with quercine matter in a decomposed state, that the success of the culture of this tuber must depend. The truffle therefore may, with great truth and justice, address to the monarch of our forests the eulogy bestowed on it by our countryman James Howell, author of the Familiar Letters, (who, by the bye, was educated at Hereford College School,) in his “Dodona's Grove:"'
“ Arbor honoretur cujus nos umbra tultur." For the truffle, in order to thrive, must not only be planted under the shade of the oak, but in a soil completely saturated with oak leaves, or other decayed oaken matter.
In preparing the plantation of truffle-beds, it will be necessary to distinguish between their cultivation in woodlands and in gardens. The former does not require any thing like so much preparation as the latter, for, in an oak wood, time and nature have already performed the labour, whereas, in a garden, it is obvious that art must be made entirely to supply the defect of nature. A great deal of time and expense, therefore, may be saved in making choice of woodlands for this purpose, where it can be done. But, whether you plant this root in woods or in gardens, the first thing which demands your attention is to fix upon a low bottom, a little moist soil, such as we meet with near rivers, brooks, and pools, without however being marshy or disposed to fermentation, but light and fertile. The borders of marshes, turbaries, and saline springs, are the least favorable spots, and these may always be known from their producing a coarse rank herbage, which sheep and cattle refuse, or will only bite when forced by hunger.
When a convenient spot of ground of this description cannot be had, it may be artificially created near a spring of water, or at the bottom of a hill; but the expense of course will be much more considerable.
When the place for your truffle-bed is fixed upon, you begin by digging up the soil to the depth of from four to five feet, and you carefully line the bottom and sides of the pit, thus made, with stiff luted clay a foot thick, as is done in puddling
canals, to prevent the spring or river water which must be brought into it from filtering entirely away, and being lost.
The pit being thus prepared, you fill it up with the compost which we are about to describe, and you let in the stream of the spring or rivulet; but, though truffles love a moist soil, they cannot bear a marsh or standing water, it will be absolutely necessary, therefore to open a small trench on the opposite side of the pit to that where the stream enters, that the superfluous water may flow off; and the trench should be so made as to open and shut as occasion may require. If in great droughts the spring itself should dry up, this defect must be supplied by hand-watering, to which constant recourse must be had in those situations which have not the advantage of a running streamlet, wherewith continually to irrigate the truffle-bed.
The best truffles are always found in a light ferruginous and calcarious soil ; it is therefore of a similar earth that the artificial beds should be composed. But this, like the truffles themselves, is not every where to be found. If you meet with it close at hand, it is so much gained, as it will then only be necessary to superadd the other indispensable ingredients to form the compost. A ferruginous and calcarious soil is sometimes too hard and compact, but rarely ever too light for the growth of the truffe ; sometimes also it is not sufficiently impregnated with iron. In the first case a mixture of sand, and in the second, of clay, will produce the desired effect; and, in the third, recourse must be had to the addition of a proper quantity of the mineral, which may almost every where be found, and which must be carefully broken to pieces, and mixed in the proportion of one third with the natural soil. If the iron ore or mineral, however, cannot be procured, you may substitute in its place iron filings or the scoria from a blacksmith's shop, which will soon rust and dissolve into a mixture with the soil from the action of the humidity of the pit.
In all trufferies, the first bed at the bottom of the pit should be formed a foot deep of chalk or lime marl; or, when marl of this description cannot be had, pulverized chalk or pounded limestone will answer the same purpose, the three indispensable ingredients for the production of truffles being a due mixture of calcarious, ferruginous, and quercine matter, but principally the latter. But, before the formation of this first bed, it may be prudent to line the bottom and sides by a sort of walling of limestone. This will prevent the intrusion of mice and small vermin, which are great devourers of truffles, and will also protect the compost from being washed away by any torrent of water in a rainy season. At the same time, care should be taken not to wall up the truffle bed in so compact a manner as entirely to dam up the water, otherwise it would become a quagmire. The great point is to secure the requisite degree of humidity, without making a pool of the bed.
The first stratum being thus laid, you have now to fill the pit up level with the surrounding ground with a compost, consisting of equal quantities of wood, or forest soil, and ofoak leaves gathered after the fall of the leaf, adding to this about a fourth part of pure unmixed cow-dung, mixing up the whole well together, and stirring it frequently until the different ingredients become completely amalgamated. The bed thus formed must then be completely strewed to the thickness of six inches with oak leaves, and the whole covered with branches of the oak tree, to prevent the leaves from being blown away by the high winds. These leaves will produce the decided effect, by impregnating the compost underneath, by their decomposition during the winter, with those peculiar elements necessary to the production of truffles; therefore, they must be renewed every autumn at the fall of the leaf.
In one of the first fine days in the following spring, it will be necessary to take off the upper superficies of oak leaves, which will be absolutely dried and withered, and then to mix up the under ones, which will be found moist and humid, by means of a rake, with the compost underneath.
The truffle-bed being thus carefully prepared, you may be sure it is in a fit condition to receive the young tubers, which are now to be sought for.
The truffle is infinitely more delicate than the mushroom, and therefore requires much greater care and attention; but it is satisfactory to learn, that if proper precautions are taken, it
may be transplanted and propagated; and, moreover, that when once fixed, it becomes so tenaciously attached to the soil, as to adhere and continue in it for a great number of years, without any artificial renewal, so as to furnish not only an abundant harvest for the planter's own supply, but to produce him a very considerable annual revenue, to reward him for the trouble he has taken.
Dead truffles are incapable of reproduction. It is the living truffle alone that can operate this miracle, and that only in a soil congenial to it, for surely the difficulty is not little thus to force nature in spots where truffles never grew before.
If, indeed, truffles can be found any where near the artificial truffie, there will be little difficulty, but, if they are to be brought from a distance, very great precautions must be taken to prevent their dying in the carriage. They may always be procured in France. The selections of roots for transplanting should not be made from the full-grown truffles, but from those which have not yet reached their maturity, as less likely to perish in the transport. A want of attention to this has caused many failures. We should be careful, therefore, to select the middle-sized roots, not too young nor too old, but in full health and vigour; and it will be very easy to procure a sufficient quantity of these from the spots where they grow naturally, either in England or in France. They
should be taken up out of their native soil on a rainy day, or at least when the ground is moist, with a small portion of their earth round their roots, and, exposing them as little as possible to the action of the air, you immediately place them in the box or case prepared for their reception, filling up the interstices, and covering the whole with a portion of the same earth from out which they were taken. They must now be transported as expeditiously as possible to the truffle-bed where they are to be planted, taking care, however, to open the box every two or three days to give them air, and to moisten them with river water. In this manner they may safely be conveyed to a considerable distance.
The cases, when they reach the place of their destination, must be opened in the shade, and, taking care to moisten the bed, if found at all dry, you plant the truffle roots in it as quickly as possible, about three inches under the soil, and in clusters together, that they may the more strongly impregnate the prepared compost with their re-productive elements, as the planting of isolated roots at a distance from each other has been often known to fail.
The spring and the beginning of autumn are the most favorable seasons for the transplantation of truffles, because it is at these periods of the year that the best roots for transplanting are to be found in the places of their natural growth.
In the first year after their transplantation their re-production will not be considerable. If planted in the spring, there will be found, however, the following autumn, some young truffles about the size of a nut or walnut, with a yellow skin, and a spongy consistency, which must be left another year, to complete their growth, but their appearance will afford a satisfactory proof of the success of the plantation, and present the gratifying assurance of abundant future crops for years to come.
Our limited space will not allow us to enter into a more ample detail, but we have said enough to indicate the assured means of raising truffles by artificial culture. The principal point, it will have been perceived, is to saturate the prepared soil as completely as possible with the peculiar properties of the oak, and which we have therefore called quercine matter.
The calcareous and ferruginous nature of the soil in a great part of Wales, the genial moisture of her climate, and the felicitous position of her Llwyns and Cwms, which abound with oak, seem to render the Principality a country peculiarly appropriate for the culture of this new article of home production, and it was principally from these considerations that this horticultural dissertation has been deemed not unsuitable to the pages of the Cambrian Quarterly Magazine.
[There is a belief, prevalent among the inhabitants of North Wales, that the cry of the golden plovers, or (as the peasants term them) “ the whistlers,” foretells the death of some near friend or relative of the person who hears it.] THERE comes a fearful sound at eve, o'er many a sleeping vale, It thrills the strong man's heart with dread, and woman's cheek grows pale; The bolt of heaven, the tempest's wrath, the torrent sweeping by, Wake less of awe in Gwynedd's breast, than doth that plaintive cry. The youthful peasant bounding on, along his mountain way, And cheering still the lonely path with some wild ancient lay, Hushes his song, and stays his step, and prisons in his breath, Too well his heart that warning knows-the whistlers' note of death. He strains his gaze, to mark the spot where his lone mother dwells, And deems that e'en yon curling smoke a tale of comfort tells; Yet sighs to think how soon those eyes, alas ! already dim, May cease to tend the fire, and watch thro' the long night for him. And now, around an ancient hall, the gloomy wand'rer flits, Where, circled by a fairy group, a widowed mother sits ; She hears, and o'er her children flings a glance of shudd’ring dread, Trembling to see some fair bud droop, some flow'ret hang its head. Yon orphan maid the cry has heard, and oh! what terrors press Around the pale girl's sinking heart, in its still loneliness ; The work has left those quiv'ring hands, now wildly clasp'd to pray ; She has a lover in the wars,--a brother far away. Oh! bear thou hence thy boding cry, thou evil omened bird ; There's woe, deep woe, for human love, where that thrill wail is heard ; Some dear one's knell it seems to ring, in every startled ear,Is there, on earth, one lot so dark, that nought is left to fear?
WELSH MOTTO AND TRANSLATION.
Noddais i' mryd yn addwyn
Un o'm ceraint ni'm carai.