There are necessarily rich lots every now end then in such a large extent as the surface of the low country; but these lots usually lie on the banks of rivers which have been subjected to inundations, and they are not fair samples of Ceylon soil. A river's bank or a valley's bottom must be tolerably good even in the poorest country.
The great proof of the general poverty of Ceylon is shown in the failure of every agricultural experiment in which a rich soil is required.
Cinnamon thrives; but why? It delights in a soil of quartz sand, in which nothing else would grow.
Cocoa-nut trees flourish for the same reason ; sea air, a sandy soil and a dry subsoil are all that the cocoa-nut requires.
On the other hand, those tropical productions which require a strong soil invariably prove failures, and sugar, cotton, indigo, hemp and tobacco cannot possibly be cultivated with success.
Even on the alluvial soil upon the banks of rivers sugar does not pay the proprietor. The only sugar estate in the island that can keep its head above water is the Peredinia estate, within four miles of Kandy. This, again, lies upon the bank of the Mahawelli river, and it has also the advantage of a home market for its produce, as it supplies the interior of Ceylon at the rate of twenty-three shillings per cwt. upon the spot.
Any person who thoroughly understands the practical cultivation of the sugar-cane can tell the quality of sugar that will be produced by an examination of the soil. I am thoroughly convinced that no soil in Ceylon will produce a sample of fine, straw-colored, dry, bright, large-crystaled sugar. The finest sample ever produced of Ceylon sugar is a dull gray, and always moist, requiring a very large proportion of lime in the manufacture, without which it could neither be cleansed nor crystalized.
The sugar cane, to produce fine sugar, requires a rich, stiff, and very dry soil. In Ceylon, there is no such thing as a stiff soil existing. The alluvial soil upon the banks of rivers is adapted for the growth of cotton and tobacco, but not for the sugar-cane. In such light and moist alluvial soil the latter will grow to a great size, and will yield a large quantity of juice in which the saccharometer may stand well; but the degree of strength indicated will proceed from an immense proportion of mucilage, which will give much trouble in the cleansing during boiling; and the sugar produced must be wanting in dryness and fine color.