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What I Know Of Farming

More About Apple-trees

In my opinion, Apple-trees, in most orchards, are planted too far apart
and allowed to grow taller and spread their limbs more widely than is
profitable. I judge that a pruner or picker should be able to reach the
topmost twig of any tree with a ten-foot pole, and that no limb should
be allowed to extend more than eight feet from the trunk whence it
springs. Our Autumnal Equinox occurs before our Apples are generally
ripe for harvest, and, finding our best trees bending under a heavy
burden of fruit, its fierce gales are apt to make bad work with trees as
well as apples. The best tree I had, with several others, was thus
ruined by an equinoctial tempest a few years since. Barren trees escape
unharmed, while those heavily laden with large fruit are wrenched and
twisted into fragments. And, even apart from this peril, a hundred
weight of fruit at or near the extremity of limbs which extend ten or
twelve feet horizontally from the trunk, tax and strain a tree more than
four times that weight growing within four or five feet of the trunk,
and on limbs that maintain a semi-erect position. I diffidently
suggest, therefore, that no apple-tree be allowed to exceed fifteen
feet in height, nor to send a limb more than eight feet from its trunk,
and that trees be set (diamond-fashion) twenty-four feet apart each way,
instead of thirty-two, as some of mine were. I judge that the larger
number of trees (72 per acre) will produce more fruit in the average
than the larger but fewer trees grown on squares of two by two rods to
each, that they will thrive and bear longer, and that not one will be
destroyed or seriously harmed by winds where a dozen would if allowed to
grow as high and spread as far as they could.

* * * * *

Every apple-tree should be pruned each year of its life: that is, it
should be carefully examined with intent to prune if that be found
necessary. It should be pruned with a careful eye to giving it the
proper shape, which, from the point where it first forks upward, should
be that of a tea-cup, very nearly. I have seen young trees so malformed
that they could rarely, if ever, bear fruit enough to render them
profitable. And the pruning should be so carefully, judiciously done
from the outset that no wood two years old should ever be cut away. With
old, malformed, diseased, worm-eaten, decaying trees, the best must be
done that can be; but he who, pruning a tree that he set and has
hitherto cared for, finds himself obliged to cut off a limb thicker than
his thumb, may justly suspect himself of lacking a mastery of the art of

Sprouts from the root of an apple-tree remind me of children who
habitually play truant or are kept out of school. They not merely can
never come to good, but they are a nuisance to the neighborhood and
bring reproach on the community.

The apple-grower should never forget that every producer needs to be fed
in proportion to his product. If a cow gives twenty quarts of milk per
day, she needs more grass or other food than if she gave but two quarts;
and an acre of orchard that yields a hundred barrels of Apples per annum
needs something given to the soil to balance the draft made upon it.
Nature offers us good bargains; but she does not trust and will not be
cheated. When she offers a bushel of Corn for a bushel of dirty Salt,
Shell Lime, or Wood-Ashes, a load of Hay for a load of Muck, we ought
not to stint the measure, but pay her demand ungrudgingly.

* * * * *

And now a last word on Insects.

My township (Newcastle) is said to have formerly grown more Apples per
annum than any other township in the United States; its apple-trees are
still as numerous as ever, but their product has fallen off deplorably.
I estimate the average yield of the last three years at less than a
bushel per annum for each full-grown tree; I think a majority of the
trees have not borne a bushel each in all these three years.
Unseasonable frosts, storms, etc., have borne the blame of this
barrenness--perhaps justly, if we consider only immediate causes--but
the caterpillar and other vermin are, in my view, our more potent,
though remoter, afflictions. Not less than four times within the last
sixteen years have our trees been covered with nests and worms; and I
have seen whole orchards stripped of nearly every leaf till they were as
bare (of every thing but caterpillars) in July as they should have been
in December. After the scourge had passed, the trees reclad themselves
with leaves; but they grew old under that visitation faster in one year
than they would have done in ten of healthful fruit-bearing; and they
are now prematurely gray and moss-covered because of the terrible

I lay down the general proposition that no man who harbors caterpillars
has any moral right to Apples--that each grower should be required to
make his choice between them. Slovenly farmers say, "O there are so many
of them that I cannot kill half so fast as they multiply." Then I say,
cut down and burn up the trees you can best spare, until you have no
more left than you can keep clear of worms.

If it were the law of the land that whoever allowed caterpillars to nest
and breed in his fruit-trees should pay a heavy fine for each nest, we
should soon be comparatively clear of the scourges. In the absence of
such salutary regulation, one man fights them with persistent
resolution, only to see his orchard again and again invaded and ravaged
by the pests hatched and harbored by his careless neighbors. He thus
pays and repays the penalty of others' negligence and misdoing until,
discouraged and demoralized, he abandons the hopeless struggle, and
thenceforth repels the enemy from a few favorite trees around his
dwelling, and surrenders his orchard to its fate. Thus bad laws (or no
laws) are constantly making bad farmers. The birds that would help us to
make head against our insect foes are slaughtered by reckless boys--many
of them big enough to know better--and our perils and losses from
enemies who would be contemptible if their numbers did not render them
formidable increase from year to year. We must change all this; and the
first requisite of our situation is a firm alliance of the entire
farming and fruit-growing interest defensive as to birds, offensive
toward their destroyers, and toward the vermin multiplied and shielded
by the ruthless massacre of our feathered friends.

Since the foregoing was written we have had (in 1870) the greatest
Apple-crop throughout our section that mine eyes did ever yet behold. It
was so abundant that I could not sell all my cider-apples to the
vinegar-makers, even at fitly cents per barrel. This establishes the
continued capacity of our region to bear Apples, and should invite to
the planting of new orchards and the fertilization and renovation of old

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