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Peaches Pears Cherries Grapes

Our harsh, capricious climate north of the latitudes of Philadelphia,
Cincinnati, and St. Louis--so much severer than that of corresponding
latitudes in Europe--is unfavorable, or at least very trying, to all the
more delicate and luscious Fruits, berries excepted. Except on our
Pacific coast, of which the Winter temperature is at least ten degrees
milder than that of the Atlantic, the finer Peaches and Grapes are grown
with difficulty north of the fortieth degree of latitude, save in a few
specially favored localities, whereof the southern shore of Lake Erie is
most noted, though part of that of Lake Ontario and of the west coast of
Lake Michigan are likewise well adapted to the Peach.

It is not the mere fact that the mercury in Fahrenheit's thermometer
sometimes ranges below zero, and the earth is deeply frozen, but the
suddenness wherewith such rigor succeeds and is succeeded by a
temperature above the freezing point, that proves so inhospitable to the
most valued Tree-Fruits. And, as the dense forests which formerly
clothed the Alleghenies and the Atlantic slope, are year by year swept
away, the severity of our "cold snaps," and the celerity with which they
appear and disappear, are constantly aggravated. A change of 60 deg., or
from 50 deg. above to 10 deg. below zero, between morning and the following
midnight, soon followed by an equally rapid return to an average
November temperature, often proves fatal even to hardy forest-trees. I
have had the Red Cedar in my woods killed by scores during an open,
capricious Winter; and my observation indicates the warmest spots in a
forest as those where trees are most likely to be thus destroyed. After
an Arctic night, in which they are frozen solid, a bright sun sends its
rays into the warmest nooks, whence the wind is excluded, and wholly or
partially thaws out the smaller trees; which are suddenly frozen solid
again so soon as the sunshine is withdrawn; and this partly explains to
my mind the fact that peach-buds are often killed in lower and level
portions of an orchard, while they retain their vitality on the
hill-side and at its crest, not 80 rods distant from those destroyed.
The fact that the colder air descends into and remains in the valleys of
a rolling district contributes also to the correct explanation of a
phenomenon which has puzzled some observers.

Unless in a favored locality, it seems to the unadvisable for a farmer
who expects to thrive mainly by the production of Grain and Cattle, to
attempt the growing of the finer Fruits, except for the use of his own
family. In a majority of cases, a multiplicity of cares and labors
precludes his giving to his Peaches and Grapes, his Plums and Quinces,
the seasonable and persistent attention which they absolutely require.
Quite commonly, a farmer visits a grand nursery, sees with admiration
its trees and vines loaded with the most luscious Fruits, and rashly
infers that he has only to buy a good stock of like Trees and Vines to
insure himself an abundance of delicious fruit. So he buys and sets; but
with no such preparation of the soil, and no such care to keep it mellow
and free from weeds, or to baffle and destroy predatory insects, as the
nurseryman employs. Hence the utter disappointment of his hopes; borers,
slugs, caterpillars, and every known or unknown species of insect
enemies, prey upon his neglected favorites. At intervals, some domestic
animal or animals get among them, and break down a dozen in an hour. So,
the far greater number come to grief, without having had one fair chance
to show what they could do, and the farmer jumps to the conclusion that
the nurseryman was a swindler, and the trees he sells scarcely related
to those whose abundant and excellent fruits tempted him to buy. I
counsel every farmer to consider thoughtfully the treatment absolutely
required for the production of the finer Fruits before he allows a
nurseryman to make a bill against him, and not expect to grow Duchesse
Pears as easily as Blackberries, or Ionas and Catawbas as readily as he
does Fox-grapes on the willows which overhang his brook; for if he does
he will surely be disappointed.

Some of our hardier and coarser Grapes--the Concord preeminent among
them--are grown with considerable facility over a wide extent of our
country; and many farmers, having planted them in congenial soil, and
tended them well throughout their infancy, are rewarded by a bounteous
product for two or three years. Believing their success assured, they
imagine that their vines may henceforth be neglected, and in the course
of two or three more years they are often utterly ruined. I know that
there are wild grapes of some value, in the absence of better, which
thrive and bear without attention; but I do not believe that any grape
which will sell in a market where good fruit was ever seen, can be grown
north of Philadelphia but by constant care and labor, or at a cost of
less than five cents per pound, under the most judicious and skillful
treatment. In California, and I presume in most of our States south of
the Potomac and Ohio, choice grapes may be grown more abundantly and
more cheaply. Yet I think the localities are few and far between in
which a tun of good grapes can be grown as cheaply as a tun of wheat,
under the most judicious cultivation in either case.

I do not mean to discourage grape-growing; on the contrary, I would have
every farmer, even so far north as Vermont and Wisconsin, experiment
cautiously with a dozen of the most promising varieties, including
always the more hardy, in the hope of finding some one or more adapted
to his soil, and capable of enduring his climate. Even in France, the
land of the vine, one farm will produce a grape which the very next will
not: no man can satisfactorily say why. The farmer, who has tried half a
dozen grapes and failed with all, should not be deterred from further
experiments, for the very next may prove a success. I would only say, Be
moderate in your expectations and careful in your experiments; and never
risk even $100 on a vineyard, till you have ascertained, at a cost of $5
or under, whether the species you are testing will thrive and bear on
your soil.

In my own case, my upland mainly sloping to the west, with a hill rising
directly south of it, I have had no luck with Grapes, and I have wasted
little time or means upon them. I have done enough to show that they can
be grown, even in such a locality, but not to profit or satisfaction.

I would advise the farmer who proposes to grow Pear, Peaches, and
Quinces, for home use only or mainly, to select a piece of dry, gravelly
or sandy loam, underdrain it thoroughly, plow or trench it very deeply,
and fertilize it generously, in good part with ashes and with leaf-mold
from his woods. Locate the pig-pen on one side of it, fence it strongly,
and let the pigs have the run of it for a good portion of each year. In
this plat or yard, plant half a dozen Cherry and as many Pear trees of
choice varieties, the Bartlett foremost among them; keep clear of all
dwarfs, and let your choicest trees have a chance to run under the
pig-pen if they will. Plant here also, if your climate does not forbid,
a dozen well-chosen Peach-trees, and two each year thereafter to replace
those that will soon be dying out; and give half a dozen Quinces moist
and rich locations by the side of your fences; surrounding each tree
with stakes or pickets that will preclude too great familiarity on the
part of the swine, and will not prevent a sharp scrutiny for borers in
their season. Do not forget that a fruit-tree is like a cow tied to an
immovable stake, from which you cannot continue to draw a pail of milk
per day unless you carry her a liberal supply of food; and every Fall
cart in half a dozen loads of muck from some convenient swamp or pond
for your pigs to turn over: Should they leave any weeds, cut them with a
scythe as often as they seem to need it; never allowing one to ripen
seed. There may be easier and surer ways to obtain choice fruits; but
this one commends itself to my judgment as not surpassed by any other. I
think few have grown fruits to profit but those who make this a
specialty; and I feel that disappointment in fruit-culture is by no
means near the end. You can grow Plums, or Grapes, or Peaches, outside
of the climate most congenial to them, but this is a work wherein
success is likely to cost more than its worth. Try it first on a small
scale, if you will try it; and be sure you do it thoroughly.

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