The Home Acre by Edward Payson Roe
Chapter II. Fruit-Trees and Grass
It is a happy proof of our civilization that a dwelling-place, a shelter from sun and storm, does not constitute a home. Even the modest rooms of our mechanics are not furnished with useful articles merely; ornaments and pictures appear quite as indispensable. Out-of-doors the impulse to beautify is even stronger; and usually the purchaser's first effort is to make his place attractive by means of trees and shrubs that are more than useful--they are essential; because the refined tastes of men and women to-day demand them.
In the first chapter I endeavored to satisfy this demand in some degree, and now will ask the reader's attention to a few practical suggestions in regard to several of the fruits which best supply the family need. We shall find, however, that while Nature is prodigal in supplying what appeals to the palate and satisfies hunger, she is also like a graceful hostess who decks her banquet with all the beauty that she can possibly bestow upon it. We can imagine that the luscious fruits of the year might have been produced in a much more prosaic way. Indeed, we are at a loss to decide which we value the more, the apple-blossoms or the apples which follow. Nature is not content with bulk, flavor, and nutriment, but in the fruit itself so deftly pleases the eye with every trick of color and form that the hues and beauty of the flower are often surpassed. We look at a red-cheeked apple or purple cluster of grapes hesitatingly, and are loth to mar the exquisite shadings and perfect outlines of the vessel in which the rich juices are served. Therefore, in stocking the acre with fruit, the proprietor has not ceased to embellish it; and should he decide that fruit-trees must predominate over those grown for shade and ornament only, he can combine almost as much beauty as utility with his plan.
All the fruits may be set out both in the spring and the fall seasons; but in our latitude and northward, I should prefer early spring for strawberries and peaches.
By this time we may suppose that the owner of the acre has matured his plans, and marked out the spaces designed for the lawn, garden, fruit trees, vines, etc. Fruit trees, like shade trees, are not the growth of a summer. Therefore there is natural eagerness to have them in the ground as soon as possible, and they can usually be ordered from the same nursery, and at the same time with the ornamental stock. I shall speak first of apples, pears, and cherries, and I have been at some pains to secure the opinions of eminent horticulturists as to the best selections of these fruits for the home table, not for market. When there is a surplus, however, there will be no difficulty in disposing of the fine varieties named.
The Hon. Marshall P. Wilder, the veteran President of the American Pomological Society, writes as follows: "Herewith is the selection I have made for family use; but I could put in as many more in some of the classes which are just as desirable, or nearly so. These have been made with reference to covering the seasons. Apples--Red Astrakhan, Porter, Gravenstein, Rhode Island Greening, Baldwin, Roxbury Russet, and Sweet Bough for baking. Pears-- Clapp's Favorite (to be gathered August 20), Bartlett, Seckel, Sheldon, Beurre Bosc, Buerre d'Anjou, and Vicar of Winkfield for baking, etc. Cherries--Black Eagle, Black Tartarian, Downer, Windsor, Cumberland, and Red Jacket."
Mr. Wilder's honored name, like that of the late Charles Downing, is inseparably linked with American fruits, and the country owes these two men a debt of gratitude which never can be paid for their lifelong and intelligent efforts to guide the people wisely in the choice and culture of the very best varieties. A moment's thought will convince the reader that I am not giving too much space to this matter of selection. We are now dealing with questions which wide and varied experience can best answer. Men who give their lives to the cultivation and observation of fruits in all their myriad varieties acquire a knowledge which is almost invaluable. We cannot afford to put out trees, to give them good culture, and wait for years, only to learn that all our care has been bestowed on inferior or second-rate varieties. Life is too brief. We all feel that the best is good enough for us; and the best usually costs no more in money or time than do less desirable varieties. Therefore I seek to give on this important question of choice the opinions of some of the highest authorities in the land.
Mr. A. S. Fuller is not only a well-known horticultural author, but has also had the widest experience in the culture and observation of fruit. He prefaces his opinion with the following words: "How much and how often we horticulturists have been puzzled with questions like yours! If we made no progress, were always of the same mind, and if seasons never changed, then perhaps there would be little difficulty in deciding which of the varieties of the different kinds of fruit were really the best. But seasons, our tastes, and even the varieties sometimes change; and our preferences and opinions must vary accordingly. Apples-- Early Harvest, Fall Pippins, Spitzenburgh, Rhode Island Greening, Autumn Sweet Bough, and Talman's Sweet. Cherries--Early Purple Guigne, Bigarreau of Mezel, Black Eagle, Coe's Transparent, Governor Wood, and Belle Magnifique."
The choice of Mr. E. S. Carmen, editor of the "Rural New Yorker:" "Apples--Early Harvest, Gravenstein, Jefferis, Baldwin, Mother, Spitzenburgh. Pears--Seckel, Tyson, Clapp's Favorite, Bartlett, Beurre d'Anjou, and Dana's Hovey. Cherries--Black Tartarian, Coe's Transparent, Governor Wood, Mezel, Napoleon Bigarreau."
The authorities appear to differ. And so they would in regard to any locality; but it should be remembered that President Wilder advises for the latitude of Massachusetts, Messrs. Fuller and Carmen for that of New Jersey. I will give now the selection of the eminent horticulturist Mr. P. O. Berckmans for the latitude of Georgia: "Cherries (this is not a good cherry-producing region, but I name the following as the best in order of merit)--Buttners, Governor Wood, Belle de Choisy, Early Richmond, and May Duke. Pears (in order of maturity)--Clapp's Favorite, Seckel, Duchesse, Beurre Superfine, Leconte, Winter Nellis, or Glout. Morceau. Apples--Early Harvest, Red June, Carter's Blue, Stevenson's Winter, Shockley, Buncombe, Carolina Greening."
He who makes his choice from these selections will not meet with much disappointment. I am aware, however, that the enjoyment of fruit depends much upon the taste of the individual; and who has a better right to gratify his taste than the man who buys, sets out, and cares for the trees? Some familiar kind not in favor with the fruit critics, an old variety that has become a dear memory of boyhood, may be the best one of all for him--perhaps for the reason that it recalls the loved faces that gathered about the wide, quaint fireplace of his childhood's home.
It is also a well-recognized fact that certain varieties of fruit appear to be peculiarly adapted to certain localities. Because a man has made a good selection on general principles, he need not be restricted to this choice. He will soon find his trees growing lustily and making large branching heads. Each branch can be made to produce a different kind of apple or pear, and the kindred varieties of cherries will succeed on the same tree. For instance, one may be visiting a neighbor who gives him some fruit that is unusually delicious, or that manifest great adaptation to the locality. As a rule the neighbor will gladly give scions which, grafted upon the trees of the Home Acre, will soon begin to yield the coveted variety. This opportunity to grow different kinds of fruit on one tree imparts a new and delightful interest to the orchard. The proprietor can always be on the lookout for something new and fine, and the few moments required in grafting or budding make it his. The operation is so simple and easy that he can learn to perform it himself, and there are always plenty of adepts in the rural vicinage to give him his initial lesson. While he will keep the standard kinds for his main supply, he can gratify his taste and eye with some pretty innovations. I know of an apple- tree which bears over a hundred varieties. A branch, for instance, is producing Yellow Bell-flowers. At a certain point in its growth where it has the diameter of a man's thumb it may be grafted with the Red Baldwin. When the scion has grown for two or three years, its leading shoots can be grafted with the Roxbury Russet, and eventually the terminal bough of this growth with the Early Harvest. Thus may be presented the interesting spectacle of one limb of a tree yielding four very distinct kinds of apples.
In the limited area of an acre there is usually not very much range in soil and locality. The owner must make the best of what he has bought, and remedy unfavorable conditions, if they exist, by skill. It should be remembered that peaty, cold, damp, spongy soils are unfit for fruit-trees of any kind. We can scarcely imagine, however, that one would buy land for a home containing much soil of this nature. A sandy loam, with a subsoil that dries out so quickly that it can be worked after a heavy rain, is the best for nearly all the fruit-trees, especially for cherries and peaches. Therefore in selecting the ground, be sure it is well drained.
If the acre has been enriched and plowed twice deeply, as I have already suggested, little more is necessary in planting than to excavate a hole large enough to receive the roots spread out in their natural positions. Should no such thorough and general preparation have been made, or if the ground is hard, poor, and stony, the owner will find it to his advantage to dig a good-sized hole three or four feet across and two deep, filling in and around the tree with fine rich surface soil. If he can obtain some thoroughly decomposed compost or manure, for instance, as the scrapings of a barnyard, or rich black soil from an old pasture, to mix with the earth beneath and around the roots, the good effects will be seen speedily; but in no instance should raw manure from the stable, or anything that must decay before becoming plant food, be brought in contact with the roots. Again I repeat my caution against planting too deeply--one of the commonest and most fatal errors. Let the tree be set about as deeply as it stood before removal. If the tree be planted early in spring, as it should be, there will be moisture enough in the soil; but when planting is delayed until the ground has become rather dry and warm, a pail of water poured about its roots when the hole has been nearly filled will be beneficial. Now that the tree is planted, any kind of coarse manure spread to the depth of two or three inches on the surface as a mulch is very useful. Stake at once to protect against the winds. Do not make the common mistake of planting too closely. Observe the area shaded by fully grown trees, and you will learn the folly of crowding. Moreover, dense shade about the house is not desirable. There should be space for plenty of air and sunshine. The fruit from one well- developed tree will often more than supply a family; for ten or fifteen barrels of apples is not an unusual yield. The standard apples should be thirty feet apart. Pears, the dwarfer-growing cherries, plums, etc., can be grown in the intervening spaces. In ordering from the nurseries insist on straight, shapely, and young trees, say three years from the bud. Many trees that are sent out are small enough, but they are old and stunted. Also require that there should be an abundance of fibrous and unmutilated roots.
Because the young trees come from the nursery unpruned, do not leave them in that condition. Before planting, or immediately after, cut back all the branches at least one-half; and where they are too thick, cut out some altogether. In removal the tree has lost much of its root power, and it is absurd to expect it to provide for just as much top as before.
In many books on fruit-culture much space has been given to dwarf pears, apples, and cherries, and trees of this character were planted much more largely some years ago than they are at present. The pear is dwarfed by grafting it on the quince; the apple can be limited to a mere garden fruit-tree in size by being grown on a Doucin stock, or even reduced to the size of a bush if compelled to draw its life through the roots of the Paradise. These two named stocks, much employed by European nurserymen, are distinct species of apples, and reproduce themselves without variation from the seed. The cherry is dwarfed by being worked on the Mahaleb--a small, handsome tree, with glossy, deep-green foliage, much cultivated abroad as an ornament of lawns. Except in the hands of practiced gardeners, trees thus dwarfed are seldom satisfactory, for much skill and care are required in their cultivation. Their chief advantages consist in the fact that they bear early and take but little space. Therefore they may be considered worthy of attention by the purchasers of small places. Those who are disposed to make pets of their trees and to indulge in horticultural experiments may derive much pleasure from these dwarfs, for they can be developed into symmetrical pyramids or graceful, fruitful shrubs within the limits of a garden border.
When the seeds of ordinary apples and pears are sown they produce seedlings, or free stocks, and upon these are budded or grafted the fine varieties which compose our orchards. They are known as standard trees; they come into bearing more slowly, and eventually attain the normal size familiar to us all. Standard cherries are worked on seedlings of the Mazzard, which Barry describes as a "lofty, rapid-growing, pyramidal-headed tree." I should advise the reader to indulge in the dwarfs very charily, and chiefly as a source of fairly profitable amusement. It is to the standards that he will look for shade, beauty, and abundance of fruit.
Since we have been dwelling on the apple, pear, and cherry, there are certain advantages of continuing the subject in the same connection, giving the principles of cultivation and care until the trees reach maturity. During the first summer an occasional watering may be required in long periods of drought. In many instances buds will form and start along the stem of the tree, or near the roots. These should be rubbed off the moment they are detected.
One of our chief aims is to form an evenly balanced, open, symmetrical head; and this can often be accomplished better by a little watchfulness during the season of growth than at any other time. If, for instance, two branches start so closely together that one or the other must be removed in the spring pruning, why let the superfluous one grow at all? It is just so much wasted effort. By rubbing off the pushing bud or tender shoot the strength of the tree is thrown into the branches that we wish to remain. Thus the eye and hand of the master become to the young tree what instruction, counsel, and admonition are to a growing boy, with the difference that the tree is easily and certainly managed when taken in time.
The study of the principles of growth in the young trees can be made as pleasing as it is profitable, for the readiness with which they respond to a guiding hand will soon invest them with almost a human interest. A child will not show neglect more certainly than they; and if humored and allowed to grow after their own fashion, they will soon prove how essential are restraint and training. A fruit tree is not like one in a forest--a simple, unperverted product of Nature. It is a result of human interference and development; and we might just as reasonably expect our domestic animals to take care of themselves as our grafted and budded trees. Moreover, they do not comply with their raison d'etre by merely existing, growing, and propagating their kind. A Bartlett pear-tree, like a Jersey cow, is given place for the sake of its delicious product. It is also like the cow in requiring judicious feeding and care.
Trees left to themselves tend to form too much wood, like the grape-vine. Of course fine fruit is impossible when the head of a tree is like a thicket. The growth of unchecked branches follows the terminal bud, thus producing long naked reaches of wood devoid of fruit spurs. Therefore the need of shortening in, so that side branches may be developed. When the reader remembers that every dormant bud in early spring is a possible branch, and that even the immature buds at the axil of the leaves in early summer can be forced into immediate growth by pinching back the leading shoot, he will see how entirely the young tree is under his control. These simple facts and principles are worth far more to the intelligent man than any number of arbitrary rules as to pruning. Reason and observation soon guide his hand in summer or his knife in March--the season when trees are usually trimmed.
Beyond shortening in leading branches and cutting out crossing and interfering boughs, so as to keep the head symmetrical and open to light and air, the cherry does not need very much pruning. If with the lapse of years it becomes necessary to take off large limbs from any fruit-tree, the authorities recommend early June as the best season for the operation.
It will soon be discovered--quite likely during the first summer-- that fruit-trees have enemies, that they need not only cultivation and feeding, but also protection. The pear, apple, and quince are liable to one mysterious disease which it is almost impossible to guard against or cure--the fireblight. Of course there have been innumerable preventives and cures recommended, just as we see a dozen certain remedies for consumption advertised in any popular journal; but the disease still remains a disheartening mystery, and is more fatal to the pear than to its kindred fruits. I have had thrifty young trees, just coming into bearing, suddenly turn black in both wood and foliage, appearing in the distance as if scorched by a blast from a furnace. In another instance a large mature tree was attacked, losing in a summer half its boughs. These were cut out, and the remainder of the tree appeared healthy during the following summer, and bore a good crop of fruit. The disease often attacks but a single branch or a small portion of a tree. The authorities advise that everything should be cut away at once below all evidence of infection and burned. Some of my trees have been attacked and have recovered; others were apparently recovering, but died a year or two later. One could theorize to the end of a volume about the trouble. I frankly confess that I know neither the cause nor the remedy. It seems to me that our best resource is to comply with the general conditions of good and healthy growth. The usual experience is that trees which are fertilized with wood-ashes and a moderate amount of lime and salt, rather than with stimulating manures, escape the disease. If the ground is poor, however, and the growth feeble, barnyard manure or its equivalent is needed as a mulch. The apple-blight is another kindred and equally obscure disease. No better remedy is known than to cut out the infected part at once.
In coping with insects we can act more intelligently, and therefore successfully. We can study the characters of our enemies, and learn their vulnerable points. The black and green aphides, or plant-lice, are often very troublesome. They appear in immense numbers on the young and tender shoots of trees, and by sucking their juices check or enfeeble the growth. They are the milch-cows of ants, which are usually found very busy among them. Nature apparently has made ample provision for this pest, for it has been estimated that "one individual in five generations might be the progenitor of six thousand millions." They are easily destroyed, however. Mr. Barry, of the firm of Ellwanger & Barry, in his excellent work "The Fruit Garden," writes as follows: "Our plan is to prepare a barrel of tobacco juice by steeping stems for several days, until the juice is of a dark brown color; we then mix this with soap-suds. A pail is filled, and the ends of the shoots, where the insects are assembled, are bent down and dipped in the liquid. One dip is enough. Such parts as cannot be dipped are sprinkled liberally with a garden-syringe, and the application repeated from time to time, as long as any of the aphides remain. The liquid may be so strong as to injure the foliage; therefore it is well to test it on one or two subjects before using it extensively. Apply it in the evening."
The scaly aphis or bark-louse attacks weak, feeble-growing trees, and can usually be removed by scrubbing the bark with the preparation given above.
In our region and in many localities the apple-tree borer is a very formidable pest, often destroying a young tree before its presence is known. I once found a young tree in a distant part of my place that I could push over with my finger. In June a brown and white striped beetle deposits its eggs in the bark of the apple-tree near the ground. The larvae when hatched bore their way into the wood, and will soon destroy a small tree. They cannot do their mischief, however, without giving evidence of their presence. Sawdust exudes from the holes by which they entered, and there should be sufficient watchfulness to discover them before they have done much harm. I prefer to cut them out with a sharp, pointed knife, and make sure that they are dead; but a wire thrust into the hole will usually pierce and kill them. Wood-ashes mounded up against the base of the tree are said to be a preventive. In the fall they can be spread, and they at least make one of the best of fertilizers.
The codling-moth, or apple-worm, is another enemy that should be fought resolutely, for it destroys millions of bushels of fruit. In the latitude of New York State this moth begins its depredations about the middle of June. Whatever may be thought of the relation of the apple to the fall of man, this creature certainly leads to the speedy fall of the apple. Who has not seen the ground covered with premature and decaying fruit in July, August, and September? Bach specimen will be found perforated by a worm-hole. The egg has been laid in the calyx of the young apple, where it soon hatches into a small white grub, which burrows into the core, throwing out behind it a brownish powder. After about three weeks of apple diet it eats its way out, shelters itself under the scaly bark of the tree--if allowed to be scaly--or in some other hiding-place, spins a cocoon, and in about three weeks comes out a moth, and is ready to help destroy other apples. This insect probably constitutes one of Nature's methods of preventing trees from overbearing; but like some people we know, it so exaggerates its mission as to become an insufferable nuisance. The remedies recommended are that trees should be scraped free of all scales in the spring, and washed with a solution of soft soap. About the 1st of July, wrap bandages of old cloth, carpet, or rags of any kind around the trunk and larger limbs. The worms will appreciate such excellent cover, and will swarm into these hiding- places to undergo transformation into moths. Therefore the wraps of rags should often be taken down, thrown into scalding water, dried, and replaced. The fruit as it falls should be picked up at once and carried to the pigs, and, when practicable, worm-infested specimens should be taken from the trees before the worm escapes.
The canker-worm in those localities where it is destructive can be guarded against by bands of tar-covered canvas around the trees. The moth cannot fly, but crawls up the tree in the late autumn and during mild spells in winter, but especially throughout the spring until May. When, the evil-disposed moth meets the 'tarry band he finds no thoroughfare, and is either caught or compelled to seek some other arena of mischief.
We have all seen the flaunting, unsightly abodes of the tent caterpillar and the foliage-denuded branches about them. Fortunately these are not stealthy enemies, and the owner can scarcely see his acre at all without being aware of their presence. He has only to look very early in the morning or late in the evening to find them all bunched up in their nests. These should be taken down and destroyed.
Cherry and pear slugs, "small, slimy, dark brown worms," can be destroyed by dusting the trees with dry wood ashes or air-slacked lime.
Field-mice often girdle young trees, especially during the winter, working beneath the snow. Unless heaps of rubbish are left here and there as shelter for these little pests, one or two good cats will keep the acre free of them. Treading the snow compactly around the tree is also practiced.
Do not let the reader be discouraged by this list of the most common enemies, or by hearing of others. After reading some medical works we are led to wonder that the human race does not speedily die out. As a rule, however, with moderate care, most of us are able to say, "I'm pretty well, I thank you," and when ailing we do not straightway despair. In spite of all enemies and drawbacks, fruit is becoming more plentiful every year. If one man can raise it, so can another.
Be hospitable to birds, the best of all insect destroyers. Put up plenty of houses for bluebirds and wrens, and treat the little brown song-sparrow as one of your stanchest friends.
A brief word in regard to the quince, and our present list of fruits is complete.
If the quince is cultivated after the common neglectful method, it would better be relegated to an obscure part of the garden, for, left to itself, it makes a great sprawling bush; properly trained, it becomes a beautiful ornament to the lawn, like the other fruits that I have described. Only a little care, with the judicious use of the pruning-shears, is required to develop it into a miniature and fruitful tree, which can be grown with a natural rounded head or in the form of a pyramid, as the cultivator chooses. It will thrive well on the same soil and under similar treatment accorded to the pear or the apple. Procure from a nursery straight-stemmed plants; set them out about eight feet apart; begin to form the head three feet from the ground, and keep the stem and roots free from all sprouts and suckers. Develop the head just as you would that of an apple-tree, shortening in the branches, and cutting out those that interfere with each other. Half a dozen trees will soon give an ample supply. The orange and the pear shaped are the varieties usually recommended. Rea's Mammoth is also highly spoken of. Remember that the quince equally with the apple is subject to injury from the borer, and the evil should be met as I have already described.
There is a natural wish to have as much grass about the dwelling as possible, for nothing is more beautiful. If there are children, they will assuredly petition for lawn-tennis and croquet grounds. I trust that their wishes may be gratified, for children are worth infinitely more than anything else that can be grown upon the acre. With a little extra care, all the trees of which I have spoken can be grown in the spaces allotted to grass. It is only necessary to keep a circle of space six feet in diameter--the trunk forming the centre--around the tree mellow and free from any vegetable growth whatever. This gives a chance to fertilize and work the ground immediately over the roots. Of course vigorous fruit-trees cannot be grown in a thick sod, while peaches and grapes require the free culture of the garden, as will be shown hereafter. In view, however, of the general wish for grass, I have advised on the supposition that all the ornamental trees, most of the shrubs, and the four fruits named would be grown on the portions of the acre to be kept in lawn. It may be added here that plums also will do well under the same conditions, if given good care.
Grass is a product that can be cultivated as truly as the most delicate and fastidious of fruits, and I had the lawn is mind when I urged the generous initial deep plowing and enriching. Nothing that grows responds more promptly to good treatment than grass; but a fine lawn cannot be created in a season, any more than a fine tree.
We will suppose that the spring plantings of trees have been made with open spaces reserved for the favorite games. Now the ground can be prepared for grass-seed, for it need not be trampled over any more. If certain parts have become packed and hard, they should be dug or plowed deeply again, then harrowed and raked perfectly smooth, and all stones, big or little, taken from the surface. The seed may now be sown, and it should be of thick, fine-growing varieties, such as are employed in Central Park and other pleasure-grounds. Mr. Samuel Parsons, Jr., Superintendent of Central Park, writes me: "The best grass-seeds for ordinary lawns are a mixture of red-top and Kentucky blue-grass in equal parts, with perhaps a small amount of white clover. On very sandy ground I prefer the Kentucky blue-grass, as it is very hardy and vigorous under adverse circumstances." Having sown and raked in the seed very lightly a great advantage will be gained in passing a lawn- roller over the ground. I have succeeded well in getting a good "catch" of grass by sowing the seed with oats, which were cut and cured as hay as soon as the grain was what is termed "in the milk." The strong and quickly growing oats make the ground green in a few days, and shelter the slower maturing grass-roots. Mr. Parsons says, "I prefer to sow the grass-seed alone." As soon as the grass begins to grow with some vigor, cut it often, for this tends to thicken it and produce the velvety effect that is so beautiful. From the very first the lawn will need weeding. The ground contains seeds of strong growing plants, such as dock, plantain, etc., which should be taken out as fast as they appear. To some the dandelion is a weed; but not to me, unless it takes more than its share of space, for I always miss these little earth stars when they are absent. They intensify the sunshine shimmering on the lawn, making one smile involuntarily when seeing them. Moreover, they awaken pleasant memories, for a childhood in which dandelions had no part is a defective experience.
In late autumn the fallen leaves should be raked carefully away, as they tend to smother the grass if permitted to lie until spring. Now comes the chief opportunity of the year, in the form of a liberal top-dressing of manure from the stable. If this is spread evenly and not too thickly in November, and the coarser remains of it are raked off early in April, the results will be astonishing. A deep emerald hue will be imparted to the grass, and the frequent cuttings required will soon produce a turf that yields to the foot like a Persian rug. Any one who has walked over the plain at West Point can understand the value of these regular autumnal top-dressings. If the stable-manure can be composted and left till thoroughly decayed, fine and friable, all the better. If stable-manure can not be obtained, Mr. Parsons recommends Mapes's fertilizer for lawns.