This section is from the book "Commercial Gardening Vol3", by John Weathers (the Editor). Also available from Amazon: Commercial Gardening, A Practical & Scientific Treatise For Market Gardeners.
Rabbits and hares are a great nuisance, causing much damage to Apple and Pear trees. They do not seem to attack Plums or Cherries so much. By biting the bark as high as they can reach, in frosty weather, when other food is scarce, they are especially mischievous, and may cause the loss of many trees.
The best method of protection is to put round the tree a little ring of wire netting of 1-in. mesh, 2 ft. high where there are no hares, 2 ft. 6 in. where there are. It should be cut generous enough to allow for the growth of the tree stem, and should be secured to a short stake driven into the ground.
Fig. 327. - The same tree, after pruning either for a pyramid or a bush.
To get the trees, go to a nurseryman with a reputation to maintain; don't look after bargains. Cheap trees are like cheap labour, blessing neither him that takes nor him that gives.
The maintenance of a plantation until it comes into bearing is the most expensive part of the business, and most often imposes the greatest strain upon the resources of the beginner. Yet everything in the after results of the enterprise depends upon the doing of what should be done during this period thoroughly and at the right time. The man who commenced to build a tower without counting the cost thereof was a statesman compared with the man who goes to the trouble and expense of planting a fruit garden without making sure that his resources are sufficient to bridge the space between planting and bearing. This may be helped, as has been hinted already, by intercropping during the first year or two. Any ordinary vegetable crop will do, especially such crops as Brussels Sprouts, Savoys, Cole worts, as they allow of the land being partly fallowed in the spring, and, when they do well, are strong enough to choke weeds. Where vegetables are not grown, Mangolds, Cabbage, Turnips, or Swedes will do. If it is proposed to fold sheep, the hurdles must be set to protect the trees, or the sheep will do similar mischief to that done by the hares and rabbits, only more so.
Corn will not do, nor Peas either, because they will only increase the stock of weeds to get rid of. In intercropping, the trees and bushes between them should have breathing space. It is unwise to choke trees and bushes with the crops between, as is sometimes done. If this system is followed for the first three years, and the bushes for the middle row, or rows, grown on between the trees as suggested previously, the fruit plantation may be charged a third of the rent and rates and a third of the cost of manures.
The hoeing of the trees and bushes would cost 20s. an acre each year. The pruning, which would be done for 5s. to 6s. an acre the first year, will increase in cost to 20s. by the fourth year. There may be spraying to do, which will cost anything from 10s. to 20s. an acre, according to the material used and the number of times it has to be done. By the fifth year Plums, Dwarf Apples, Pyramid Pears, and the bushes will begin to yield an appreciable return. The bushes that are moved out of the tree rows into the middle on the fourth year will not bear so much as the others for the first year, and the Strawberries planted between the bushes will yield no revenue the first year, but it may be hoped that the crop on the trees and bushes that remain will make up for the loss of the vegetable or other crops for that year. Altogether it may be reckoned that by the time the fifth year is reached the expenses of maintenance have exceeded the returns by an aggregate of £20 an acre, and this in addition to the expenses of planting.
There will be a natural desire at this stage, especially in one contemplating entering the business, to know what returns this expenditure may be expected to produce. This is a part of market gardening that commercial men are often unable to understand; there are so many forces at work which influence the result, the effect of which it is impossible to foresee, that any estimate not based upon the average of a wide range of years is likely to be completely misleading. In 1907 there was a phenomenally heavy crop of fruit all over England; since then the fruit crop has been a comparative failure. A plantation of Victoria Plums that produced 5000 half-sieves in 1907 produced 14 in 1908! It may be taken for granted that most of the estimates of the probable returns to be obtained from fruit, that one sees, were written when the writer was in an exceedingly optimistic frame of mind. In the paper read by Mr. C. D. Wise, which has already been quoted from, he says: " From a field planted with half-standard or standard trees, Black Currants and Strawberries, the net return should be £20 per acre, and the average annual return for mixed plantations may be taken at that amount, though in some seasons it would be far more." Unfortunately, Mr. Wise has not told us what he means by "net". Does he mean that after all the expenses incident to producing, marketing, and with share of establishment expenses deducted, the cultivator of an acre of fruit such as he describes will have £20 to spend upon his household and himself? This is the natural interpretation of the words. That is, the cultivator of 20 ac. of fruit in bearing can count upon an average net income of £400 a year! That he may do it on some years is conceivable, indeed he must, and more, or his average would be small indeed; but the average is nothing like this. Let the reader before he invests his capital upon such expectation enquire into the circumstances and examine the mode of living of some typical fruit growers and then form his own opinion. It is manifest that if such returns were obtainable, the men who are cultivating 300 ac. of fruit - and there are many of them - would be enjoying princely incomes, and of this there is no evidence. If an average return of £10 per acre is obtained after paying all charges and outgoings, the cultivator should consider himself an extremely fortunate man; nothing like this will certainly be obtained till after the tenth year. [w. g. l.]