This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V20", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
The sharp controversy of twenty years ago, on the question, "Can pears be profitably grown for market?" died away without any decided issue. If the same men could again discuss that point, the results, I think, would be far different and of greater value to fruit growers.
The statement that the pear is not well suited to our climate, and will never be abundant in our markets, has proved false; for so large a quantity of this fruit now fills them, that thousands of barrels have to be shipped; an occurrence which was not then thought possible. On the other hand, the notion that"cultivation by constantly working the soil is the only successful way," received a severe shock when the Gardener's Monthly demonstrated that a profitable cultivation for the pear is better accomplished in a well enriched and frequently-mown grass sod.
It is known that the roots of the quince suffer in light soil, or in cultivated ground. And I have found that injuries in the root cause the pear tree to produce small, curled leaves in the spring. But all our trees, especially dwarf pears, suffer more or less from climatic influences; and so far as these effect the roots, the best treatment is protection by means of a thick:sod.
It was found that a large number of the dwarf pear trees, that died in the spring of 1875, were frost killed at the roots, being planted in exposed places or cultivated soil. On my own grounds I found that dwarfs in cultivation, and so protected from the S. W. winds that the snow lodged in them, lived, but a few immediately beyond this protection were killed; while a large lot near these, but six years in grass, did not suffer at all, though in the most exposed place. In fact, not any trees in my orchard (in grass) suffered, though fully exposed to the winds. The crop of pears that year (1875) was large, besides a fair growth of wood. Last year there were an extraordinary yield not only in quantity, but in size and beauty. The average income from dwarfs, in grass, was $400 per acre,except-the Vicar, which brought twice that amount, and some B. Clairgeau and B. d' Anjou brought $12 per bbl. in New York.
Having, during the past season, cultivated a few rows of trees in the center of my dwarf pear orchard, to change the shape of the bed,. I found that the blight in these was much more severe than among those in grass. The actual record was as follows:
I have not yet succeeded, and do not expect to succeed, in making my trees of uniform beauty; but since they have recovered from the first shock received by being put in grass, they are improving from year to year, as the fertilizing materials - manure, leaves, rotten grass, and occasional dressing of soil - accumulate on the surface. The expense of manuring, to which many object as more costly than cultivating, does not exceed $30 per acre, at S3 per cord delivered in the orchard.
I have many dwarf pear trees over 20 inches in circumference. One Duchess d'Angouleme of 27 inches, 30 years old and 18 years in grass, which produced 6½ bushels of fine fruit last year, besides making a growth of from 6 to 15 inches. Others bearing a light crop, made a growth of twice that length, also in grass. Where irrigation can be applied once or twice during the month of July and August, it will not only improve the crop, but will cause a rich growth of grass under which the quince root cannot be reached by frost. And I do not believe that grafting the pear or quince stock so changes its constitution as to make it a feeble tree. Protect its roots from the extremes of heat and cold; give it enough nourishment to sustain a healthy growth of the top; prevent its tendency to overbear (which seems the only reason for its being weaker than when on its own root), and the dwarf pear will no longer be denounced as unreliable, short-lived, and unfit for cultivation in this climate. I believe if it were so treated, the more vigorous growth of the pear top would induce a larger than natural growth of the quince root; and through this equality live as long as the pear top can be kept in a thriving condition.