This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V23", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
(From advance sheets of the Annual Report of Penna. State Board of Agriculture.)
BY THOS. MEEHAN, BOTANIST OF THE BOARD Concluded from page 20.
But little use is made of these magnificent forests beyond fence timber and fire-wood. The streams run everywhere to the sea. No use, with rare exceptions, is made of the water power. Mills and factories are rarely seen. The effort has been to bring settlers on the land rather than encourage workshops or mining enterprises. Hence the noble timber trees are regarded as an encumbrance. Tobacco and corn fur distant markets receive consideration before population of a character suited to home consumption, and hence the timber is rapidly being destroyed by the girdling process, in order that a single crop of tobacco, corn, or perhaps oats may be taken. Many hundreds of acres of dead trees of huge size were standing the past season, with the initial crops of tobacco and corn between them. In some cases saw-mills had been erected chiefly by railroad companies, and the lumber shipped by them to northern markets. A small supply may be always expected in Pennsylvania markets from Virginia, but it is not probable there ever will be much more than now. It cannot be that Virginia and other contiguous States will continue in the present indifference to home markets for the products of her soil.
The splendid field she offers for manufacturing and mining cannot always continue as meagerly cultivated as now. New railroads will no doubt penetrate into these magnificent timber regions; but the demands through the growth of manufacturing, will increase the home demand, and leave the available surplus little more than now. This view leaves Pennsylvania to look to her own area for the chief source of future supply. The amount of timber she requires to carry on her various industries is enormous. In the coal mines of the Reading Coal and Iron Company, no less than three thousand miles of solid timber is used annually. That is to say the logs set end to end would extend across the Atlantic from America to England. Most of the timber fit for this purpose, within paying distance, has been cut away, and it is already a question what shall be done next? It is not that there is not an abundance of timber in Pennsylvania. Probably one-fourth of her whole area is under forest, but it is nearly impossible to get what is needed at the points required without a heavy draft on the profits which invested capital is expected to pay.
There are forests not twenty miles from a large lumber market like Philadelphia, which would scarcely pay the expense of cutting down, because they happen to be ten or twelve miles from a railroad track or navigable water, and which would have paid a much greater profit to the owners if cut down years ago, and put into corn. But if such timber lands were near mines or sources of heavy timber consumption, they would be profitable, indeed.
Thus we see that the blind attempts to "encourage timber culture" in some States have failed. General laws giving premiums for "planting trees" every where and any how, so that trees are planted, is a mere waste of public money. The true policy is for those large corporations or public bodies which are the most likely to need timber in their operations, to work out for supplies from their own forethought in forest culture.
It was a pleasure to your Botanist to find that the Girard Trust had already appreciated this point, and were turning their attention to reforesting the denuded hills in the vicinity of their mines, in Schuylkill county. They have adopted, however, the wise course of not going into heavy schemes until what they have done, on a comparatively small scale, shall show, by experience, the most profitable way of working. What they have done, therefore, has resulted in valuable lessons, rather than as examples of great success.
One of the great drawbacks to forest culture is the liability to forest fires. The Girard Trust has correctly noted, that the chief source of forest fires is underbrush, which gathers dead branches, besides retaining all its own dead wood, as well as keeps an immense amount of leaves from at once rotting by the lightness which the underbrush keeps about them. There is nothing more certain, that with no underbrush, there would be no serious forest fires. In view of this, the Girard Trust have kept the underbrush, in a portion of a piece of young second growth of wood, cut down. What is left there is not above a foot or two high; but the continually dying wood among this low brush, and the holding together of dry leaves, would make a serious fire if once started. Another good lesson is afforded by the superior growth of the young trees in the part comparatively cleared. They are, on an average, one-fourth larger, the writer believes, within about six years since the old wood was cut down. This is because there was more food and moisture for the young trees, with a small amount of brush between them than when the brush was heavier.
A small experiment was made to change the character of the forest, by planting other kinds between the brush; but these have failed, and evidently because the strong-rooted brush near them took all the moisture, and left nothing for the struggling trees. While they are getting root hold, the others crowd them down.
The only way to make these forests produce good timber, safe from fires, would be to cut out everything but the young trees desired to remain for timber; clean them out to about six feet apart every way. Then grub out by a bull tongue or other strong ox plow everything else, running through with a drag harrow once or twice a year to keep all woody growths down but those intended to stand. No forest fires would then trouble them, and the young trees, by having all the food and all the moisture to themselves, would make as much growth in ten years as they would in twenty by the present crowded plan. The yearly harrowing would not need to be done many years, for as soon as the young trees made heads to touch each other, the summer shade and dryness from the young tree roots would cramp the vigor of all other vegetation. Whether it would pay now to do this after five or six years of strong growth, is a question. The perfect grubbing out would have to be done, in a great measure, by mattock and hand labor.
It would probably cost from twenty to forty dollars per acre to do it as it should be done; but on the other hand, we may remember that if cleared, good paying timber would be there in from fifteen to twenty years, and timber for some purposes earlier; while, on the other hand, the neglected plan will give no timber worth speaking about for thirty or forty years, with the chance of its being all burned up before that time.
From the lessons afforded by the experiment of the Girard Trust there need be no hesitation in saying that in cleared land young timber trees should be set out in rows as we would get out corn, and kept clean between the rows for four or five years, just as we would keep corn clean. If a forest has been cut down, we should at once burn all the brush-wood, and then run an ox team with drag harrows through in lines about six feet wide, leaving lines of about two feet wide for the first year, for young seedlings or second growth sprouts to appear. The cross-lines, as in corn, could be harrowed the next season, after the young trees had shown themselves. Of course, in an old forest these lines could not always be straight, nor would the straightness or regularity of width be essential. The time that I have given for the forest to make good timber may seem short to those accustomed to read of the slow growth of forest trees in Europe, or who have only seen them in the crowded fire-inviting forest; but in the way described, the trees would get, in America, the sizes indicated.
Some measure of success would naturally be due to the proper selection of trees to the soil, some doing better in one place than others; and then attention must be paid to the wants of the region. But a glance at trees already growing will afford all the information. It is clear, for instance on the hills in Schuylkill county, that the white pine and the yellow pine, (Pinus rigida) among evergreens and the chestnut oak, scarlet oak and black gum grow with great rapidity, and are really and truly at home. As these happen to be the trees in greatest demand for the mines, the selection question solves itself. The sweet chestnut, maples and other trees also do well in this region, should good uses be found for them there.
A question has been raised whether nature does not teach that a new kind of tree should succeed that of the old forest cut away. Sometimes we do see in nature one kind succeeding another, but not always. In the Black Mountains of North Carolina, balsam succeeds balsam, and does as well as the original forest did; and the second crop of chestnut woods, in familiar experience, is as good as the first. In some cases a new kind may find food which the original growth rejected; but a forest is not like a regular farm crop. What is taken from the soil is annually returned to it; only the wood, which is for the most part carbon taken from the atmos-phere, being taken away. There is a little reason, judging both from science and observation, why the same kind of forest tree might not go on for ages in the same soil without any difference in growth being perceptible.