This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V24", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
Enough has been said about the character and causes of this so-called disease of the peach by experts. I do not propose to explain the origin or character of it; but give a few hints of practical experience of several years past.
I do not intend to deny the existence of such a disease as the yellows; but think it is often blamed for the distruction of our orchards, when the real cause is something else that is within our power to avert. I intend mentioning several causes, the most important being starvation, either from close setting or insufficient cultivation when the trees are set, or very often from both.
Many of our orchardists appear to think the more they get on an acre the more fruit they will get. This is a serious mistake, for one might as well expect ten head of cattle to live on one acre of pasture as long as one would. When planted thickly they exhaust the natural elements of the soil and in a short time become yellow, dwindle to nothing, then yellows is said to be the cause. This is especially the case up the Hudson. Some of our friends there set as close as eight to ten feet, when they should not be less than eighteen or twenty. At eight feet they have sixty-four square feet to live on, at twenty, four hundred square feet, and then to help consume the needed food of the trees small fruits are planted between them. In this half-starved state is it any wonder that fungus, black aphis, or any other foe has an easy prey? The dead and dying are examined; these foes are found on them, and ascribed the real cause. When thus diseased, I am satisfied that the offspring of such trees, either from seed or buds, would be short lived and worthless and should never be used, as it is the principal cause of diseased trees seen occasionally in the best orchards.
It is not only the richest soil that is best for peach culture; in fact sometimes on such they will become diseased as soon as on poorer soil, as they make too rapid and succulent growth. They appear to get surfeited from too much food or from improper elements of the soil. The very best soils for peach are high, rolling or hilly, with warm loam and clay sub-soil. Peach trees will succeed in a great variety of soils and situations; but are very sensitive to a cold, retentive soil and should never be planted largely on such.
Another cause of failure is from planting trees from any source they can be purchased the cheapest. Every few years trees are in great demand, at good prices. At these times around nursery centres generally, and elsewhere, numberless small nurseries spring up, and the owners, knowing nothing of the principle of the business, and having no reputation at stake get buds, seeds, etc., where they can get them the cheapest, particularly the buds. They go to those having orchards, and not knowing the varieties, or a healthy tree from a diseased one, procure buds for nothing and raise what appears to be a first-class tree. These trees are generally bought by dealers, many of them peddled around the country by agents; badly raised, badly packed, and in a half-dead state they are delivered to the planter, and if they live at all they never can make healthy trees. Southern planters do not suffer from this cause, as long experience has taught them to deal direct with honest, reliable nurserymen, who have an interest in every tree sent out.
Insufficient cultivation is another cause. Many plant healthy trees at proper distances, and if they are cultivated once, they think this is sufficient, and they become stinted and yellow. By all means, give young peach trees as thorough cultivation as you would a corn field, if you expect to raise a long-lived, healthy peach orchard. If you reside in a peach section, select high, warm soil. Procure from a reliable source small, healthy trees, raised from long-lived Southern seed, and budded from healthy, young nursery trees and not from fruiting orchards. Plant from eighteen to twenty feet each way, being careful not to set the trees deeper than they were in the nursery. Give them good, clean cultivation, or, better still, raise corn or some cultivated crop that needs constant care.
If the soil is light and no means of properly fertilizing the crop, better not raise anything with the trees; but just give clean, thorough cultivation up to August 1st, then sow rye with 300 or 400 lbs. bone or phosphate to an acre ; let this stand until it shows signs of heading the following spring, then roll or drag down and plow under. In this way an orchard can be raised and manured cheaper than any other. To avoid the borer, make a small mound of earth as compact as possible and six to ten inches high around the trunk of the trees. This must be done by June 1st. Let this remain until September 1st, then remove mound from trees and with a coarse cloth rub the portion of the trunk that was covered with the soil thoroughly ; this will cleanse the trees of any signs of borers; and if this method is followed for two or three years there will be no loss from borers. After the trees get older with an unbroken bark, they can make but little headway.
The best method of pruning and that which our most successful and intelligent orchardists follow here, is when the trees are first planted to cut the main stem down to within eight to twelve inches of the root - small trees are better for this mode; let three or four shoots start from the main stock. This makes a low head in every way preferable to a high head formed from large trees. Where a vigorous growth is made it is well enough to cut back one-half of the present year's growth. Keep young, feeble branches well thinned out inside so that plenty of air and light can get through them.
As to varieties, it is best to depend on old, well-tested varieties known to succeed in the locality. If the natural elements are provided to the peach tree, its long life will astonish many who look on it as a short-lived tree. I have in mind a tree standing alone over twenty years old, vigorous and healthy, and no other cause than that it stands where its roots can reach out every year and supply it with the food required to make just a medium growth, and it does not starve or get overstimulated.
Let anyone who has an orchard that they think has the yellows, leave occasionally one of the best, and if the soil is well cultivated and fertilized, these trees will turn green, live and produce fruit for several years, and only because they have room to procure the elements they need from the soil. When occasionally a tree in a young thrifty orchard becomes sickly take it out; but when your orchard turns yellow generally, give them more thorough cultivation and fertilize them if the soil is poor.
If your trees are too thick, pull out every other tree or row, and as a rule you will cure the yellows; if your orchard has been started from healthy trees, some seasons have a great effect on them, and they may appear diseased and failing one year, and the following season being more favorable they will be healthy and all right.
"M. S," Bryn Mawr, Pa., writes: "In my little garden I have about a couple dozen of peach trees, and should like to have them succeed to perfection. I would like them to be model trees, free from all diseases and insect troubles, and bear certainly and profusely. Trees, in fact, which the owner of so small an orchard may be proud to show to his admiring friends. Now, what book shall I buy ?"
[If you would be perfect in peach culture wash the stems, before the leaves push, with common lime-wash, as far up as you can reach, without covering the last season's twigs. If the white is disagreeable, put in coal dust, yellow clay, or anything to shade it you prefer. A little sulphur does no harm to the wash. Now for the root culture - let the laundry folks, at every wash-day, pour the boiling hot soapsuds about the roots. This will destroy the insidious little fungus which produces the " yellows" and other diseases, and finish the larvae of insects which are very injurious to the roots of the trees. Do this and you will not need any books to teach you how to grow a few dozen trees to the greatest perfection.
If, however, you should be tempted from your few dozen to become a market man on an extensive scale, there are many other things to be considered. Then it is wise to read the experiences of those who have been on the road before you. Such works as "Rutter on Peach Culture" you will have to read, and you will derive much profit therefrom. - Ed. G. M].
A capital speech on peach culture was made by T. J. Sanderson, in March last, before the Grange at Marlboro, Mass. Mr. S. asserts the worst disease the peach is liable to is ignorance. The peach often produces enormously the first year. If allowed to perfect all it wants to, it is likely to be of use to you no more forever. It loves to have all its unthrifty wood cut out, and to have a liberal supply of nourishing food.
At a recent meeting of a farmer's club near Lancaster, Pa., as reported in the Lancaster Farmer, Joseph C. Stubbs had better luck when he planted in fence corners and gave them no care. He knew an old nurseryman that planted some peach trees in fields and some in fence corners, and the ones in the fence corners did the best.
These experiences are often met with and used in illustration of a supposed truth that neglect is better than good culture. Nothing can be further from the fact, except as one may say that what is often supposed to be very good cultivation is really culture of a very bad kind. In the first place the peach of all trees needs all its roots in order to perform properly all its duties to its owner, and if our system of cultivation destroys half of these at a time when the plant needs them all, it is bad cultivation. In a fence corner the tree has at least this good advantage, that it has the benefit of all its roots, none being disturbed. Again, the peach tree loves plenty of nutritious food, so long as it is not allowed to over bear. In orchards the owner is very apt to be niggard of necessary food. If he does keep the grass clown, and puts on a little manure, like as not he will make the tree share it with some other vegetable crops. Yet if he keeps his hoe harrow going continually, cutting off half the roots and letting the potatoes get the food the other half ought to get, he still thinks his peach orchard well cultivated. Indeed, in many cases the peach grower has no other idea about a tree being well cultivated, than the fact that he sometimes calls a hoe harrow a cultivator.
They were well cultivated because he kept the " cultivator" running ! The peach tree in the fence corner has the advantage of the rotten weeds and trash often thrown there - of old briers and weeds that grow and rot there - of the wash from the higher ground which the rains bring there and can carry no further. In short, the fact that a tree so often does well in a fence corner, and so bad under "cultivation," is simply that it has found good cultivation in the fence corner, and bad cultivation in the field.
It is interesting to note the great progress which has been made of late years-in the knowledge of this disease. It is many years since the writer of this paragraph demonstrated that in the early stages of the disease, the roots of the peach tree are covered by the mycelium of a species of Agaricus, a fungus to which genus the well known Mushroom belongs. That this fungus by feeding on the roots, is certainly connected with the disease, he proved by taking spades full of the earth, and placing them around healthy trees, when the "yellows" resulted. Other trees also received the fungus and the yellows followed, especially the Norway spruce, white spruce, and white pine. Indeed the development of the disease after this inoculation with the root fungus, is more clearly traced and its operation better understood in the Norway spruce than in the peach tree itself. Some years ago, the writer of this was on a steamer going down the James River, and was called on by some horticulturists to go over again for their benefit some account of these views.
But a distinguished gentleman rose and protested against this waste of time, as in his opinion " no one knew anything of the yellows, nor would people ever know more than they did now," at least this is the record as made on our note book at the time. In the Country Gentleman's report of the recent meeting of the Western New York Horticultural Society we find the following; "Dr. Hexamer mentioned cases of success in treatment of yellows, where the soil was drawn away and hot soap applied, the soap containing the potash required." From this we infer that Dr. Hexamer is at least satisfied that the remedy can be reached through the roots, whether the cause of the trouble be there or not, and that we may after all not despair of knowing something about it sometime.
Dr. Sturtevant also is a believer that the seat of the Peach Yellows is somewhere about the root. He would apply Muriate of Potash to the soil about peach trees as a preventative of the yellows.
W. K. Higley contributes to the Am. Naturalist a paper on the scientific study of the disease known as the "Yellows," in the peach. His conclusions, however, do not seem to have any direct connection with his experiments. " Care must be exercised in cultivation, pruning, etc," and the yellows come "from a lack of phosphoric acid and potash." Just what this " care " is to be ; what kind of " cultivation " is to be practiced ; how the " pruning " is to be done ; or what the "et cetera " is to cover, is not quite clear, and it is just possible, though this paper appears as a contribution to science in an able scientific serial, that the author does not quite know himself what he means. Certainly we do not.